Deliver Us From This Cabin in the Woods
We will be off grid for the next 4 days so I won't be posting any more until after that.
We leave Pahrump and Nevada behind heading for our last State of California. Driving once again to Shoshone we turn South and skirt the boundary of Death Valley, passing Tecopa on the way to Baker, the Gateway to Death Valley. We pass much larger sand dunes than those at Mequite Flats and also hot springs. The sand here has also settled into the crevices of the mountains and has the appearance of yellow snow. Baker is another town reminiscent of those on Route 66. The only building we see of any note is a giant thermometer that informs us it is 84F.
Turning South West, we make a massive sweep through Barstow and Mojave to Bakersfield. Passing through the Mojave Desert we pass some of the largest dunes in North America, The Kelso Dunes. They really are like mountains they are so high. Mojave town is surrounded by mountains which are covered in wind farms, hundreds upon hundreds of windmills. There is also a huge depot for airplanes; another strange place in the middle of nowhere. We have no phone signal or internet so already feel quite cut off from civilisation. What if we break down? Mark reminds me that we are on a busy highway.
We miss a turning and the Sat-nav sends us on a detour. We come to the end of the road and the Sat-nav packs up. We make our way along a dusty track hoping for the best and eventually hit a road which we hope is the right one. Seeing a sign for Bakersfield we heave a sigh of relief.
Bakersfield is a gigantic city in the middle of California North of Los Angeles and we hit at rush hour. There are signs of industry everywhere and the traffic is horrendous. We miss an exit and have to double back on ourselves. A pretty hair-raising experience.
Travelling North towards Fresno my phone gets a signal and I have a missed call from Airbnb. Our host for the next 4 nights, Tim, has messaged (at 2 p.m.) to say we must arrive between 3 and 5 and because I haven’t been in touch, he’s considering cancelling. I ring and explain we have had no phone signal and that we won’t be there until 7 p.m. Considering there is no wi-fi or phone signal at his accommodation he is not very understanding of our lack of communication! He also has a cryptic message to ‘keep your heads down’. What that means I don’t know and I don’t bother to ask.
We pass field upon field of fruit, vegetables and vines. The ground is still very dry but the irrigation systems are vast. Cattle are also grazing, dairy and beef. This is pasture and agricultural land and much less dramatic than what we have become used to. The road stretches ahead, straight and long but at Vasalia we turn East towards the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and the Sierra National Forrest.
The roads are steep and become hairpin bends, one after another. This would be bad enough in the daylight, but dusk is descending. 12 miles takes us 45 minutes to drive. Eventually at 7.35 p.m. we reach Pinehurst Lodge and meet Christina who will show us to our cabin. Mark and Marcus have a smoke and while I make introductions a lady with a BIG dog asks if she can use someone’s phone to call her husband. She has just seen a mountain lion with two cubs and has decided to get a lift home rather than walking. OMG where have we come to?
We follow Christina to a gate with a huge chain and lock. I get out of the car to see the combination and how to open it (looking all around in case!!). Driving down the long rough track to the cabin we hear noises and convince ourselves we can see things in the dark; there are no street lights here.
We enter the cabin, find the lights and are shown how to work the wood burner. Christina takes a call from Tim and warns us not to talk to the neighbour, there’s something amiss there, but we’re not sure what. Memories of deliverance come to mind; OMG where have we come to? Again. Christina is off and we are left to our own devises. It is never good to arrive somewhere new in the dark. This is no exception.
Mark and Marcus find a torch and go to empty the car ever watchful for the mountain lion and under the umbrella of massive sequoia trees. I open the fridge to put in the meagre supplies of milk and butter we managed to buy at a local store (15 miles away). I can’t believe it, it is filthy. It mustn’t have been cleaned all season. There is mould and detritus of food, I’m livid. What do we pay a cleaning fee for? I find bleach under the sink and clean it inside and out. Then go to check the beds and bathroom. Marcus comments that the beds are clean and the bathroom is half clean, which probably sums it up.
