Updated: Jan 11
By Kim Carr:
Catch up with Part 1 of the series here!
I was on my third full day of vacation when my friend Barb and I packed a cooler with fresh fruit from the farmers’ market, nuts, homemade zucchini bread, and all the makings for a sandwich or two. Knowing full well we would have plenty of places to stop and grab something to eat, our goal was to put in as much drive time as possible. I was more than a little excited as we pulled out of the driveway in Scotts Valley and pointed the car southeast for a 217-mile trek to Grant Grove in the Sequoia National Forest. Not only was I on vacation in beautiful California, I was about visit my first National Park. Adventure awaited.
It was something to watch the changing landscape as we drove along. Living in mid-Missouri, there seems to be a dividing line that is Highway 70. It runs east and west straight across the entire state. I live almost in the middle of the state, just north of Hwy 70. South of 70 are rolling hills, bluffs, lots of trees, and rocky outcrops with picturesque views. North of the highway, where I live, seems much flatter, more open and better suited to crops. It might just be my imagination, but this is how I view the state that I have lived in all my life. Granted, I really haven’t seen all that much of Missouri. There is still lots of traveling I would like to do to explore all Missouri has to offer. In my mind, when I think of mountains, I think of jagged, white-capped land formations jetting into the sky often hidden in clouds because they reached so high. During my trip to California, my friend referred to the hills around Scotts Valley as mountains. For me, since they lacked snow and jagged rocks pointing to the sky, it was hard for me to grasp that they truly were mountains.
During our travels, I learned that viewing a mountain from a distance is much, much different than being on a mountain. Whether you are driving up, down, or across a mountain or hiking a mountain trail, you start to feel the magnitude and realize just how very small you are. There is a sense of awe that took over and gave me a greater appreciation for Mother Nature and all her grandness. Perhaps it was the frequent stops to catch my breath that gave me time to reflect on the grand scope of things.
Upon my return home, I’ve done some research. Exactly what is the difference between a Mountain and a Hill? Ends up, it basically boils down to height, much like the difference between a horse and a pony; it all has to do with how tall that hill is. According to Google, a hill is much easier to climb than a mountain—I already had that one figured out even without any real-life experiences. The defining moment comes down (or UP) to the summit. Any summit that is over 1,000 feet above sea level is considered a mountain. As a Missourian, I guess I needed some sort of definition spelled out. It has given me a greater appreciation and understanding of what a mountain is. I also have real-life experiences now with mountains and will be forever grateful for this life lesson. Upon checking, California has dozens and dozens and dozens of mountain ranges. Having had the great fortune of crossing a few of them, I can see the lure that they hold.
Once we traveled through the mountains surrounding Scotts Valley, the landscape eventually flattened out—way out. At first, we passed fields and fields of veggies and strawberries. The land was about as flat as any land I’ve ever seen. They were also the largest farm fields I have ever seen. The rows seemed to stretch on for miles and whipped by as we rolled along the highway. There is something very mesmerizing watching row after row, so perfectly straight, whiz by in a blur. I could see with my own eyes why California is an agriculture giant; the growing conditions here are optimal when you take into consideration the climate, soil, and landscape. They work together to create a perfect environment for an agricultural bounty.
As we drove past the massive fields of veggies, we eventually transitioned into acres and acres of fruit trees. It truly was a sight to behold; trees were laden with fruit ready for the picking. Just to imagine the amount of manpower it takes to harvest such a crop, I found my amazement and appreciation growing even deeper. As a small farmer myself, the time, money, and work that goes into maintaining farmland of this magnitude is mind-boggling. Someday it would be awesome to follow the journey of an apple from a tree in California to a grocery store in Missouri. How long does that journey take? How many steps must it go through from picking to packaging to transport? How many hands does that apple go through to get from the field to the store before it goes home with someone as a snack? These are things I wonder.
Barb’s husband, John, had meticulously mapped out our trip for us. He scheduled us for a stop in Hollister, California, at Casa de Fruta. Judging by the very full parking lot, I would say this is a destination that many travelers seek out. I’m not quite sure how to describe it. There was a restaurant, a humongous fruit stand/combo tourist shop, as well as a mini amusement-type park area for kids. There was probably much more, including an ice-cream shop, but I got sucked into the fruit stand/tourist area. Here, the bounty of California was on full display. There seemed to be oodles of everything. The displays were inviting. I had never seen strawberries so artfully displayed. I just knew everything had to taste as wonderful as it looked. Many of the fruits were displayed like a Jenga puzzle. I wonder how often a tower of tomatoes tumbles to the floor. Also in abundance was every kind of candy in bulk that any kid could ever dream of. In hindsight, I have now come to realize the feeling I had: it was like I had won the golden ticket and was walking through a modern-day version of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory—but with lots of fruit too. Without a doubt, it was a real treat for all the senses. I still can’t believe I made it out of there without buying any candy—that was a minor miracle.
