- Where We Started: Pleasanton, Calif.
- Where We Ended: Visalia, Calif.
- Miles Driven: 502 (12,359 total).
- New States: None.
- States So Far: 19 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
Our original plan had us going straight from the Bay Area to Yosemite National Park on Tuesday, but thanks to Joan, we made a late change of plans. After I bemoaned for about the 100th time having to skip Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park because of our tire problems last week, Joan finally looked at me and asked, "What's stopping us? Let's go." I thought about it, agreed, and after lunch, we got in the car and headed back south to see the park that we also had to skip in 2003 because of scheduling issues.
This change of plans added a day to our journey, and while we didn't have time to all of Sequoia & kings Canyon before dark, it was definitely worth the detour, as we saw the two largest trees in the world -- the General Sherman Tree and the General Grant Tree -- and experienced Brigadoon-like fog in the forest.
Because we were out late Monday night, and also coming off a busy weekend, we got a late start on the day. So we didn't reach Sequoia & Kings Canyon until late afternoon. We ascended about 5,000 feet through the Sequoia National Forest to get into the park, and once there, made a beeline for the General Grant Tree, one of the many giant sequoias in the park. Named after Ulysses S. Grant, the tree is the world's second-largest, at 46,608 cubic feet. Its trunk is the widest in the world, at 40 feet in diameter at ground level. The tree is 1,700 years old, 268 feet tall and weighs 1,254 tons. In addition to being named after a president, this tree has also gotten presidential attention twice. In 1926, President Coolidge named the General Grant Tree "the nation's Christmas tree." and in 1956, President Eisenhower declared the tree a national shrine.
The General Grant Tree. The guy who named the trees in the park was a Civil War veteran who served under Sherman. That explains why the big trees are named after Grant and Sherman, and probably why he named the bigger one after Sherman, even though Sherman worked for Grant. By the way, about five people could fit in that gap in the trunk.
From there, we headed into the Sequoia section of the national park, and toward the General Sherman Tree, the granddaddy of them all, at 52,508 cubic feet. You can only get to the tree by parking and taking a half-mile hike that's all downhill on the front end, and all uphill on the back end. There were no dogs allowed on the trail, but since we'd ascended quite a bit to get to the park, the temperature had dropped to 35 degrees, so leaving them in the car was OK. There were no other cars in the trail parking lot, so we probably could easily have walked the dogs to the tree, but we decided not to for two reasons: 1) they surely would have chosen the General Sherman tree to mark, and 2) the Sherman tree is located in a bear zone. But since bears can't pick locks, we felt OK leaving the beagles in the car.
The General Sherman Tree is 1,365 tons and is 33 feet is diameter at its base. While the top of the tree is dead, the rest of it is still growing. It is believed to be between 2,300 and 2,700 years old.
The General Sherman Tree stands in the Giant Forest, where five of the 10 largest trees in the world (in terms of volume) reside. It was a gorgeous area, made even more striking by the late-afternoon fog that had set in.
As the sun set, we huffed it back to the parking lot, and set off to find ourselves a hotel in Visalia. We had to skip driving down the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway because of time, but in the end, saw what we really wanted to see at Sequoia & Kings Canyon, all thanks to Joan's prodding.
Unfortunately, it was a boring day for the dogs, spent mostly in the car while we drove, ate or hiked. But we did get them out of the car to pose in front of the Giant Forest.
Here are some other Sequoia & Kings Canyon photos:
- While stopping for a drink right off California 99 in Madera, Calif., we noticed this across the street:
I found this pretty interesting, so poked around to see what this was all about. Turns out there's a whole organization called Truckstop Ministries Inc. On its mission statement page, this organization says its goal is to eventually have a 24/7 ministry at every truck stop in the country. This one was closed at the time the photograph was taken, so I guess they aren't having much success here. Reading through its tenets, it's clear the ministry doesn't have a lot of tolerance for alternative lifestyles, and looking at its Web site, it's clear it has even less tolerance for functional Web design. But I certainly found it interesting. And, no, I have no idea how you get into the chapel either. Maybe you prop yourself up on the bar in the back and vault in? Maybe you hop from the truck cab right into the chapel? (Editor's note from Joan: As the person who took the photo, I can attest to an accessible entrance in the front of the trailer).
- Sign of the Day: Tommy T's Comedy Steakhouse, in Pleasanton, Calif. I will say this: I have actually heard of some of the comics playing here, so I'll give this place its due on that front. But the name cracked me up. My own personal moral code forbids me from mixing steak and comedy.
