Ask about my favorite moments from our road trip and I’m sure to stumble for an answer. Each and every day was packed with unreal sights, old-school map reading and ridiculously memorable (for better or worse) roadside meals. I will forever struggle to pick a best part purely because the entire thing was epic. But, the moments crouched below the towering canopy of Sequoia National Park with only the shutter of my camera to break the serenity definitely fight for top honors.
This is where we time travel a bit.
Last xmas, we sat around the dining room table enjoying our xmas brunch when grandpa mentioned his most recent idea for a road trip. He described his last trip to see California’s Redwoods just a few years ago but noted that they’d missed the Sequoias while there. More importantly, they’d missed General Sherman.
General Sherman is, by volume, the world’s largest living tree. Stretching 275 ft. into the air, its mass anchors the Giant Forest that grows around it. Grandpa had to see it.
I agreed to the sheer awesomeness of such a sight and trip and, lo and behold, months later we were pulling through the gate of Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California. This time, we would finally get to use grandma’s senior lifetime national parks pass (allowing our entire truck of sightseers free entry) and all would feel right with the world.
Anticipation amplified as we wound our way through Sequoia National Park. Each new curve revealed one gorgeous view after the next. The navigation counted down the hour it would take to reach our destination within the park. Eventually, we would start climbing while winding. Working our way through the mountain range at a brisk 25mph, we creeped closer and closer to the Giant Forest. The climb, of course, was much too similar to that of Pike’s Peak and we quickly triggered mom’s fear of heights, fear of my driving, fear of cliffs, fear of walls, fear of other drivers and, ultimately, fear of ejector seats. Yet, as we spotted our first Sequoias dotting the timber, we all calmed in awe of the gorgeous scene.
The tourist park that surrounds General Sherman is filled with winding paved, yet uneven, paths. Wood fences separate humans from the world they would otherwise surely destroy. A small deer greeted us at the entrance, undeterred by people, but strategically adjusting his ass toward the collection of crazed parents that had gathered for a cute photo opp.
One thing these types of places will always guarantee: spotting a photography expert (read: nerd) outside of his natural habitat (read: basement) and attempting to educate (read: reveal his extremely vast (read: faux) photography knowledge) to the general public. Thankfully, the manner in which this is done is overwhelmingly loud and grandiose — allowing me full belly-laugh enjoyment from a reasonable distance.
While our new “friend” Daniel gathered point-and-shoots and smartphones from the crowd to capture “the best photo that’s ever been taken on this camera,” I lingered behind my grandpa who was peppily trotting through the park in search of his tree.
The path zigged. There, we admired a few noteworthy views and skimmed a few educational plaques. Daniel scoffed has I handed my Canon 6D and wide angle lens to my mom, on auto mode, and she — with no effort whatsoever — snapped a silly shot of me standing on a rock. Clearly, our strategies for vacation photography weren’t on his level.
The path zagged. Suddenly, Sherman commanded attention through the forest. As if the trees had parted just for him, Grandpa was already standing at the base. He’d no-fucks-given-style walked directly into the background of all the posed tourists’ photos to stand under the treetop. While a mile long line of people waited for a turn to pose (a free service now offered by Daniel) — my grandpa in the center and actually saw the tree we’d traveled so far to see. In admiration, he crept as close as the wood fences would allow — never looking away from the tree.
At this point, Daniel was literally laying on the ground to get the “perfect angle.” I blindly held my camera into the air and clicked. Vacation captured, you insufferable dick. Within minutes, Dan the Man and Amateur Photography Nerd #2 started to croon about polarizing filters and all the amazing national parks that he needs to go shoot with his ginormous talent.
Turning away from the largest tree in the world, grandpa simply said “ok.” And with a slight shrug of the shoulders, started his walk back to the truck.
I lagged behind for a few moments of my own. Letting the camera hang from my hand and simply breathing in the world around me — I paused to be gratefully for this, too.
In those moments, I’m convinced that you had to be the overly introspective granddaughter to see what was happening. These will the moments that I’ll one day write books about. I’ll describe how we stood under this larger than life tree with a man who, at 5’8″-ish, is also larger than life. How the journey from root to canopy compares only to his life and things he’s accomplished. And how, in humbled grandparent language that solemn “ok” sounded a lot like an energetic “holy hell.”
Having fulfilled our mission, we climbed into the truck and began our descent through Sequoia National Park. Winding in and out of the trees for another hour, I heard a familiar sound.
“I think we’re done seeing trees,” echoed from somewhere in the truck. “Ok,” I laughed. “On to the next one.”
5,000 miles. 10 days. 4 people. 1 truck.Enjoying the chaos of Laura’s road trip? Read more like this story in the National Parks Road Trip archive.
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