When I was 19 years old, I worked in a grocery store that often kept me late hours into the night. Much of the time, I would be awake until 4 in the morning. On one of those late mornings, I found myself aimlessly rifling through the cabinets where my parents kept family photo albums. You know – the sort with lots of grainy, film photographs of a dirt blond kid in tank tops and trucker hats at places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Haleakala.
Mixed in with the photo albums were a handful of photo books about the National Parks we visited as children. Among those was a book on Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. In the late hours of the night, I rifled through the book and saw images of people dwarfed by cinnamon pillars. I knew right there that these trees were something I would have to see.
So, I packed my old car up with my parents camping gear, a ton of spaghetti, and some blankets, and I drove to Sequoia National Park late through the night. I rolled in to the park and crashed at Potwisha that night. Early the next morning (since I slept like ass in the back of my car), I drove to Crescent Meadow, where I emerged into an emerald world sparkling with dew and crisp mountain air.
I walked out to one of the massive logs criss-crossing the meadow, and I ate a protein bar while marveling at the acoustics of the meadow. Sound has a lot to bounce off of in a sequoia forest, and every trill of a bird reverberated throughout the meadow’s open space like choir music in a cathedral. As I sat enthralled, a mule deer walked into the meadow. After staring at me for a short eternity, the deer wandered on in search of its next bite.
Since then, I’ve gone to Sequoia and Kings Canyon nearly every year. In one year, I went six times. Sometimes I went alone and wandered deep into lake basins and alpine summits. At other times, I went with friends and built deep, lasting memories. Every trip showed me something new, and even with repeat hikes I got to see the character of the place.
I’ve been there on days where the weather didn’t crack 20, and the snow in Giant Forest was half a dozen feet thick. I’ve been there in the midst of the worst drought in 1,000 years, and I’ve watched thousands of conifers died. I’ve heard the Kings River road, and I’ve heard the Roaring River whisper. I’ve seen black bears bounding into the forest as I pass by a meadow on an evening hike. I postholed my way to Tokopah Falls in a light snow, and I’ve watched the sun rise from the Sierra Crest at 13,500 feet.
Sequoia has the feeling of home because it’s where my love for the natural world was born. It’s also where I discovered the joy of hiking. My first formative hikes often involved either Santa Monica Mountains, to which I’m similarly attached, or Sequoia. I took my first backpacking trip here (Cottonwood Lakes and Soldier Lake), and I camped here for my first time as an adult. I had my first taste of dawn in Kings Canyon and sunset at Moro Rock, and I watched the sunset into Central Valley haze with many good friends. In some ways, the experiences were so pure that I still feel like I’ll be forever chasing that first rush of cool alpine air.
And so no matter where I go, or how much I see of grander, more famous places like Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon always feel like home. And now, as my son discovers hiking and looks at pictures in my own book on Sequoia and Kings Canyon, he too will soon say, “Holy crap! That’s a real tree? I’ve got to see that.”