- Shameless flackery: I wrote a column for journalism.org on the best practices for using web traffic analytics, and it got a nice bump from a Romenesko link.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "The Last in Line," by Dio. Oh yeah, it's about time we saw a little metal here. This song is from the band fronted by one-time Black Sabbath lead singer Ronnie James Dio. It starts nice and mellow, but being this is Dio, you know that won't last. And it doesn't. This isn't as good as Dio's best song, "Rainbow in the Dark," but it's a good, solid hard rocker. While I admit I don't listen to much metal anymore, hearing songs like this definitely brings me back, and I will always admit to a certain fondness for the Scorpions and Judas Priest. And, without heavy metal, we wouldn't have album covers like these.
- Most-Played Albums: On our way to Sequoia National Park, the two albums we played in their entirety were "Atom Heart Mother," by Pink Floyd, and "Rocket to Russia," by The Ramones. And that is the only time those two albums will ever be mentioned in the same sentence. "Atom Heart Mother" shows Floyd on the path from the pure psychedelia of "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" to the more accessible sound of "Dark Side of the Moon." The title track -- a side-long space-agey tune-- is an odd piece that's a bit hit-or-miss, but it's never boring. "Rocket to Russia" is The Ramones' third album. and along with their debut album, one of their best. Featuring classics like "Rockaway Beach," "We're a Happy Family," "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" and "Teenage Lobotomy," this album -- like every Ramones album -- places a low priority on lyrics, though "Teenage Lobotomy" might have the best rhyme in rock history: "Now I guess I'll have to tell 'em that I've got no cerebellum."
- One other Ramones-related note. About halfway through "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," Joan looked at me and asked, "What are they saying?" Now, this is a common question from newcomers to The Ramones, since everything is kind of mumbled. But, before I could respond, she tried to answer her own question: "Sheena is a pawnbroker?" I stopped laughing about six hours later. And their other big hit is actually called "I Wanna Be Serenaded."
- Lunch: In-N-Out Burger, Pleasanton, Calif.: Since our time in California is winding down, I convinced Joan that it was a good time for one last In-N-Out Burger stop. Joan then pointed out each of the 15 In-N-Out Burgers we saw the rest of the day. She falls for this act every time. Jim Nutrition Rating: 0 stars (out of 5). Yes, I picked a fine way -- a double-double and fries -- to celebrate losing two pounds. Restaurant Rating: 4 stars (out of 5, on the fast-food scale). While I maintain that Five Guys is now the better chain, this burger was the best I've had at In-N-Out in some time. Joan was not as happy. She's firmly in the Five Guys camp in this epic burger battle. Anyone else have an opinion on this besides Joan, me and Amy Kovac?
- Dinner: Denny's, Visalia, Calif.: This was my first stop at Denny's on the trip, and Joan's first ever. I told her it was sort of like Shoney's, a chain I totally sold her in when we were in the South. Turns out that's not really true -- Denny's is more Silver Diner than Shoney's, as there is no all-you-could-eat salad bar at Denny's. But we had wonderful service, and my grilled turkey sandwich and chicken soup were good. Joan opted for a bizarre salad that included chicken, Craisins, bacon and maple syrup-glazed walnuts that left her more perplexed than satisfied. It reminded me of my father's advice on ordering at places like Denny's: "Just because there are 100 things on the menu, it doesn't mean they make them all well." His philosophy was to keep it simple and order the things you knew they made 100 times a day. Joan violated this rule. Then again, so did my father. Once. That was at a Long Island diner, when he chose to order something called chicken hibachi. As soon as the cook dug through his archives to find the recipe, the meal arrived, and after one bite, he knew he'd made a mistake. When asked shortly thereafter how his meal was, he looked up and muttered, "Not much chicken. A lot of hibachi." Jim Nutrition Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5). Restaurant Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5). The food was worth a 3, the service was worth a 5. Since food counts for more than service in our book, that comes out to a 3.5.
- La Quinta Inn & Suites, Visalia, Calif.: Our good run of budget hotels continued in Visalia -- the one-time home of Kevin Costner and the New York Mets' Single-A affiliate. We stayed at a brand-new La Quinta Inn that was clean and comfortable. Most importantly, it had guest laundry because -- believe it or not -- Joan had not done laundry in seven days. I'd managed to keep her off the wash for a week now, but eventually, the withdrawal became too much for her. It didn't hurt that we were also out of clean clothes. So she's now completing her fourth load since we arrived last night at 10pm. Hotel rating: 4 stars (out of 5). A few dings: One of the two dryers in the laundry room isn't working, which -- as you can surely imagine -- makes Joan a tad ornery. Also, the fan in the bathroom -- which automatically goes on with the light -- was so loud that when Joan went in there to set up the dog's water bowl, I thought she'd started a leaf blower. Joan wanted to dock the hotel another half-star after seeing a man emerge from the pool in a postage-stamp sized Speedo, but I informed her you couldn't blame the hotel for that, even if it that image will be seared in Joan's mind for years.
COMMENT OF THE DAY
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTO