Saturday, January 19, 2019

From Hiking Boots to Snowshoes (Vasquez Rocks and Sequoia National Park Roadtrip)

When our landlord told us that we had to pick a weekend to be out of our apartment due to termite fumigation, we weren't too mad about it.  It was a fine excuse to go on a weekend trip and get reimbursed for undue rent!  We decided to go to Sequoia National Park--not too far away, and the weather was perfect.  By perfect, we mean below freezing temperatures and a high chance of fresh snow.  

We also hit up the Vasquez Rocks, which is about 45 minutes away from our apartment off the 14 Freeway.  It's a pretty awesome cluster of rock formations jutting out from the earth just a little bit off the route from our apartment in Pasadena to Sequoia.  The first time we went to the Vasquez Rocks was actually sometime in 2015, because we were in the area to pick up a used snowboard that Wes was buying for me off Craig's List.  We didn't spend that much time there that time, as we were not even prepared to stumble upon this cool place.  We'd been talking about going back to explore.  This time, we planned to hike a few trails, check out the visitor's center, and learn more about the history behind this area.  But before we hit the road, we headed to Arcadia for our first order of business: dimsum at China Red (our new favorite spot!).  

It's crazy how vastly different the two places we visited were within the same 200-mile stretch, over the course of just three days.  I really appreciated the dynamic landscapes that we can so easily drive to in California and also the spontaneity with which we can pursue these adventures at this time in our lives.  Now, we just have to go and unpack all of our dishes and food that we had to bag for the fumigation... ugh.

Over twenty million years ago, the Vasquez rock formations were shaped by earthquakes along the Elkhorn Fault, a branch off the San Andreas Fault.  These iconic rock formations can be recognized in scenes out of movies that were filmed here throughout the 20th century.  There is also a dramatic stretch of the famed Pacific Crest Trail that cuts through this area.  But before all of this, Native Americans of possibly Chumash origin lived here, somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 years ago. Then, the Tataviam Indians arrived at about AD 450.  If you're lucky, you could find arrowheads and pictographs that they left behind.  We tried our best to find some after learning about them at the visitor's center...whereas we may not have found an arrowhead, we think that we did locate a sun pictograph off-trail on a cliff wall behind some shrubs!  We checked with a ranger back at the visitor's center when we were done, and while she did not say for sure whether it was authentic or not, she never denied the possibility that it was.  We felt pretty excited about it all the same.

We also hiked on the part of the Pacific Crest Trail that crosses through this area, which was not difficult, but took us above the Vasquez rock formations and gave us a whole different perspective.  We barely ran into anyone on this hike.  I believe it was about a 3.5-mile loop starting at the Foot Trail and then joining with the PCT.

Revisiting this area was totally worth it.  It's gripping how much natural and human history lies here, just an hour outside of LA.  After spending a few hours getting dusty, we got back into the car to keep driving to Sequoia National Park, which was still four hours North!  Thanks to Wes for always energetically taking the wheel.  We had booked a motel in Three Rivers to stay at for the night, so that's where we were headed...but not before filling up on traditional American fare at our favorite chain diner in that area: Black Bear Diner!  They have stuff like pot roast, meatloaf, chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, and gigantic bear claws.

After starting the morning off with some lovely free motel breakfast (pro tip: bring your own avocado), we were excited for the prospect of snow after seeing so much sun and sandstone.  The high altitude scenery of giant trees, lush meadows, and granite rock formations of Sequoia National Park is beautiful in the summer, but we feel that the winter is really our favorite time to go.  On our first trip here during the winter, we were enthralled by the calm, the quiet, and the majesty of this winter wonderland.  That time, we had rented snow shoes.  Since then, Wes has insisted that we purchase our own pairs of snow shoes.  We realized that having our own snow shoes untethers us from sticking to set snowshoeing trails and frees us of the time limits that come with renting.  So this time, we came prepared.  We just had to cross our fingers for a nice, fresh coating of snow to stomp through!

We got into our thermals and picked up some Subway sandwiches after packing the car.  Wes drove along the winding route from Three Rivers up into the park.  We saw the scenery change from the car windows and felt as the temperature dropped.  It was so gorgeous, and also, devoid of the usual summer crowds.  

There was lots of snow to be found at the end of that long climb up in the car.  We decided to do a hike that we were familiar with--The Lakes Trail.  Of course we knew that we wouldn't go all the way up to any of the lakes or even to the first lookout point given the snow, but we knew that at least the bottom part would be safe, doable, and beautiful.  Things look way different in the snow, so it made sense to pick a trail that we were familiar with in case things got confusing.  It's a hard trail during the summer and it proved to be even more strenuous in the winter on snow shoes.  However, the peace and stillness were so worth it.  Eating my soggy Subway wrap while sitting on a fallen log in a patch of sunlight was probably one of the happiest meals I've had.  We went for only about a mile and a half or so before noticing some avalanche fields that seemed pretty sketch.  So here, we decided to play it safe and turn around.  

On the way down, we pulled over for a beautiful sunset and then went to this chain called the Pizza Factory for pizza.  It wasn't really the most amazing pizza, but options in Three Rivers are extremely limited.  The redeeming factor was their unlimited salad bar, though, and we visited that bar three times each I'm sure.

The next day, we headed into the park again to snowshoe in the Giant Forest.  It had snowed overnight so we were sure that it would be stunning!  We've been to this area one time as an obligatory check off the bucket list and hadn't returned.  This part of the park is beautiful, but crowded, noisy, and full of lines to take pictures with the most famous giant sequoias.  This day, it was the opposite.  We felt like we had all of these 2,000-plus-year-old giants to ourselves, with only birds and a handful of other people for company.  Everything was coated in a dusting of white powder, and as if that weren't already enough, fresh snowflakes started to drift down from the sky while we were snowshoeing (off-trail of course!).  I couldn't get over how breathtaking this experience was and how glad I was that we had our own snowshoes.  We planted our Go Pro into the snow and took many pictures together--maybe too many--before finally heading back to the car.  

On the way down, we continued to admire the scenery from the road.  Wes paused to put on some snow chains and a couple of rangers came over to admire them... I don't get it, but I guess we have some pretty kickass chains?

Both the Vasquez Rocks and Sequoia National Park were places that we had been there before, but this time, we were able to revisit and leave both places with a completely different experience that exceeded anything we could have ever hoped for.  I think that a combination of taking our time and being opportunistic gave us a good chance, but in the end we've got to give all of the credit to Mother Nature for being magical, all-powerful, and wondrous.

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