We had just returned from a week at Locust Point in the Kaibab National Forest, on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, where we didn’t see another soul (except for one van full of mountain bikers) the whole time. So we decided to spend another week and a half among the trees. This time we chose to stay a little closer to home at the Sequoia National Forest.
As with most of our trips, we started by visiting my wife’s father in Redlands, California, about 70 miles from our house in Hermosa Beach. The parking near his duplex at the retirement village is not level so we dry camp in the administration’s parking lot. They have no problem with this as long as we’re gone by 8 am when the worker bees show up.
Redlands is a good starting point, as well, since we can drive through Los Angeles when traffic is the lightest and still be positioned near I-10 for East travel and I-15 for North-South. If we’re going on the West side of the state, we start from home.
The first stop was for fuel. We pulled into a Shell station just off the 15 in San Bernardino. It was still rush hour (or, more precisely, rush hours) so there was quite a line at the pumps.
We were able to pull in behind a small pickup that was using the first pump on the island. We pulled close enough to get the trailer off the street but not so close as to block anyone from passing in front of us. When the pickup finished, we assumed he’d just drive forward since there was no one in front of him. We wanted the second pump so that the Casita would not be blocking others. But, no, he has to back up and he kept gesturing for us to let him out. We couldn’t back up but he could have gone forward without any problem. He jockeyed back and forth until he could get out, then scowls at us as he leaves. There was absolutely no reason for him to need to back up since going forward would have had him on the road much quicker.
We took I-15 to US 395 and stopped for breakfast in Kramer Junction. Then it was CA 58 to CA 99 in Bakersfield. Heading north, we decided to stop at the Bakersfield Flying J for gas, fresh water, and to dump the holding tanks.
The RV lane was closed and the auto islands had long lines so I figured we’d just dump the tanks and get fuel later. I found the dump and saw that I’d have to drive around counter to the traffic flow because the sewer was on the wrong side of the trailer. It was also locked and had a sign that said to get the key from the cashier.
While Nancy went in to get the key, I drove around the fuel islands and got close to the dump. But not close enough. A truck at the propane tank was blocking me, and the dump was in the back of the knee of a dogleg curb. I pulled past it then backed in without my wife to guide me, so I had to keep getting out to make sure I wasn’t about to hit the truck. Of course, as soon as I was in place, the truck drove off.
A few minutes later Nancy came back and said that the dump was inop. Figures. It would have been nice if they’d posted a sign to that effect.
There was no way that I was going to get gas at the J so we pressed on. We still had to go through Visalia since we were going to take CA 245 north into the forest. We would get fuel and lunch there.
This was our first trip with the 2006 Chevy Tahoe and one of the new-to-us toys was a GPS navigation system. So, of course, I was playing with it while I drove along. Nancy was using the paper map and suggested a shortcut at Tulare and taking CA 63 eight miles up to Visalia.
After an hour and half tour of the impressive CalTrans highway maintenance display along highway 63, we made it to Visalia. We got fuel, but no food.
Highway 245 was new territory for me. It turned out to be one of the twistyest (that may not be a real word, but it fits) roads I’ve ever been on. The scenery was nice, Nancy said. The odd thing was we only passed two other cars. And, they were both cream colored PT Cruisers.
We went to the Sequoia NF without a Forest Service map but planned on picking up one at the Visitor’s Center. They didn’t have any. No problem…I’d printed off several from my GPS planning program, so I had maps of the areas I thought looked most interesting. Plus we had the software on the laptop and could transfer waypoints to my handheld GPS unit. Still, I really prefer having “analog” maps.
We drove to the Big Meadows area and were surprised at how many people where there. Of course that’s the problem with summer camping in mountains so close to large metropolitan areas. That’s defiantly not a problem at the North Rim.
We drove almost to the end of the paved part of the road where it was only a single lane. At a bridge near Horse Corral Meadow, I was able to turn around and head back to Big Meadows. Just as we got to the meadow we spotted a large isolated site that we’d missed the first time. We pulled in and set up at about 6 o’clock.
While having dinner, a guy with a pop-up trailer pulled up next to us and asked how long we planned to stay because a large group was due the next day. We told him we’d probably be there at least 3 days.
The next morning a large Class A pulled in right next to us. A woman came over and said that this was their regular spot for family get-togethers and that there was a 5th Wheel coming along soon that would park on the other side of us. We were a bit dumbfounded by her attitude but it was a very large site and I know about family gatherings. I was actually considering letting them have the spot since I wanted a site with a view, which this one didn’t have. But, unfortunately for her, she kept talking. She said that they only live 22 miles away and come up here all the time. At Christmas they even decorate the trees!