The landscape had changed again. As we left Casa de Fruta, we were surrounded by gently rolling hills. The field grass was a beautiful hue of golden yellow. Hills were speckled with rocky outcrops of boulders tossed about by Mother Nature to add a little character. Trees were here and there as if strategically placed to provide shade for the wandering wildlife. I would love to hike up one of these hills and sit under a tree to enjoy a picnic lunch.
Our destination was the John Muir Lodge in the Grant Grove of the Sequoia National Forest where Barb had booked us a cabin for the night. As we drew closer to the park, the landscape changed to a magical forest with towering trees that only occasionally the sun would peak through. As we checked in, I couldn’t help but smile when I overheard a gentleman stating his kids were going to kill him because there was no internet service. For me, I didn’t mind the disconnect with technology, as I was too busy connecting with nature. Barb had made sure I would get to see and do plenty on our journey to visit three National Parks. It would be a whirlwind trip, but every second of it I breathed in adventure like crisp, cool mountain air.
I came with no preconceived notions, only the intent to enjoy—and that I did. After checking out our cabin in the woods, we headed over to hike out to see the Nation’s Christmas Tree, also known as General Grant. This was the first of several hikes we would be making. Over the course of the National Park adventure, I learned that I am not in as good of shape as I would like to be . . . but I also learned I’m in better shape than I thought! The fact that I never keeled over or that my legs never cramped up over the next couple days—I think that’s pretty good.
The size of these Sequoias is jaw-dropping. It really is something you need to see in real life because it’s impossible to really capture their grandness in a photo. Trust me, I tried. I love that someone had the foresight to develop places like this into parks so many could enjoy. It is my hope that funding will continue to help maintain and protect our natural resources, and that as humans, we will be kind to the land, water, and air. I want to take my great nephew to places like this so that he can see with his own eyes the beauty of our world.
After a night in our cabin, it was nice to watch the sun come up over the Sequoias as I munched on a plum on the cabin porch. We were nestled in a grove of giant Sequoias; even the pinecones seemed unreal and magical. They were bigger than my foot—way, way bigger than any pinecones in Missouri.
It wasn’t long before we hit the road south to Moro Rock. Along the way, we took advantage of several turnouts where you can safely park and enjoy the views. At one such stop, we were surprised to come upon a large area of cairns overlooking a mountain valley. In doing a little research about stone cairns, I came across many articles that disapprove of this practice of stacking stones. Literally, there were hundreds of these cairns. While we did not add a cairn of our own, it did feel like sacred ground. It was amazing to see so many of these towers standing. It made me feel good to know that after so many people have stopped here, there was no destruction to the towers. It’s hard to believe that even Mother Nature left these untouched. How can they not be toppled by the wind and the rain? I think that a single cairn is impressive. To see a clearing full of them, well, it was really something to see. Barb and I practiced the old saying: leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs.
As we arrived at Moro Rock, I appreciated the warmup hike yesterday at General Grant. Moro Rock was more of a challenge: 400 stairs almost straight up, or so it seemed. I was a little shocked to learn it was only a 0.25-mile hike. It became obvious to me, quickly, that hiking straight up into the heavens is a tad more challenging than the hike to General Grant. I wish I would have timed us—how long it took us from the first step to step number 400—but we were not in a hurry, and I took in all the sights and sounds that surrounded us. We began to pace ourselves. Whoever built the stairs to the top built in plenty of landing areas where you could easily stop for a rest. We took advantage of those rest areas as we absorbed the scenery that grew ever more beautiful the higher we climbed.
Despite all the visitors, it never felt crowded. The rest areas provided plenty of opportunity to pass or be passed by others. There were so many languages being spoken . . . a smile, a nod, a hand gesture welcoming other climbers to pass, these are universal modes of communication. Though there were no real conversations, I enjoyed the interaction. We all had a common goal, which was to enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature and the challenge of getting to the summit.
The journey to the top of Moro Rock was well worth the effort as we were rewarded with 360-degree views. You could spin in a complete circle and marvel at the beauty as far as the eye could see in every direction. There was a sense of accomplishment in making the climb; I liked that it wasn’t easy. I couldn’t help but smile. We stayed at the top for some time. I took lots of pictures, but I also took time to just soak it all in. Barb had made the climb before and knew it was something I had to see and do for myself.
There were rails all along the top. I found humor in signage that stated “Stay Inside Railing.” I’m not sure why such a sign would be needed, but I guess there was a reason for it. Just standing near the sign, which is on a steeper slope, made me dizzy and my legs go weak. For a moment, I felt frozen. I wondered how many folks this has happened to. Has anyone ever climbed to the top and then become overwhelmed by the height? That would be a hair-raising rescue to try and make. As my legs were all wobbly, I realized I lacked the gene to be a mountain climber. I’m not sure how anyone ever goes over the edge of a mountain; they must have nerves of steel. For this Missourian, staying inside the railing seemed like a pretty good idea; no need to become a rule breaker at this stage of the game.
To be continued . . .
Kim Carr is a photographer and mid-Missouri hobby farmer who has combined her love for the country life with that of natural-light photography. Her work reflects my commitment to sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of all animals. To learn more about Kim, read her interview with Elizabeth Gracen here.
To purchase Kim's photography, visit her website.