Published: September 13th 2012September 12th 2012
Day 6 - Lake Isabella to Sequoia to Lake Isabella, Distance Travelled 96 miles.
The original plan for today was to take advantage of Lake Isabella and jet ski/ canoe/white water raft etc etc as the guidebooks suggested but sadly the lake is pretty empty at the moment after the snow failed to fall during the winter and the local agriculture continues to use the water through the hot, dry summer so with half the lake gone and the remainder so low there are trees and land sticking out from beneath it, we had to come up with plan B.
The lady in the office recommended a drive up to the forest, "it's only about an hour and it's easy to take a motorhome up there" were her famous last words...so she sold it to us and although this was one of our allocated 'no driving days' we figured for an hours drive each way it was worth the risk...so the beast was detached from her electric and water lifelines and we hit the road.
The first part of the journey was a 5 mile circumnavigation of the lake where it was plain to see just how low
the water levels were, much worse than any of those panicky Daily Mail pics of reservoirs in the UK last February before the hosepipe ban. From the edge of the lake we started climbing into the Sierra Nevada Mountains following the course of the Kern river, usually one of the best whitewater rafting destinations in California apparently. I think I would have had more fun rafting across my pond back at home today as the river was so low, more of a babbling stream at points than a raging torrent but the giant boulders strewn along it showed how much water must flow down it when at full flood.
The road follows the course of the river and climbs very steeply in very random directions for about 30 miles...in a car this would probably be a simple hours drive but in a 30 foot motorhome it becomes a bit more challenging. Luckily the roads were very quiet and we took our time on the climb, watching the signs at the side of the road tick off 2000, 3000, 4000 and 5000 feet above sea level.
The scenery was quite spectacular and with the Sierra Nevada mountain range on
both sides, there were plenty of photo opportunities. This area is at major risk of forest fires and there is evidence of recent fires everywhere and also signs warning you of the dangers of fires everywhere. This led to Shas to making me sit in the middle of a dust filled carpark, dousing every ash drop with a bottle of water on our first fag break during the climb! There are however, also signs on the route suggesting you use snow chains and that snow ploughs don't operate at night every few hundred feet as well, so obviously there are two very different climates in operation during the year... Thankfully we are in the baking hot part of the year otherwise my lizard blooded other half would not have been happy!
On the climb there are plenty of places to pull over and take photos or let other nutters in convertibles, jeeps or DHL vans go past. There's also a huge number of 'wilderness campsites' where apart from a clear bare patch of earth to pitch a tent and maybe a barby area and portaloo there are no amenities provided. These seem like a popular place for the Americans
to pitch up, start a campfire and fish/hike/drink by the river for a few nights. Luckily we have our home comforts with us and an RV park with bar, launderette, eleccy, water and shop available!
After climbing to just over 6000 feet (nearly one and a half times the height of Ben Nevis) we reached our destination, the "Trail of 100 Giants"...a protected part of the National Park with a walking trail through some of the hugest Sequoia trees know to man. These are relatives of the giant redwoods and in this particular area there are over 100 trees greater than 20 foot in diameter and 200 foot high. After a lunch of ham rolls and cheetos, prepared in our wonderful travelling kitchen...we set off on the trail.
This area featured heavily on the news last year when the huge trees were threatened by a massive wildfire , they did receive particular attention and whilst many show the scorch marks and damage of a big fire, they have all survived. It's fascinating to see the size of these trees, ranging from 500 to 1500 years old, in fact Shas remembers planting some of them as saplings ;-) (
that bits just a test to see if she ever reads my blogs!) The walking trail isn't long, about 1-2 miles but takes you past some of the best specimens, many of which you could easily walk under or park a car inside, we felt it could be better signposted and more information available about the area to make the trip more interesting( no phone signal up there so no way of googling anything!) but it was nevertheless a fantastic place to visit. One area of the path through the forest is suddenly bisected by two huge fallen trees that shared the same root system, this was where we were able to really gauge the size and age of these enormous specimens, the photos are unlikely to do them justice but I have tried!
So having done a bit of walking it was time to return back to the campsite, conscious that the 'one hour' drive predicted earlier had turned into two and a half. We didn't want to get caught out in the dark, but that was the least of our worries...Descending from 6000 feet is quite a bit faster than ascending, and on this particular road, the
righthandside of the road is on the 'outside' closest to the 1000 foot drop below, whilst we were conscious of the height on the way up, it was a lot more obvious on the way back, and Sharan, who isn't good with heights at the best of time, spent a lot of the time clinging with white knuckles to the passenger seat....but the trip down was a lot quicker, albeit with the smell of burning brake dust in our nostrils at times and a few squeaky bum moments at the cliff edge on the corners!
At the bottom of the descent we visited the Kern Valley General Store for some 'supplies' and to quench Shas's burning need for a Cappuccino! This was a great little, traditional, old school, General Store and rest stop (and Deli) smoking their own ribs out front in a big barrel. It's the kind of place where you can buy anything from frozen noodles to fishing rods to inflatable dinghys to ice and even a pistol or semi automatic gun...The guns are not locked up but hanging on hooks just behind the till next to the fags....obviously only one of them has a health warning
on them. I wish I'd taken a picture as it was a slightly surreal sight to a European, but probably not here!
So we returned to base camp after a fantastic day out to bask in the last few rays of sun with a cold beer (or slush puppy from the camp shop!) It wasn't quite the 2 hour easy drive we expected and taking the RV was not a piece of cake but it was well worth every minute of it just to see what the Sierra Nevada mountains and Sequoia National Park have to offer.
In the evening we chose to swerve the need to work through our masses of WalMart purchased food and instead wandered along the road from the campsite to a diner we had spotted on our way in. The Sierra Vista is a small roadside diner close to the KOA restaurant and although the outside looked quite innocuous , the interior, or rather the patio area and food were superb. We ate superb steaks, crab legs and chicken kebabs for a hugely reasonable price considering the amount of red wine and corona consumed, then it was back to the KOA pub for
a few frames of pool, a few more drinks and Xfactor USA on the TV. Simon Cowell is even more smarmy on the US version than the UK and he also features in most of the ads during the break as well! Let's hope he stays in the US!
Keeping up the theme of meeting English people in the middle of nowhere, we spent a lot of the night chatting to the barman at the KOA who was from Twickenham. He came out on an RV trip last November with his wife and stayed. Shas thought about it for a while but then realised there is no Fluke in Lake Isabella so discounted the idea of staying immediately.
So all in all a fantastic time in this part of the USA, tomorrow we unhook the beast and set off on the longest drive of the trip...300 miles to Yosemite via Bakersfield and Fresno. Might be a short blog tomorrow night....but then again, knowing me.....
As well as the photos embedded in this blog, there should be more at the bottom of this and every other blog page.....night night xx
There are more photos below