I wish I’d had a cigar. I sat down on the lounge chair, leaned back, and pulled my hat over my eyes. She stomped back to her RV and a few minutes later took her little dog for a walk. That’s when our six-month-old puppy, who’d been snoozing under the trailer, got interested. He came out and sat between the two RVs and watched them. He’s an Akita…and weighed 80 pounds at the time. As she was walking back, she saw Kumori, picked up her dog and disappeared into the RV. A few minutes later they drove off and parked in a small site about 50 yards away.
Later that evening they flagged down a Ranger and my wife decided to walk the dog and eavesdrop. She heard the Ranger tell woman, “They were there first and that’s that. ”
The next day we topped off the fresh water tank and drove to the Dorst Campground in Sequoia National Park to refill our three 7-gallon Auqa-Tainer water jugs and check out the RV dump for our egress. On our way to the campground we spotted the granite dome that Dan and Felice snagged on their trip in May. When we returned about an hour later it was still unoccupied. We decided to move to it. We hooked up, packed up, and were back there in about 25 minutes. We got back to find a 5th Wheel parked there.
Well, it was only Wednesday and already too crowded to my liking. We decided to drive through the National Park and poke around the southern section of the Sequoia National Forest. Just past the Dorst campground we saw a sign that said “Road work ahead. Expect one hour delays. ” Great. We past one turnout but it were too small to try to make a U-Turn with a trailer.
At 2:00 we pulled up to the end of a line of stopped cars. A flagman came over and told us that we would be escorted through at 2:30 and that it was OK to get out of the vehicles.
We hadn’t eaten lunch yet so we went back to the Casita to eat and wait. Outside we watched people climbing down the slope into the forest to relieve themselves. I felt kind-of guilty having our own toilet and not sharing. OK, I didn’t feel all that guilty.
At 2:30 we were on our way again…for about 20 minutes. Then we stopped for another 25 minutes. I guess we got off easy with only 55 minutes lost instead of the promised 60.
We didn’t have time to stop at any of the park’s tourist attractions, which was just as well as they seemed to have attracted plenty of other tourists.
Not far after the General Sherman Tree the grade became 8% and lower gears were required. Since this was the first trip in the Tahoe, it was by default the first trip into the mountains with it. Apparently the brake controller was not set high enough because about halfway down the steep section we pretty much lost the brakes.
Nancy was driving and pulled into a turnout. I could smell the brakes, so I was sure that they were over heated. Just to be positive, again because this was a new vehicle to us, I decided to check the brake fluid level. While I was feeling around under the hood for the latch, I saw that a rattlesnake was admiring my left boot. I never wear boots while we’re driving, but we weren’t supposed to be driving were we? We were supposed to be hiking around the vicinity of the granite dome that we were supposed to be camping on.
The rattler and I both made a tactical retreat (although, he wasn’t very big. I think I could have taken him).
The brake fluid was fine and we just waited in the Casita for the brakes to cool. After another half-hour or so lost we were on the road again.
I stopped at the visitor’s center at the south end of the park and Nancy went in to see if they had the Forest Service map that was not available at the north entrance.
While she was inside, I was playing with some of the other new gadgets on the car. It’s my wife’s SUV and I hadn’t spent much time learning how to use all the cool stuff, many of which are controlled from the steering wheel. I was poking through the buttons when suddenly the OnStar woman started screaming at me.
We’d run into this problem before on the test drive with the salesman. He couldn’t figure out how to turn it down…or off for that matter. And we still hadn’t. I rolled up the windows because people were starting to stare. I normally carry foam earplugs…but not this day. Finally I managed to hit the correct combination of buttons and it stopped. Whew! Then I set it off again. I shut it off much quicker this time. I think I’m getting the hang of it.
The upside was that the visitor’s center had a map. Yea, one point for our team!
Unfortunately, this small victory was not enough to convince me that our luck was changing. We decided that we’d had enough. Even though we had 5 more days for camping I realized that camping this time of year was not for us, at least not in areas where others want to go. We headed home.
During our retreat we stopped for gas on CA 99 near Visalia at a station that offered a free bag of oranges with every fill up. We filled up, walked the dog, and got the free bag of oranges. Then we drove off leaving a 16-dollar 7-gallon Aqua-Tainer sitting next to the gas pump where it was placed when it was moved to get the dog out of his crate.
We discovered this when we stopped for dinner at a rest area south of Tulare. This rest area was a nice surprise. It offered plenty of parking, free WiFi, and an RV dump. It also had a spot off the asphalt under a large tree where we could park and fire up the generator for the air conditioner while we ate. It would have been a good place to spend the night but it was only about 7 pm and not yet dark.
After a leisurely dinner and licking our wounds, we hit the road again with plans on overnighting at the Frazier Park (Lebec, really) Flying J Truck Stop.
We pulled into the Flying J at about 9pm and found a nice level spot for the evening. This last night, in the truck stop, turned out to be the best night of the trip.