MORE CRUSIN’ CALIFORNIA
To get to Kings Canyon we have to return to the valley and the main Rd. As we get lower the valley fans out, and is filled with huge citrus plantations. We stop to buy oranges, apricots & peaches. Yum! Finally down to Fresno where our main stop is for diesel. John has a fuel app to find the cheapest. Then head back into the mountains towards Kings Canyon National Park & Sequoia National Park. It is nearly 4pm by the time we reach the visitor centre (they close at 4pm). We are delighted to learn that Kings Canyon opened a few days ago and that there are plenty of camp sites available in the one campground that has opened. So in we head.
What a spectacular drive – one of our good ones – this time all fully sealed. At the campground we meet Jeff & Deidre from Australia in a rental motorhome & spend time chatting with them. The next day we keep bumping into them at the lookouts and walks. My favorite walk is through the Zumwalt Meadows. The views of the granite outcrops are mind blowing. The waterfalls are Ok too, but we have seen rather a lot of them lately. After our lunch stop we exit via a back route – still a good road. Then on into Sequoia National Park. Again heaps of trees. Some of the most massive ones we have seen. We do the obligatory walk to the General Sherman tree – a real biggie! Amazing how many people are here. By now it is getting late, so we ditch any more walks (phew! There was a real biggie up a massive granite hill that I was hoping John wouldn’t want to do!) And head on out of the park.
The road out is pretty steep with lots of hairpins. No wonder motorhomes over 25ft are banned. There is camping near the end of the park, but it is still lovely & bright so we decide to put in a few more miles. Maybe a Walmart at Visalia. But on the way we see magic Lake Kaweach with camp spots at a mere $20, and I twist Johns arm to stay. It really is pretty & we have a nice fire ring.
John has been poring over the maps & we have decided to head up the 395 on the east side of the Sierras towards Carson City, or until the lovely scenery stops. So we head off, first to Bakersfield & then via a pretty shortcut towards the 395. Our detour cuts through a gorge, into farmland and Lake Isabella with lots of camp spots. But no, we carry on until we spy some rocky mountains and a dirt road. So we head up it to find a magic free camp spot. This is our first BLM camp spot called “disperse” camping. We can camp anywhere on BLM land, as long as it has been previously used for parking or camping. And we can use established fire pits. In the morning we continue on the dirt road (we can see that it comes out onto the 395), so that John can get his 4x4 fix. We discover that we had camped in the Chimney Peak area.
When we stop at a BLM proper campsite for coffee we meet Joe & his dog Bob who are walking the Pacific Crest Trail. Phew! John tells me he has met Reece Witherspoon from the movie “Wild”. Joe (who must have been 70) was more than keen for coffee, and Bob devoured all my stale cookies. Old Joe had been walking for 70 days and covered 700 miles (1050km)
More magic driving down the mountain to the 395 – which to our surprise is a motorway, making it pretty easy driving. Later in the morning we turn off at a binoculars sign- wind up a hill to a magic viewpoint. A great spot for an early lunch. Time to carry on, stopping at Lone Pine to get info at the Tourist Office. They are incredibly helpful. We get a detailed map so we know where we can legally free/wild/boondock/disperse camp. Also discover that the Mt Whitney portal road is open. Mt Whitney is the highest mountain in the Lower 48 (We have already seen the highest in the States in Alaska) In fact tomorrow is the first day that Mt Whitney is open to climbers. Sadly (haha) we can’t climb. You have to enter a ballot. But we do get to drive up the very scenic 15km to the Portal. Gorgeous. Totally my kind of walk.
Back down we explore Alabama Hills – driving along Movie Rd. Here lots of old movies were made: Obviously. We find ourselves a spot for the night. It’s like being in the middle of the Wild West. Great for a BBQ dinner & evening stroll/explore.
More exploring in the morning: by car & by foot. We finally find the famous Mobius Arch through which we can take a photo of Mt Whitney. There are other campers tucked all over the place. It sure is a magic camp site. But time to move on, this time to the town of Independence. Again we head off up a mountain road – just because we can. More great views. Then head over the other side of the valley to explore the Mazourka Gorge. Again lots more 4x4 driving with plenty of old mine sites to explore. Back to Independence & on to the Lava Beds. Looking now for a spot for the night, but it is suddenly very windy. We settle for Tinnemaha Creek Nat Pk campground because it is sheltered with trees. Later we regret it when our neighbor opens the doors of his car & turns the music up! Fortunately it doesn’t go too late.
On to Lone Pine and yet another road up to the mountains. We go up to 2379m & get a good view of the glacier – rather uninspiring after Alaska’s glaciers. Back down in town we pass a restaurant gearing up its BBQ – looks & smells good. We carry on – pass the side road to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. After a few miles I say “maybe we should go see those trees!!” oh and “maybe we should have an early lunch”. So back to the restaurant – yummy & very messy. The owner presents John with a California number plate to add to his growing collection on the side of GR2. Then off to see those very old trees. The drive itself is magnificent. At the viewpoint we can see the Sierra range right to the top (sure beats climbing them). Then of course we head up the mountains to see the trees. We are up at over 3000m so the climb is a bit breathless. Eventually we see the 4000 year old trees. After a long day we stop at the Nat Pk campground – free, but $5 donation requested.
Head out for an early start, but stops to chat to Norma & Spoke who we met last night & somehow end up leaving a lot later. Back to town & then north on the 395. Our next destination is Bishop and the Laws Train Museum. Free entry (donation requested) – awesome museum. Spend ages there. Back to town for a stockup of food & finally north again. We must stop going down all the side roads or we won’t get very far. Time to head on to Mammoth Lakes, where we get lots of info at the info centre (plus a fire permit for John so that we are all legal.) We drive around the lovely lakes here – only quickly get out of the car as it is freezing. Finally onto a quiet BLM campspot out of town where we can have a roaring fire (plus it’s free)
In the morning we decide to head back to town via the back roads. We plan to take the Gondola up into the mountains. Good choice as it is lovely – and of course we find the most amazing campspot beside Hot River. Very annoying when it's only 10am. There are even huge white pelicans swimming upstream. Who can blame them when it is so warm. Further on we stop at the Geological site – the origin of the hot water. And we found this all on impulse. Awesome. Well finally on to the big smoke and up to the Ski fields. The Gondola only goes on the weekend – and yes it is Monday, but we stop and watch the snowboarders fly over the jump and use the huge tube. Amazing. After a quick stint pulling in emails we head off. The weather is too nice to waste on paperwork….. But as we head north the clouds roll in. Our detour through June Lake is not so great in the clouds & rain. Next stop – the amazing Mono Lake with tufa around the edges. Colours are still amazing despite the clouds. But Brrr it is chilly. A quick trip up to Panum Crater & walk into the caldera before it rains.
As we head into Lee Vining we see signs up that the 120 (Tioga Pass through Yosemite) is open. We had really wanted to drive it, but were told it doesn’t usually open until June….so. Change of plan. Not tonight. It is too late. We will head up to Bodie State Park & hopefully camp near there.
Stay tuned….more to come.