If you should want a perfect trip to California's Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park, you could do a lot worse than what we just did (as much through happy accident as through research or planning).
Stay in a cabin at Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park. Drive in on a Wednesday, arriving in time to attend the Junior Ranger talk about the amazing life cycle of the giant sequoia from oatmeal-sized seed (one of 2000 in one of the 10,000 egg-sized cones sequioas produce each
year after a century of childhood) to skinny conical "spire" to scraggly "broccoli-top" and finally, after several centuries, to "monarch." Enjoy a delicious pizza at the lodge as mule deer munch in a meadow nearby.
That night marvel at the stars, and discover, as your camera flashes as you try to get a snap of the Milky Way, that the air is full of tiny bits of tree pollen wafting by like gold dust, and feel for a moment that you've seen the jewel-sparkling nature of true reality, Tathagatgarbha...
Perfect Day I
As you sit staring up at its gnarly top a French tourist might come up and ask, "excuse me, do you know where is the big tree?" and you might giggle about this for the rest of the day. Was she joking? You decide it doesn't matter. These trees are absurdly big! Then drive up the windy one-lane road to Panoramic Point for a view of the high Sierra, and the silver sliver of Hume Lake below. Then drive down to the area by the park entrance where loggers felled many sequioas a century ago, and clambering up as many of the massive stumps as you can. If the spirit
moves you, dance or act. (We chose a suitably intimate stage for a Shakespearean moment.) After dinner a ranger talk takes you to back to the Milky Way and its kindred galaxies, and the joys of astronomy. Later that night, the Milky Way glows almost audibly with invitation.
Perfect Day II
Sequoia National Park
Then climb the 300+ steps to the top of the granite megalith Moro Rock for a spectacular view of Sierras and foothills. After an ice cream bar at Lodgepole Market, walk down to the General Sherman, largest tree in the world and (calculated by volume!) at least as old as the common era, set like a treasure in an elaborate frame of trails and railings.
On the way follow the sightlines of a gaggle of tourists with big cameras and espy one of the park's famous black bears on the hillside above you!
Back to the pizzeria for lunch, again noticing mule deer in the adjoining meadow, and tally up all the kinds of animals you've seen so far: 24!After three perfect and beautifully contrasting days, each with three beautiful and perfectly contrasting expeditions, head home. It's a largely truck-free Sunday, and some of the orchards on the way down Route 63 to Visalia might have some freshly picked fruit available to sweeten the journey. Without heatwave and weekday smog, you can see the mountains north of Los Angeles float toward you, like lightest brushstrokes of watercolor on the pale blue sky, and then roll around you in yellows, browns and greens. And before you know it, the blue band of the Pacific is accompanying you on your right, waiting for you to take your post-journey dip, buzzing with the wonders of California.
Perfect Day III
Kings Canyon National Park
On Saturday, wend your way to Kings Canyon proper, driving the National Forest Scenic Byway through breath-taking (and hair-raising) geological wonders, and equally multicolored foliage as manzanita glow and oaks glower greens, some other tree flashes red and orange, and above mountain mahogany's twisty filaments shine a fluffy white.
Zumwalt Meadow in the Cedar Grove area of the park is like Yosemite, incense cedars, ponderosa pines, cottonwoods and cattails taking the place of redwoods, as the bright clear Kings river flows quietly by.
Seek out these tiny fruits. They taste like raspberries! Have lunch alongside the watery roar and the happy cries of visitors diving at Roaring River, the falls roaring lustily despite a near snowless winter.
Then finally unwind at Hume Lake (which you saw from Panoramic Point), swimming, renting canoes and then enjoying "Humeburgers," corndogs and Sierra Mist at the Christian camp center there - a perfect (and perfectly post-secular: Hume Christian camps?!) end to a hot day.
A final ranger talk at Grant Grove will remind you that most of Sequoia-Kings Canyon is not redwoods but alpine and subalpine wilderness by telling about a Norman Wynne other intrepid rock climbers of the 1930s and 1940s, with stunning images by Ansel Adams. You might remember the call of the American West, and vow to return soon with a backpack, and go into the high country for a proper trek, to see the sunrise over an alpine lake, and the stars from a summit... The sky might put on a specially bright show for you, to spur you on...