From The West: My Family Visits the General

Roughly a month ago, my family flew 3,000+ miles from Maine to visit me in sunny California. My mother, step-father and brother landed in Sacramento and headed south on I-80 West. Once they settled into their hotel, we met up for a post-arrival, pre-travel-induced-passing-out dinner.

Over various Italian foods, we caught up and discussed what it was we were to do for their nine day stay. Having recently left my job, I was free to do whatever they’d like. Aside from the normal San Francisco sightseeing, it was determined that we should do our best to break in the black 2011 Ford Fusion they had rented.

And what better to do way to do this but drive 270ish miles to Sequoia National Park? After viewing really big trees, we decided we’d head another 190 miles north to Yosemite National Park. From there, we’d complete the loop and head home. This plan sounded great! Though it did dawn on me that the last time I had spend five hours in a car with my family was 11 years prior, while driving from Maine to Pennsylvania. But really, how bad could it be?

After a few days of stuffing our faces, gazing at the Golden Gate Bridge and walking around Golden Gate Park, we prepped ourselves to head south. After many rounds of Angry Birds, some potato chips, sunflower seeds, beef jerkey, and good conversation, we started the ascent into the National Forest.

Since we had left early, we got to Sequoia National Park by early afternoon. It being mid-April, the lower valley’s landscape was a lush green and the views were exceptionally beautiful. Once we got our fill of the vistas, we aimed the Fusion at the real attraction, the Giant Forest. Having made it this far, we couldn’t leave without a glimpse of the General.

For those of you asking, “What in the sweet hell are you talking about?”, I’m talking about the General Sherman. As Wikipedia explains:

General Sherman is a Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) with a height of 83.8 metres (275 ft). As of 2002, the volume of its trunk measured about 1,487 cubic metres (52,513 cu ft), making it the largest known non-clonal tree by volume.

At six-thousand feet in elevation, the roads were flanked by large banks of snow, giving the car ride a bobsled vibe. Once we arrive at the General’s parking lot, we quickly hit the trail to see ol’ Shermy. To be honest, I can’t really describe the tree beyond saying it’s really, really, really [expletive] big. I simply do not trust my vocabulary. It is something that needs to be seen in person to fully appreciate.

After spending some time admiring Mother Nature’s large-scale handy work, we piled back into the car and started north to Kings Canyon National Park. As we neared the entrance, we stopped at a trading post to inquire about hotels on the way to Yosemite. Along with some great suggestions, we also learned that the road to Kings Canyon was still closed to due to snow. Oh well. We spun around and headed back to route 99.

As we passed through Fresno, we debated if it was time for dinner, or if we should drive straight to Yosemite. We decided it wise to grab dinner, and stopped just north of Fresno. Our decision was validated when we looked at the map. The area between Fresno and Yosemite is sparsely populated at best. After a delicious meal, and quickly descending into food comas, we decided to stay put and find a hotel room nearby.

The next morning we hit the road bright and early, zipping up route 41 to Yosemite National Park. While the season’s tremendous snow fall didn’t allow a peak at Kings Canyon, it did provide spectacular waterfalls in Yosemite. In fact, as we walked around, we repeatedly heard tour guides mention that this was the best time of the year to visit.

Entering the park from the south, we realized that though Yosemite is known for its falls of the same name, there are several other majestic cascades. Included are Ribbon Falls and Bridalveil Fall. Other great features are El Capitan and Half Dome, both well known in rock climbing culture. As mentioned before, I simply don’t trust my writing to properly describe the sights found in Yosemite. What I can do is highly recommend visiting the Park in the early spring season. You won’t be disappointed.

It is true that I had originally questioned my ability to survive a two day road trip with my family. In the end, I made it unscathed and had an amazing time. I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to share such a great experience.

Do you think you could manage several days in a beautiful part of the country with the people closest to you? Have you tried?