Mark makes scrambled eggs on toast (washing every utensil, pan, cutlery and plate before use). After eating we sit in front of the roaring fire and play dice games. This is good; no wi-fi, no TV, no contact with the outside world. We do however make sure all doors and windows are locked before retiring to bed.
Everything always looks better in the light of day. Doesn’t it? I open my eyes to see Joan Crawford looking down on me holding an axe. What? On closer inspection there are photographic stills from ‘Whatever happened to Baby Jane’ covering the bedroom walls. The owner is obviously a big fan. Not the most comforting bedtime companions, but each to his own.
Well the cabin is in the most fantastic location, surrounded by Sequoia trees (we are in the Sequoia national Forest). There is a decking with BBQ, chairs and fire pit and enough logs to last a lifetime. This is going to be a really restful, secluded few days with hikes in both Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park.
Toast and coffee for breakfast I think, as there is a toaster and a kettle. Both are filthy and I decide I’d better get rubber gloves, cream cleaner and cloths when we go shopping. As we had no time to stop and stock up on food yesterday (travelling for just short of 10 hours) once Marcus is up, we set off to the nearest supermarket, a 46-mile round trip.
The scenery is beautiful, almost Alpine. Coffee and breakfast are enjoyed at the Rotary Club in Dunlap. The annual Turkey Testicle Festival is advertised for the 12th October, much to Marcus’ and Mark’s amusement; unfortunately, we’ll have moved on by then.
Shopping bought we call at the Ranger Visitor Station to collect maps and information about the area. Back at the cabin we sit on the deck enjoying the peace and fresh air. A knocking noise starts up at the neighbour’s house up the road and we begin to wonder what this means. It is quite loud and we have been warned about him. Mark gets the binoculars, it’s only a woodpecker. Nevertheless, it is making a real mess of the corner of his wooden cabin. At least this means he’s not in at the moment.
Mark and Marcus walk the half mile to Pinehurst Lodge for a drink whilst settle down to read. The forest is full of noises and I feel quite scared on my own so decide to use the time wisely, cleaning the kitchen (I’m thinking of asking for the cleaning fee as payment. I can see I have another message from Tim (it must have come through when we were shopping) but I’m unable to open it and decide to ignore all his messages from now on.
After diner we play Monopoly. Marcus manages to buy up the whole of one side of the board, adding houses. Both Mark and I are paying out hand over fist every time we land on any of these. We have an enjoyable few hours and then leave the game to resume tomorrow.
Before going to bed we stand out on the decking watching the night sky. The stars are wonderfully bright and the sky is full to the brim. It is beautiful and we realise how lucky we are to be staying in such a location, dirt and all.
We are woken by scratching somewhere outside near to our bed. What could it be? Neither Mark nor I are brave enough to look.
We travel along the US245 through Orange County, passing rows and rows of fruit trees and vines. This reminds me of the dreams and hopes of the Joad family in the Grapes of Wrath, when setting out West for California. The nearest town to the National Park South entrance is Three Rivers next to Lake Kaweah, which is really low due to the hot, dry summer.
We pass through Ash Mountain Entrance and on towards the Rock bridge. Marcus climbs up to the top of the bridge and poses for photos. Mark and I decide to give this a miss, pretending we are too sensible but in reality, we are too scared.
Moro rock is our next stop, Sequoia’s iconic granite dome. There is a quarter-mile concrete staircase up 300m to the top. We set off and at the first viewpoint Mark decides this is not for him. Marcus and I continue climbing. The staircase is sometimes very narrow and there are not always railings, making it quite hair raising. We eventually reach the top and quickly take photos as I feel quite queasy myself (the heights are dizzying). However, the views are amazing. We can see the Great Western Divide, huge mountains at nearly 14000ft. It is hard to believe that tourists once climbed a rickety wooden staircase that was erected in 1917.
Once we reach solid ground, we continue to the tunnel log which Mark is able to drive through whilst Marcus takes the obligatory photos. I cannot believe we are actually driving through the trunk of a tree.
