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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Touring California in a near-depression: post 3

I am continuing down the 41 hwy headed toward Fresno on a hot baking 100% mid-morning. I have a small ice bucket with cold water and a cold soda at my side. Also a headband soaked in icy water on my head. Am driving thru miles and miles of flat farm fields. After a 1/2 hr drive I spot a shady tree-lined road which borders a new real estate tract. I stop next to the real estate office which is closed on labor day Sunday. I get out to splash the cold ice bucket water over my head to cool me down as i am going the CA central valley in a simmering heat wave in late summer. There are no travelers on the road.

Not much to see along the route 41 drive from Oakhurst to Fresno outer city limits- just miles and miles of endless monotonous farm fields Occasionally I see a well-tended tidy ranch-style home off the road but keep going.

I finally enter the Fresno outer city limits, get off Herndon Avenue and head east, wishing to avoid the Fresno densely populated inner city urban areas. I have lived virtually all my life in the dense urban LA region and wanted to avoid that. I go east along a road with lots of modern suburban bldgs, malls and businesses. Guess i got off a little too close to Fresno urban area. I am now entering Clovis, which is a prosperous tidy suburban outlier at NE corner of Fresno. I make a turn south on Clovis Road and keep going till i get on Hwy 180 ,the Kings Canyon Road, and head east on way to Sequoia- King Canyon National Parks.

There was a long stretch of this highway which was being re-worked/ widened. Why? It is used only heavily on three summer holiday weekends. This is just one of 100's of CA highway 'improvement' projects going on all over the state. It is funded by Federal recovery/re-investment stimulus funds in conjunction with Caltrans/CA infrastructures bonds. These costly boondoggle projects appear to be inching along at snails pace in most cases as State/Federal dollars trickle in. Feds and CA both have budgetary deficit problems and these projects are budget busters. Furthermore, these road projects are mostly done with heavy road machinery so they don't generate a whole lot of jobs, the real need in a 20-25% UE state.

After a short drive I stop at the remarkable Blossom Trail Fruit Stand on corner of Reed Avenue and hwy 180. It was packed with customers even in midday 100% heat in middle of empty farm country east of Fresno. There were 30-40 folks standing in line and they had traveled way out this way to get inviting fresh fruit at .99 cents per lb. Plums, apricots, peaches, apples, ect. were lined up neatly along rows, packed in open boxes. Just pick em out and take them to the checker. There was this neat stone-built watering and wishing well you could wash your fruit in ,or yourself, which i did. It was a neat setup.

I left and kept going east along 180 and after a long drive thru extensive farmlands and orchards i arrive at Squall Valley( not the ski resort). This rural farming township of around 3000 population has suffered from the great recession. I saw lots of ravaged beaten down bldgs and the countryside had a depressed ragged look. Must have been much reckless real estate speculation prior to 2007 in this last town you pass thru before reaching the national park. Lots of local businesses likely shuddered as tourism dried up due to twin blows of recession and high gas prices. I stopped to get gas at the still functioning local gas stop & trading mart. It is the last gas fill-up before you head up into the park.

I am now heading up the Sierra Nevada western slope oak foothill /grassland country, a pleasant relaxing drive thru a scenic part of CA. There are views of rolling oak parklands interspersed with occasional farm bldgs, country residences, and grazing cattle and horses. Route 180 ascends up a fairly straight low-angle slope along a big natural mountain ramp, which takes the traveler almost to the northern entrance to the park. It is fairly easy on the travelers gas budget and nerves, though i find the southern entrance route 198(Generals Highway) much more scenic but far steeper, with many more sharp curving turns.

After a while i get to the Parks north entrance near 180/198 junctions. I pay the $20 park fee and after a further two miles driving i reach Grant Grove Village, a pleasant scenic national park stopover. It is situated close to the Grant Grove Sequoia Grove and has a complete suite of facilities for the park visitor and camper. I prefer Lodgepole for a car campsite but Grant Grove's three camping sites are almost as good. There is a good coffee-house type restaurant at Grant Grove, really the only halfway decent reasonably- priced eatery in the entire dual park system. I always stop for breakfast or lunch there on way to or from kings Canyon, which is in Kings Canyon National Park, a separate entity from Sequoia N.P. Most folks will look at maps and consider them as a single entity titled Sequoia-Kings Canyon N.P. I have much to say about King Canyon, which is well worth a 1 or 2 day side trip. The granite domes, spires, cliffs and buttes of Kings Canyon are almost as inspiring as the more famous Yosemite granite monoliths. On this particular trip i will bypass the canyon as i am pressed for time , have only two more days left and will spend it entirely in the Lodgepole/Giant forest area of Sequoia N.P.

I asked the excellent well-staffed Grant Grove Visitor Center and Museum about available campsites at Lodgepole, the most popular campsite in the entire park. They said there were 150 sites available(out of 212). I was surprised that the site had emptied out so quickly on the last day of labor day holiday weekend, Monday Sept 5th. Apparently the bleak California economy had forced most folks to leave on last day of the labor day weekend. In normal times Lodgepole would never have cleared out so quickly and thoroughly. I would have the entire park to myself.

This completes the third installment of my CA travel log. I am at Grant Grove Village, taking a brief rest before heading up into Lodgepole and the Giant Forest section of Sequoia National Park. Note: I have been to this fabulous park 20 times and i still love it. It is not as crowded as Yosemite, even in summer. It has magnificent sequoia trees and cold gushing rivers to wade in. It is deeply forested but also has a few trails which climb up into the real sierra high country granite and lakes region. It has few fancy facilities or amenities, no malls. and few shops. There are only two gas stations in entire park and they are hard to locate. It has few frills but that's why i like this park. I have been coming here forever. I have hiked almost every trail in this park and know it far better than most of the park rangers and staff.

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