8 October: Reflections on our trip

Author: Mr A

Location: Atlanta, Georgia & Dallas, Texas, USA

I like to believe a holiday should change you in some way. For Catherine and I, this trip across the US has certainly had an impact on us. We have made some new friends, learnt some new things (like that gravy isn’t always brown, and kettles are not a universally recognised essential item for your kitchen), and decided to review our plans for next year (more mountains less scrubby desert).The America we have met on this trip is one full of kind, respectful people (no..we didn’t meet any politicians). We had so many instances of people (friends and strangers) go out of their way to be thoughtful and courteous. When you read the headlines focusing on the negative headlines from here, as elsewhere, its easy to forget a country is made up of individuals. It’s hard not to generalise about the “behaviour” of groups of people from the same geography, race, religion or sex. As humans, we want the simple truths, but really we will find as much variation as commonality.We have so many highlights it would be unfair to call them out, but I will. Thank you to all the people who went out of their way to help make our trip here go so well. Those who had us stay (may your livers recover), those who helped us settle in (Deborah of the care package extraordinaire), those who gave us tips on specific things to do in their patch, and most importantly to the doctors who provided a “just in case” safety net for Catherine (who can’t get medical travel insurance for her breathing disease).

We saw so much beauty in this country. The mid coast hinterland of California, then the giant sequoia trees and the soaring peaks of the Yosemite. Then over to Chicago’s downtown area along the lake front, then the much smaller scale lakefront community of Cicero, then on to the unique geological area of the Red River Gorge and finally the majesty of the Smoky Mountains.We have eaten some fabulous food, cooked by friends or out and about, the choice of cuisine is almost endless. The option to not have sugar or dairy in it…a little harder. We sampled some amazing wines in California (Dave and SJ, Susan and Joe – you have such great taste!), and mind bending cocktails and bourbon courtesy of the Chases in Cicero.Thank you for your hospitality America. It’s time to return to Sydney, and the life and friends we have there, but we are certain we shall return.

18 September: Into our second Kings Canyon for the year

Author: Mrs A

Location: Kings Canyon National Park, California, USA

When we were exploring Kings Canyon in central Australia just over a month ago we had no idea there was another one over the pond in the US awaiting our visit. California’s Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are somewhat entwined, you drive from one to the other almost without realising.

In contrast to Australia’s Kings Canyon’s weathered ancient sand dunes, California’s towers over us, its highest peak at 4,020 metres almost double Mount Kosciusko, Australia’s tallest summit.Our first glimpses left us again spellbound, as we left behind the tall sequoia trees and climbed into mountainous country. Kings Canyon has been described as a ‘close competitor to Yosemite’ – and being our destination for the next couple of days, we are almost beside ourselves with anticipation of what might be ahead!

We drove through twisty turning mountain roads as far as we could go, opting to attempt a hike at the end.We followed the Kings River for a couple of kilometres before we were stopped by a couple of National Parks officials about to detonate some fallen rocks. In interest of our health and making it safely beyond today, we retraced our steps to the car and drove on.

Our next destination was Roaring River Falls, where we chose to enjoy lunch – a sandwich and fruit prepared by our hotel. The falls were pretty impressive, and you could imagine how spectacular they would be in spring, after the snow melt.Not much further along the road was Grizzly Falls, plunging deep down into the valley.Despite the name, there are no Grizzly bears in these parts, only black bears. We have seen many warning signs about them but they are one furry critter we are yet to spot. Our eyes are regularly peeled and camera at the ready.

From here, we began climbing out of the valley and up back towards Sequoia, via many spectacular lookouts.Back in Sequoia National Park, it was hard to miss out yet more giant trees, helping us feel miniature in their presence.It is so hard to capture just how huge these trees are and the feeling you get walking here…you’ll just have to come and see for yourself!

We continued back to our hotel for the night, back to a hot shower, delicious cooked meal and some relaxation. Tomorrow – off to adventures new.

17 September: In the Land of Giants – the Sequoia National Park

Author: Mr A

Location: Sequoia National Park, California, USA

We were both very excited by what lay ahead today. We were going to drive up into the world famous Sequoia National Park, home of the largest trees on the planet. Not the tallest or even the widest, but the most weight of wood in any one tree.

I was also pleased, but less excited, to be using my senior’s pass for US national parks, which you become eligible for over here at 62, so just scraped in. Saved us $60 on this one trip alone. One of many great thoughtful tips from Catherine’s friend Deborah, I obviously looked like I would qualify 🙂

It was a fabulous twisty turny drive up the Generals Highway into the park, and so nice to be driving a nimble little car and not towing a van!

Our first stop was the Information Centre, from which we wandered off into the forest and did a short walk to what was called Sunset Rock. As it was 11am it wasn’t crowded…that suited us just fine. We got a feel for the different flora and fauna here, with bushy tailed squirrels, for instance, darting around.Then we walked down into a grove of sequoia trees. I caught myself holding my breath. The aura and precense these giant trees have is palpable. To see them soaring up to 80 metres above our heads, and to think some of them are over 3,000 years old and still growing, I think they are a reminder from Mother Nature of our place in the world.I drove us on up into the heart of the park, to the area the famous US naturalist John Muir named when he first came across it in 1875 the “Giant Forest”. Not one to joke around, he had it spot on, as this area has the largest collection of the massive trees in the whole park, including the tree that is the single largest living entity on this earth, the General Sherman tree.We were just mesmerised. Every time I looked down at my feet then looked up again my eyes took a moment to adjust to the perspective, with stands of these incredible trees just dominating everything. Look at this photo for instance – “Honey I shrunk Mr A”!We then spotted a creature that looked like a rather portly marmot. Much larger than the ones we saw in France. Clearly he had been on the all you can eat High Sierra buffet!It was all too quickly time to head off to our lodging for the night, the Montecito Sequoia Lodge, high up in the park at 2,286 metres (7,500 feet). It described itself as “rustic” – and it is – delightfully so.

A ski lodge in winter, we have a cosy room with all we need. Better still, free wine and cheese tasting! I was less excited to see both reds were Zinfandels, but, I soldiered on, and even bravely consumed Catherine’s for her. We are even allowed to bring our own wine to dinner, how good is that. The food was in the help yourself to buffet style, great for Catherine who could avoid all the dairy contaminated options and still have plenty of choice. We are happy chappies…particularly with this incredible view from outside the dining room at sunset…just wow. Americans do this type of expereince really, really well. I vote we send a plane load of Aussie outback operators over here for some valuable learnings.