California Dreamin’

Ever since reading a National Geographic article about a tree-climbing scientist and his team measuring and studying giant sequoias, I have wanted to visit Sequoia National Park.

I finally had an opportunity to see the majestic trees in person on a recent shoulder season backpacking trip to California. From Los Angeles, the route involved heading North to Sequoia National Park, East to Death Valley National Park, and then South to Joshua Tree National Park for a ‘three-in-one’ trip!

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The giant sequoias in Sequoia National Park definitely do not disappoint. The trees are simply stunning, jaw dropping if you will. We chose to visit in the shoulder season, meaning already snow on the ground, which added a special element to the visit. Aside from the trees, Sequoia is part of an extensive network of hiking and backpacking trails. I could have spent months in the area just hiking and exploring. Must sees are the Giant Forest with the General Sherman tree, Grant Grove with the General Grant tree, the Big Stump trail, and the spectacular Muir Grove with nearly a dozen giants standing in a perfect circle. And then if you love the backcountry, you’ll have your pick of trails. Panther Gap en route to Alta Meadows provides a stunning sunset view!

Death Valley is the largest National Park south of Alaska and is known as the park of extremes. It is North America’s hottest and driest spot and has the lowest elevation on the continent at Badwater Basin. And when the wind blows through the valley, it certainly blows. There are so many great places to simply pull a car over on the side of the road and go exploring; sand dunes, slot canyons, and salt basins. Of course there are more well known highlights including Devil’s Golf Course, Artists Palette, Natural Bridge, and the Racetrack. My favorite landscape though was the unobstructed night sky with a billion star view.

Joshua Tree National Park in southern California is divided by two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, into two arid ecosystems. The Colorado is the low desert compared to the more vegetated Mojave high desert. Joshua Tree is much smaller in comparison to the other two parks. It’s an easy drive across it with a number of opportunities to see flowering ocotillo and cholla cactus and of course Joshua trees flanked by incredible rock and boulder formations. Hiking out to the fan palm oases are must sees as well as camping overnight in the park with a number of accessible front country campgrounds. Each site is surrounded by massive boulders. I spent hours sitting on top of the massive rocks once the sun set with my GoPro, trying to capture the beauty of the sky during the Leonid meteor shower!

These parks are worthy of addition to any bucket list!

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