Nothing says "summer in the USA" more than a road trip. So our recent trip to Sequoia National Park was a great excuse to explore the beauty of Southern California.
Recently we had the chance to take a break, return home and catch up with family. It was great to spend some time in one place and to see what was new with everyone. However, being the compulsive travelers that we are, we couldn’t resist taking a trip. While of course I know the area around San Diego well (having grown up there), I always took California for granted and never did much exploring. So this trip we decided to venture off and explore the desert areas.
We decided on a road trip, and would be crossing the desert from the Bakersfield area to reach the Sequoia National Park. We rented a bright red Kia Soul Turbo (there is just something about a bright red car) and had the extra space so my brother could come with us. I was very impressed with how spacious the car was considering that it looked so small from the outside. It had enough room for four adults and a large cooler (I don’t go anywhere without snacks), and despite our long journey, we were perfectly comfortable throughout the trip. We picked up my brother, and the three of us set off in search of adventure and the huge Sequoias of the national park.
Our route took us out into the desert, and in a word it was beautiful. When we used to live in San Diego and San Francisco, taking these roads felt like nothing more than an annoying chore – something we had to do to avoid the Los Angeles traffic. I had never really looked at these landscapes properly, and had written it off as a bit boring. This time however, my eyes were open to its magic and the unreal, constantly changing vistas outside the window kept me entertained for hours. One moment it was large red rock rising up like jagged cliffs, then next we were passing huge mountains, followed by Joshua trees lining the road.
We left early, (so early that the gas stations were still closed, so no coffee for us), yet we did get to see the sunrise over the desert...something I had never done before! If you have never had the chance to experience this, you are missing out and you should take the opportunity if it comes up. We started just south of Los Angeles, and ventured away from civilization towards Bakersfield. From there we continued onto highway 65 before heading north on highway 198. There wasn’t much traffic which made the trip all the better. For much of the time it was just us, our car and the open road. Every now and again – when nature was showing off particularly hard – we stopped to take it in.
After around four and a half hours we arrived at the Sequoia National Park. The desert had given way to the mountains, and as we climbed higher above sea level things got greener and greener. This is one of the USA’s oldest national parks, having been established way back in 1890. It contains the country’s highest peak (not including Alaska), and sprawls over 1635 kilometers. Half of this is covered in pristine old growth forests. Sequoia National Park has caves, waterfalls, forests and lakes, and is home to bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes and deer. It is easy to see why it attracts over a million visitors each year.
After passing through the main entrance, we zig-zagged our way along the winding mountain roads of the park. Every corner brought a new sight, and it felt like we stopped every mile to get out, take a look and get some photos. There are a number of specific attractions within the park, however much of its magic comes from just being out in this region’s immense natural beauty. There was wildlife, views and groves of enormous sequoia trees all competing for our attention and forcing us to pull over regularly.
After taking in some of the sights, we stopped at one of the many rest stops to relax and enjoy some lunch. This was where the decision to take the cooler was vindicated! We also stopped later on to go for a short hike up to the General Sherman – a huge sequoia tree located in the Giant Forest of the national park. I say huge, perhaps that is underselling it - the General Sherman is the largest known living tree on earth by volume! Even in a place full of enormous trees, this one stood out and towered over everything else.
We happened to be visiting on ‘National Park Day’, so as an added bonus entrance was free! Normally, there is a fee per person or per car so make sure to check the website for the latest rates and deals if you decide you want to pay a visit. The neighboring King’s Canyon park is also accessible with your entrance ticket if you have more time than we did.
The whole day was a lot of fun. We had taken in several diverse landscapes in the space of a day, ranging from red desert to cool green forests. Throughout it all our Kia Soul Turbo had been a trusty companion and handled the windy roads we traveled on with ease. I can’t believe that, having lived in the area for so long, I have never done this before.
California is blessed with an abundance of beauty and I should have taken advantage of it earlier. It’s great to know that this is on my doorstep whenever I return home and that whenever we go back we can find something as exciting, as the things we see in far flung parts of the world. Travel has definitely helped me see my home with new eyes, as well as how to appreciate everything around us. Next time we will have to get an RV and stay for a night or two.