We come across the Parker Group of trees in the Giant forest and other massive sequoia and are amazed by the sheer size of them. At the museum we watch a short film and through hands-on exhibits learn about the life stages of the trees and how conservationists such as John Muir helped to save these giants for future generations.
We would have liked to visit the Crystal Cave but unfortunately it is closed as the Summer season is over (hard to believe when the temperature is 78F). Therefore, we next drive to the trailhead for the General Sherman Tree. We walk down a shaded trail to view the largest living tree on earth by volume, at more than 100ft around its base. We pass many other huge trees in this grove and are thankful that the introduction of the National Park protected these so that we are able to see them. We begin to realise how small we really are.
As we get back to the car the air is full of smoke and it is becoming quite hard to breath. The firemen and engines with flashing lights remind us that there is a planned prescribed fire today. This is an important means of protecting the forest and supporting the growth of new sequoia trees. It is a bit scary though. What if it gets out of hand? We are after all staying in a log cabin in the forest and we are banned from having a camp fire or charcoal BBQ. We are assured by the notices pinned all around the car park that this is under control. Driving back to the cabin we can see the smoke in the valley and keep our fingers crossed that the rangers know what they are doing.
An evening of Monopoly beckons. Unfortunately, Mark cannot pay his rent when he lands on my hotel property and has to go bankrupt. Only Marcus the property tycoon and myself are still in. This looks like it will last into tomorrow evening.
I have been kept awake all night by the scratching. We think it must be rodents under the house (under our bed more like). Marcus did see opossums on the decking last night. There are definitely rodents about as proven by the droppings on the kitchen top when we get up. I’m not happy (I had to leave home and have a new kitchen fitted when I once saw a mouse in 1999) and wash every plate, dish and piece of cutlery we will use. I decide to keep everything in the fridge which I know is clean and cannot be entered by any little mites. Mark smiles to himself but goes along with my foibles.
As we are only 5 or 6 miles from Kings Canyon the journey should be easier today. Who am I fooling? The entrance is close but then we have to drive 30 miles along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway. The road has dizzying drops, sheer granite cliffs and hairpin bends down to the canyon below. It is terrifying and yet exhilarating at the same time. Mark tells me to look at the scenery not the road and he says he is just looking straight ahead. We are both having kittens but when we reach the bottom, we know the journey was worth it.
The Kings River runs through the valley and there are trails along the length. We park at Zumwalt Meadow by the river surrounded by granite canyon walls. We have been warned that black bears are foraging to fatten up for hibernation so set out with a little trepidation. In fact, both Mark and Marcus find a stick each to use as a walking stick (but secretly to use as a weapon!!).
We walk along a river trail to the Roaring River Falls. This 40ft chute gushes into a granite bowl and doesn’t disappoint even at this time of year when water is in short supply. The route back takes us on the winding road which is quiet at this time of year.
As we reach Roads End, we are presented with a lovely, calm river scene. The water is clear and peaceful and Mark decides to take a swim. He manages to get in to his knees. However, the bed of the river is very pebbly and the water is freezing so he quickly retreats. It reminds us of Bolton Abbey or Burnsal and we can imagine the scene on a hot Summer day as children and families play in this cooling pool.
The large flat rock jutting out into the river is named Muir Rock after John Muir who used to give talks on this boulder to other conservationists and tourists. We all clamber on and take in the beautiful vista. No wonder Muir wanted to save this for future generations.
On the drive back we stop at Grizzly Falls in the Sequoia forest and then make the tortuous journey back up the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, ears popping as we travel up the canyon. Once at the top we visit General Grant Grove and the General Grant Tree. The trail is only short but passes a number of mature sequoias including the 27-story General Grant tree. This is the world’s second largest living tree and the USA’s official Christmas tree. Marcus also walks through the Fallen Monarch, a massive, fire-hollowed trunk which has in the past served as a cabin, a hotel, a saloon and horse stables!
We stop at the Pinehurst Lodge on the way back to the cabin. The atmosphere is pleasant and we finish the day with a social drink, chatting with some of the locals. What a fabulous three days we have had in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and the Sequoia National Forest. Lets hope we can sleep through the animal scratching tonight.