Sequoia National Park California
Given that California is over 5000 miles from my home it's not a place I can visit every day. When we had chance to visit some friends on the USA West Coast earlier this year, I therefore spent a considerable amount of time researching where we wanted to stay a night or two. As we were taking a road trip from Los Angeles to Seattle in about 18 days, I had to choose carefully and we only stayed a couple of nights at each spot.
One of the real treats of our near three week trip was an expedition to Sequoia National Park. Those fascinatingly huge sequoia trees have always really fascinated me, and I also wanted the opportunity to stretch my legs in the mountains and take some photographs.
Unfortunately, we didn't really anticipate the weather; our UK impression of California from all those movies is sun, sea and sand. June in Sequoia National Park, California was going to be just the same, right?
My biggest mistake was to wear shorts, although I did very sensibly bring a fleece or two as I knew Sequoia was pretty high up in the mountains. I looked every bit the “Mad Englishman” as we trotted over the snow in the thick mists in the forests.
Likewise, the regulars thought we were completely insane to take the hard climb up the steps to the famous viewpoint at Moro Rock; we had deluded ourselves into thinking we might somehow climb above the mist. Nope, visibility was about 8 foot up there.
While we didn't manage to capture the majesty of swathes of huge sequoia stretching out endlessly, we did end up with something better.
The mists had put paid to the less intrepid travellers. There weren't too many tourists wandering along the forest trails (most were content to wander the visitor centre and coffee shop). In the quiet, we could easily imagine what the Native Americans and early pioneers must have seen and felt like; this new world must have been simultaneously endless, breathlessly exciting and full of danger.
We passed through a patch of recently burnt forest, and in the mists the trees looked particularly eerie.
The quiet of the forests meant we had to be careful not to get lost (and we stuck religiously to the main trails), and to be alert just in case we strayed across a wandering bear. While sadly even the bears decided to stay at home that day, we did manage to startle a family of deer just up on the ridge above us. I'm a lousy wildlife photographer, but even I managed to get a shot or two as the deer simply looked at us before slowly wandering on.
I think too that the mist gave me a heightened sense of awareness, and I found even a decaying lump of tree trunk surprisingly beautiful as it decayed into small red chips of wood. Alongside the death of an ancient Sequoia was signs of new life with the sequoia cones and needles scattered on the forest floor. I resisted the temptation to pick up a cone or two for my pocket.
While our Sequoia National Park experience wasn't quite what we anticipated, in the end we felt we had captured it as it should be; I'm sure that more days than not are cold and misty in the mountains and we captured a whole different beauty on our visit.