Having spent real time in California, the state has slowly proven its immense and vast natural beauty. The tropes of smoggy Los Angeles concrete jungle or the county that surrounds it is far from the best that the Golden State has to offer. It's taken far too long for us to take time to ourselves to explore its parks and natural beauty; most of our trips north are for work over pleasure, despite how fun working trackside might be. Last week, I took some time off, dedicated to the outdoors. With my girlfriend Emily and our pup, Chloe, we loaded up the Land Cruiser and headed north to Yosemite National Park, five hours north of Los Angeles.
Yosemite National Park is a natural treasure of the United States, and is recognized for its spectacular landscape, made up of granite cliffs, waterfalls, valleys, streams, giant sequoias, and more. Preserved by law, Yosemite stands as a monument to our drive - and obligation - to protect the beautiful planet on which we live. Originally set aside by Abraham Lincoln in 1864, Yosemite helped paved the path for the National Parks System, which continues to preserve America's wildlife and wilderness to this day. As home to some of America's best scenery, and having spent years seeing it second-hand through Ansel Adams's work in photo school, traveling to the park has been a long-time goal of mine. As I've spent more and more time outdoors over the past year, the motivation to visit grew and grew. In celebration of Emily's birthday, we set a date, and made the drive.
We made the drive up on Wednesday morning and spent the evening touring Oakhurst, a small mountain town just a few miles south of Yosemite's South Gate. On Thursday morning, anxious as ever, we climbed into the FJ62 and began the ascent up the mountain and into the park. Many of the park's roads and sights remain closed due to winter and the altitude, where patches of snow still clung to the roadside, surely in its final days as summer temps make their way in. "Tunnel View" marked our first stop into Yosemite Valley, the park's foremost tourist destination. We overlooked the valley, in awe of the mountains that surrounded us. Famous cliffs and peaks, such as El Capitan and Half Dome soared over the landscape, towering thousands of feet above the valley floor.
Pictures do no justice to the park's scale - waterfalls thousands of feet in height roared from the cliffs' edges. A hike to Mirror Lake and beyond offered an escape from the paved roads, and with more time, we'd have taken the chance to camp deeper within the park's wilderness areas. However, with a short schedule, we made an attempt to see the park's most famous features, saving deep exploration for a return visit.
Our first day in Yosemite came and went with haste; in what seemed like a few short hours, an entire day had passed us by. More disappointingly, my hopes of a vibrant sunset against the face of El Capitan faded quickly as evening clouds swept in and the sky quickly turned from luminous to foreboding. The clouds enveloped the peaks of the mountains and the sun was swallowed whole. With the remaining traces of light in the sky, we made our way out of the park, eager for the next day to arrive.
The Miraposa Grove is home to several hundred Giant Sequoias, and lies just inside Yosemite's South Gate. Perhaps my most anticipated part of the trip, it was a disappointment to hear of its closing for restoration. However, outside of the park's southern border is the Nelder grove, hidden away without signage, paved access, or tour bus entrances. Secluded within the hills of Madera County, the Nelder Grove proved to be the highlight of our adventure.
The path into Nelder Grove offered the first bit of off-roading for the weekend, although a far cry from anything challenging. The landscape made it all but impossible not to regularly stop for photos of the FJ62, especially with the newly mounted LodioDrive 3-spoke wheels and a fresh set of Nitto Trail Grapplers. After making our way to the trailhead, we parked the truck and began the hike on foot, with Chloe leading the way - the national forest requires no leash, and our pup was as excited as we were. Chloe found a pine cone at the trail's start and brought it along for the hike.
Nelder Grove is home to a few spectacular trees, namely the Nelder Tree, Bull Buck, and the Old Grandad Tree. The Nelder Tree is the grove's largest, and in ranking, stands as the 22nd largest Sequoia in the world at a total of 34,993 cubic feet: enough wood to build 80 average-sized houses. Bull Buck, although not one of the largest trees by total volume, is enormous at its base, with a circumference of more than 100 feet. At 2,700 years old, it's been alive for longer than one can imagine. Both trees were truly staggering in size, offering a rather large reminder that it's imperative we do what we can to protect these remarkable trees, and the rest of the planet along with them as the climate continues to change, and as humans continue to trod over the landscape with development.
As beautiful as they are, the giant sequoias are not the grove's only offerings. Trails like the Shadow of the Giants and the Graveyard of the Giants offer a glimpse at incredible trees and the nature that surrounds them. Beautiful streams, enormous Sugarpines, and young saplings scatter the grove floor, only adding to the enormous value of the secluded sequoia grove.
After a few miles of hiking, we returned to the truck, longing for another visit before we had even departed. Hours later, we found ourselves in LA traffic, all but ready to return to the daily grind. The weekend offered the experience of a lifetime, heightened by the realization that such an adventure is only a short drive away. StanceWorks will return, eager for more of what California has to offer. As the summer months arrive, we suggest you make the trip for yourself, and in the mean time, simply enjoy the trails.