Day 3 - Friday 6/22 – Changing Plans: Cave and Trees
I was up at 5:00, but I knew that MsHick was exhausted so I did a little planning and worked a couple Sudoku puzzles by flashlight. She was finally awake about 6:30.
My draft plan for the time in Sequoia and Kings Canyon was to visit Kings Canyon on Thursday (as we did), spend Friday exploring the Giant Grove, Crescent Meadow and Moro Road, hike in Mineral King on Saturday, and then use Sunday for a final visit to Kings Canyon as we transition to Yosemite. Due in part to the fires in the area and their effect on the views, but more importantly the logistics involved with drive time to Kings Canyon and Mineral King, I think we will now focus more on Sequoia and the big trees. MsHick also mentioned that she would like to visit Crystal Cave, so we’ll add that to the mix. So, we’ll go down a path of spending our time in Sequoia and build in some down time as we are both beat after the travel time and due to the altitude adjustment. Besides, this is vacation so a little relaxation would be a good thing. We’ll do a little research on the other areas and use that as a basis for a future visit.
Looks like a beautiful day today, great day for exploring the park. We decided to head to breakfast and discuss our plans for the day there. So down to the lodge a little after 7:00. We both opted for the buffet (there are continental and full/hot buffet options). Great variety on the buffet and the foods are all fresh.
We were ready to roll at 8:35 with a general plan in mind. First stop was the Lodgepole Visitor Center to get some information on the Crystal Cave hike, then head to the Giant Grove. MsHick also wanted to ask about the High Sierra camp at Bear Paw. Sounds similar to the Sperry Chalet setup in Glacier, so something that we would be interested in trying on a future trip. I discussed Mineral King with MsHick and she agreed that this is probably too much for a day trip with all the driving, so we’ll save that for a return when we can look into staying closer to that area.
We arrived at the VC before 9:00 and looked around a bit before asking about the cave tour. As it happens there were still slots available for the 10:30 tour this morning and we still had time to get there (it is about an hour’s drive from Lodgepole to the cave trailhead), so we bought our tickets and hit the road. Very pretty drive along the General’s Highway through the grove for a few miles, then along an access road for the cave. The access road is standard two-lane road for about half the journey, then it narrows just past a bridge and the winter gate. Since we were on the first tour, we did not pass any cars coming the other direction, but when we were leaving, there was a steady stream of vehicles coming at us and many of the drivers had no clue on how to drive on a narrow, winding road (driving too fast, not sharing the road; this ain’t a road race, and you cannot straighten out the road by cutting the corners…that is a recipe for disaster!). Just be careful out there.
From the parking area for the cavern, there is a steep, half-mile trail that leads down to the cave entrance. The trail is narrow, but well maintained and it is a very pretty hike; at the bottom there is a creek and a few little waterfalls that made interesting photographic subjects for the return hike. Before you head down, the docents provide a little safety talk and also reviews the issues with White-nose Syndrome (WNS) a problem in caves in the eastern US that is killing millions of bats. Here’s a link to more information on this significant issue:
To try and prevent the spread of the mold that causes WNS, there precautions that each visitor must take (simple and painless, so do your part and help protect the bats…they are important little varmints!). Another important safety tip that the docents share is to stay in the trail and out of the weeds as the trail is lined with poison oak most of the way down to the cave.
We met a nice family while waiting for the tour to start, grandparents and grandson who were touring the parks and other places in the area. The grandpa, Greg, was an interesting character, and he and I exchanged a few good natured barbs (he started with a comical reply to one of the docents questions to which I stated that there is “someone like that in everyone crowd…it just usually seems to be me”). He was a geologist, so since MsHick and I are both engineers, we had a nice time chatting with him. And our paths would cross again later in the trip.
The hike down to the cavern is not guided; you just go at your own pace. There is only one trail, so no chance of missing the cave. Once at the cave, we met our guide, Mike. Mike walked us through four of the large rooms with in Crystal Cave. The formations are amazing. Over the years, the trail through the cave has been improved to reduce the impact on the formations and lighting has been added. Mike also did the “pitch black” routine in the final room. Turned off the lights and had everyone be silent…eerie, but cool. A very interesting little excursion and not something I had expected in Sequoia (this was not on my draft plan, so hats off to MsHick for finding this little tour). It was interesting to learn that there are nearly 300 caves in the park, but Crystal is the only one open to the public. Crystal Cave does house one of the largest cavern rooms in the park; in fact it was thought to be the largest until just recently when a larger room in another cave was discovered.
On the hike back from the cave, we stopped for some photo ops along the creek and falls, then we headed back to the Lodgepole Visitor Center for lunch at the village store. We just picked up a couple ready-made wraps but they were very good. Here’s the link to my review of Crystal Cave:
After lunch, it was off to see the General Sherman tree, the largest living organism by volume on the planet. We also hiked the Congress Trail with a couple of short spur detours to see some other nearby sights. I plotted many of our hikes on EveryTrail, and later added a more detailed description. Here’s the link to our hike through along the Congress Trail:
I also included the description of this hike as a TA review:
Bottom-line is that this is a great hike and you get to see many of the huge trees along with wildflowers, a few critters and some of the history of the area. Including the detours we walked about 4 miles through the grove.
Our critter list continued to grow today. There were mule deer behind out lodge this morning, so we got to watch them browsing from our window. We saw some Stellar’s Jay at the Visitor Center. And along the Congress Trail we saw marmots, ground squirrels, Abert’s Squirrel, gray squirrels and golden-mantled ground squirrels (lots of rodents!).
After the hike, we stopped again at the Visitor Center for trinkets and a few questions. First, I noted that the flags in the park were flying at half staff. Turns out that a Ranger was killed that day during a rescue attempt in Mount Rainier National Park…it is a dangerous job. Once I got home I was able to get more of the details:
We also learned that the High Sierra Camp is run by DNC, so we’ll check at Wuksachi for more information (again, always looking for things to do during the next trip!).
We were back at the lodge about 4:30. We got cleaned up and then headed down to the lodge for drinks and dinner about 5:40 (we had 6:15 reservations for dinner). We had time for one beer, and then were seated a little early for dinner. MsHick went with the chicken quesadilla and I had the “catch of the day” which was advertised as a coconut-crusted halibut accompanied by tropical salsa and rice. It was a good meal, but the breading on the fish was not coconut; it was way too spicy. It was good, but not a good pairing with the mango salsa…probably needed a dirty rice or something with a Cajun flair. For dessert, we split a piece of crème brulee cheesecake which was outstanding!
During dinner, MsHick saw a bear in the woods adjacent to the lodge, but only a glimpse. After dinner, we decided to walk the paved trails on the grounds to see if we could see any other wildlife…maybe we would get lucky and catch another glimpse of the bear. We did see what I think was a white-headed woodpecker as we started down the trail. As we walked down the trail toward one of the bridges, we came upon a couple from eastern Europe and the lady was a little shaken as they had heard a huffing sound from the gully below the bridge. Sure enough, it was a bear. Turned out to be a mama bear and two cubs and they were working their way up the hill away from us. She was a cinnamon colored Black Bear. We stood there on the bridge and watched them forage their way up the hill. Mama kept an eye on us, but overall, she did not seem too concerned. They eventually passed through the culvert under the road and continued on up the hill and into the forest.
We crashed early; I was out before 8:00! I reckon the high elevation, good hike and good food…plus a couple beers…did me in. I had thought about going to the 9:00 astronomy program, but sleep won out.
Here’s a selection of photos from the day’s activities: