To close out a pretty good year, three of my great friends and I headed up to Three Rivers, Calif. to visit Sequoia National Park for the last day of 2012. Not a bad drive from Santa Barbara, with no traffic, we were there in just over four hours and ready to let the adventures begin.
We stayed at the Pioneer Suite of the Log House Lodge, the exceptional private bed and breakfast of Mauriene and Tim Landry. Like an old settler’s cabin that had somehow been been updated to modern code, this was a super spot to stay, exceptionally clean and modern, and awesomely decorated. Loved the faux buffalo head in the living room (no actual buffaloes died) and the modernized phonograph that played a long looping custom collection of vintage country tunes (“Ghostriders in the Sky,” “Keep on the Sunny Side,” etc.) created by the owners. With a full kitchen, we could do all our own cooking, and we did – restaurants in Three Rivers are limited to Mexican and pizza, and the grocery shopping is charmingly dated. (Think your locally owned hometown supermarket, circa 1985.)
Two of our group had never been to Sequoia, so the first day we did an easy snow hike around Round Meadow and visited General Sherman, the largest single stem tree on the planet. Later that night, refreshing my history with one of the useful texts supplied at the lodge, I began to agree that perhaps the tree would have been better named for Karl Marx, as proposed by the Kaweah Commonwealth Colony (more about them in a minute). Despite having an awesome first name – Tecumseh – General Sherman was the antihero of the Indian Wars and caused a lot of pain and grief to Native American tribes throughout the West.
There was a solid four feet of snow on the ground, powdery and pristine, so on Monday we returned to the park to take a snowshoe hike to Moro Rock. Years ago I cross country skiied this with my family on one of our annual winter getaways. En route, the sun came out and the Giant Sequoias began shedding some of their snowy decor within minutes. It was beautiful to watch the sparkling snow flurries spiral to the ground. Kelly dubbed them “snow ghosts” and we spent minutes marveling at their beauty until one dusted our faces by surprise – snow ghost attack! As we reached Moro Rock, the view over the high Sierra was cloud covered but heavenly. We hit the vista at absolutely the perfect moment, and have dozens of photos to show for it.
Returning around the loop hike to the Giant Forest Museum where we’d left the car, we were in thick, slasher-movie style fog the entire way. It was creepy and cool (literally) all at the same time. No more views or snow ghosts to be seen. To amuse ourselves, we attempted to sing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” with a name of a different brew for each verse. A tough challenge, but we did it! Turns out there are more names of beer stored in your memory banks than you think.
After a fun New Year’s Eve celebration involving Catchphrase, Dominion, grilled cheese sandwiches and a short visit to the nearby RiverView Lounge (walking distance from our accommodations), I was up bright and early on New Year’s Day. Crossing over the Kaweah River, I headed out along the North Fork of the river for a run (the three forks of the Kaweah are where Three Rivers gets its name). The sun was shining, and I had a quiet country road mostly to myself. After a few miles I hit the post office of the Kaweah Cooperative Colony, est. 1890. It was one of those run surprises that I hadn’t expected and very easily could have missed, but there it was. The socialist utopia KCC (1885-1892) was set up in an effort to cut down the giant sequoias and sell them for timber. It failed when the colonists were awarded no land grants, and Sequoia became a national park instead. The Three Rivers newspaper retains the name “Kaweah Commonwealth,” one of the better names for a weekly I’ve seen in a long while. The adorable post office, where 100 people still get mail, also remains. Approximately 480 lucky souls still live in the Kaweah area, according to the population sign, and they reside in an awfully beautiful place.
Happy New Year. May 2013 bring travels and adventures your way. Thanks to D. Vo and A. MirTabatabaei for the photos that appear below.