Early Friday evening, the holiday weekend began. J picked me up from work in our rented silver sedan and we began our long drive southeasternward towards a cabin near Sequoia National Park.
We were meeting friends from LA. The driving time was equal for both parties.
Traffic was surprisingly light except for a traffic jam near Pleasanton caused by two car accidents. Our route took us west over the Bay Bridge, along the 580, 205, 120, and then south on the 99. Yellow grassy hills transitioned into a fertile irrigated valley of nuts, grapes, and other crops. Subdivisions encroached on farmland, industry mixed with abandonment.
We stopped for a burger at an In-and-Out packed with an assortment of characters. The table outside offered a good view of the drive thru traffic jam, and the air smelled of charred wood.
The sun was setting as we turned onto the 198 at Visalia. It was dark as we curved along the shores of Lake Kaweah.
Off the main road, we were in the countryside. The smell of dust mixed with the sound of bullfrog croaks. Fragrant dried grasses mixed with chirping crickets along with the rushing water of numerous streams. We kept the windows rolled down and tried to soak it all in.
The directions to the cabin were as complicated as a David Foster Wallace footnote. We identified turns through a combination of distances and landmarks: turn right 100 yards after the general store, turn right again at the donkeys, go for a while along a road until it becomes a single lane and you see some mail boxes on the right. Pass a one lane bridge, orchard, and a variety of fences. Then park behind the yurt.
The friends had already arrived. We chatted with heavy eyelids, then retired to our rooms.
Saturday morning, I woke before sunrise and walked around the property. Kaweah Cottage sat on many acres of rustic valley along a roaring, snow fed stream. There were gardens, horses, and great views of the hillsides. A large variety of birds and squirrels called the place home. The squirrels took turns standing on the fence and a pile of rocks to sound the alarm when they saw a fox. We saw a fox once.
Grassy hills and hundreds of windmills at the 580 pass.
Sitting area on the front porch.
J examining the herb garden that was free to use.
Sunrise on the valley wall.
Mosses at the riverbank.
Another view of the riverbank.
Long exposure of the rushing river.
Another for good measure.
The owner of the property gave us a tour before lunch, explaining the better swimming holes, the history of the place, and how to deal with ticks and rattle snakes. Figs seemed to be growing everywhere.
Our first day was leisurely. We hung around the house, cooked some meals, pulled ticks off a dog, played Settlers of Catan, and hung out on the rocky river banks. J and M were brave enough to get into the numbingly cold water. JK and I were not.
The owner’s dog leads the way on the tour of the property.
Trail in the grass.
A view of the cottage from the horse field.
Squirrel on the lookout for foxes.
Algae infested pond.
The road to what used to be a parking lot before they raised the water level.
M and JK.
Sunset over smelly waters.
The abandoned BBQ stand shaped like a cow.
On Sunday, we drove into Sequoia National Park. Past the gate, the curving road took us up a valley and into a land of trees. As expected, the sequoias were massive. Many had charred areas from forest fires. The park was crowded and parking was difficult. Around General Sherman, the pathways were thick with people speaking Chinese or Spanish. But off the main paths, the forest became solitary and quiet.
We took a hike from General Sherman to the visitor’s museum. Along the way, we spotted two groups of black bears! We were both amazed and terrified, as mothers with cubs are a dangerous combination. The first group popped out of some plants in a clearing and walked along a fallen log. One of the cubs stopped to rest in a shadow, then nuzzled his mom. We watched from maybe 50 yards away, hoping that we wouldn’t become bear food. At the moment, I think we all forgot what to do in case of a bear attack anyway. Make a lot of noise? Climb a tree? Play dead? Stab it in the duodenum with a key tied to a stick? Instead, we cautiously walked away.
Farther down the trail, we spotted another mother and her cubs trying to blend into the charred base of a giant tree. She studied us for a moment, then led her cub away from us.
The view leading up to the sequoias.
Giant tree and visitor museum.
Visitors taking a photo.
Massive fallen tree. Use the people hidden on the path on the right for scale. Use them!
Brown bear and cubs!
Off flowers sprouting in the sunlight.
A bear cub!
Hiking up Moro Rock.
The view from the top of Moro Rock.
Another view looking down the valley.
My photos of these bear encounters suck like a bear sucking out honey from a sucky bucket.
The bears must have messed up my bowels on a primitive level. I had to go. And I had to go bad. I told my empty-colon companions to go on ahead, then I wandered into the bear-filled woods alone and did my business.
The woodpecker that flew away must have lost respect for me. I know I did.
We ended our time in the park with a hike to the top of Moro Rock. The rocky pathways were crowded and steep, but the view from the top was beautiful and vertiginous.
That evening, we ate and played Catan again. I won. Afterward we pulled some blankets and chairs into the front lawn and turned off all the lights. Above, a vast field of stars twinkled. We were lost in them.
Standing on the porch, stargazing.
Breakfast in the morning light of the back porch.
On Monday, we ate breakfast on the back porch while watching birds and horses. Another two games of Catan later, and it was already the afternoon. J and I needed to get going. We packed up and said goodbye. We were sad to leave the little cottage in the middle of nowhere.
We made good time on the way back. There was a horrible accident that somehow involved both an overturned SUV and a motorcycle. An emergency helicopter was airlifting someone on a stretcher.
The sun was setting as we passed through the hundreds of wind turbines lining the yellow rolling hills. It was a beautiful sight.
Fog and cool breezes greeted us when we opened our doors. While I have no preference for hot and dry over cold and wet, it was a clear reminder that the weekend was over.
Or was it?