We had an absolutely amazing time and it was SO hard to come back.
First, let me say that camping with two is much harder than camping with one when they're so young. MUCH harder! A isn't quite old enough to "trust" to be in constant control of herself around fire, hot objects, and cliffs. Baby E just started crawling, which always makes camping more awkward when they're face to-face with dirt, rocks, etc. But since she is crawling, she definitely doesn't want to be held the entire time - she wants to MOVE!
Second - I finally have good nicknames for the girls on here! A, my fan of everything blue to the extent that she even insisted she was "holding a blue kitty" to show the trails and was a "blue cheetah" while running across the campground, shall be known as Blue. Baby E earned her nickname by squawking, squeaking, and excitedly flapping her arms at everything fluffy, furry, and bear-like. So she is now my Baby Bear :)
So Blue and Baby Bear. Much less confusing than A and E haha.
(As an aside, my reasons for not putting their real names are kind of long. But it can be summed up that I don't want the girls to be Google-able. I already am and that makes me very uncomfortable. I do not want them set up to be Google/Bingable before they even know what a Google is.)
With the details of the actual trip, it is 367 miles from here to the Sequoias. Or rather, from our gas station :) It took us 9 hours to get up there the first day, this included one 20 minute break, one 30 minute lunch, and one hour WalMart break where we picked up some last things we realized we did not have in the foothills of the Sequoias. We all needed to stretch our legs at that point. The rest were short "I have to pee!" trips and the incredibly slow ascent up the mountain (complete with their 1000 ft of construction where 1/4 the road drops off a cliff). So all in all, not too bad.
Baby Bear was pretty done with the car after that, though :(
I will say I LOVE that we went when we did. The weather was still nice and warm during the day - a benefit of the extended heat wave we've had. But it was the middle of September and the park was nearly empty! Add to that it was during the week and we felt we pretty much had the place to ourselves :)
We got to the campsite at about 5:30 pm on Sunday. We were at Lodgepole campsite #169. I'm going to post the number a few times because I tried googling it to see pictures and could find nothing. So may this help some random stranger googling it in the future.
First, the campsite is wonderful. It is a "walk-in" which means it is not completely adjacent to where you park. You park in the normal campground loop and then have to follow a short trail down a hill to the campsite. It is HUGE. It's on a sandbar next to the stream, separated from the stream with a short patch of bushes and trees. It is with another campsite - Lodgepole #170 - but they are a very very good distance apart for being such a mainstream campground. #170 has more shade than #169... which really sucked in the mornings/afternoon if we were around since there was no shade. But, 169 is closer to the stream. #169 also has two campfire pits - one with a grill, one that's just for fire.
This was taken in the morning, so the shade is misleading:
The stream, very mild in the fall, across the sandbar:
So hauling stuff down from the car to 169 took awhile. Add in a bear box and the necessity of putting all foods, toiletries, and anything scented into the bearbox.
Add in the sun setting, trying to get a fire going. Trying to get Blue to understand she could not be close to the fire.Two hungry kids. Get a tent set up.
Needless to say, it was stressful.
Then, as i was running up to the car for what seemed like the 100th time, I heard Mr. River tell Blue to look up at the stars. I too looked up as I hurried up the trail - and the sky was breathtaking. It was a new moon, so the stars were out in all their glory. You could even see the Milky Way streak across the sky.
And then my beautiful little Blue began singing, unprompted, Twinkle Twinkle. I had to stop in my tracks and look back at her. She was standing there, holding daddy's hand and just staring up in awe as she sang. It nearly brought me to tears and really gave me a powerful reminder to stop stressing the small crap and start taking in where we were and why we were here - for our family.
We wound up calling it an early night - actually I didn't stay up past 9:30 the entire time we were up there.
Some fun around our campsite the next morning:
The next few days, we hit the family-friendly trails. The weather was perfect - in the 70s during the day, in the 40s or so at night. We packed lunches and snacks each day. And we picked easy trails that would let us get back to the campground in time for a nap. No Moro Rock with a near-3 year old. It was much easier when she was in a baby carrier, and it'll probably be fine when she's much older. But not at 3. No Crystal Cave. We stuck to the super easy, super family friendly trails. And they went like this:
Day 1: General Sherman. Upon which we learned the shuttle was no longer running for the season HAH! There goes our plan of starting at the top, hiking to the bottom, then shuttling back rather than climbing back up! General Sherman is a very humbling tree to stand beneath. Few cameras there could even capture the full tree, it is that massive. But I had only brought one lens - my 50mm - to save on room. So I really didn't get even 1/10 of it! and yeah, I didn't get a picture of just the girls in front of General Sherman. I waited patiently for 15 minutes for the two guys to leave, or step out, or anything so that others could get a picture... they did not. But c'mon guys, let others have a turn :(
Baby Bear on Sherman's footprint:
after we got past General Sherman, the girls explored a downed Sequoia that had a tunnel carved through it for a footpath. We walked around and looked at the other Giant Sequoias - one trunk splitting into two trees. Clusters of them. Just humbling. And then we had snacks
That night we cooked up bratwursts and Baby Bear lounged while Blue built a rock-wall designating the perimeter that she couldn't cross around the fire.
Even Bunny-Lovey took a rest
Day 2 - started with Baby Bear playing with the bear bell (ha!) from her aunt's backpacking trip through the Sequoias
We had lunch at the Pinewood Picnic Area - which is very very pretty and nicely done. The picnic tables aren't that close together, and well, the park was pretty empty. It was a relaxed lunch under the pines.
We also did something different for this camping trip - we gathered our own firewood from the trails. Mr. River was excited to bring his little ax and do this gathering/chopping. With there being so much deadfall, this only took about 10 minutes a day and saved us a good $15/day!
after lunch, we headed over to the Big Trees Trail, which is next to the Giant Forest Museum. We love the museum and I was looking forward to showing Blue all the exhibits and visuals they have. Plus, last time we were here, we bought Blue a book as her souvenir - and I was looking forward to the girls doing the same for this trip!
The museum is very well done and child-friendly. It shows how the giant sequoias grow to their massive size, the necessity of fire to make it happen, and shows size comparisons so you can really get an idea how ginormous the trees are in width, volume, and height. The normal trees we see everyday are very tiny in comparison.
I asked about Blue becoming a Junior Ranger - like I did last time. They told me she has to be able to fill out the booklet herself, we can't help her. And the questions are geared towards ages 5+. What a disappointment, and I really hope they change this before we come back again. Yosemite allows kids as young as Blue to be a Junior Ranger - what a great way to help kids get involved and interested and excited about the National Parks as young as possible!!
I took Blue around the museum and showed her the wheel of fortune that shows how many obstacles a sequoia must overcome to grow to be a giant. I showed her the size comparisons. We talked about the lifecycle of a giant sequoia, from tiny pinecone (you'd be surprised at how incredibly tiny their pinecones are) to giant tree.
We ended the visit by looking at the books and I picked a few out for the girls, intending to get one each. But Blue wanted to get a Flying Squirrel puppet (more on the aftermath of this later). Baby bear was squawking up a storm at the stuffed black bear. So the girls got those as their individual souvenirs and Moonlight Animals (an awesome book) as their collective souvenir.
After the museum, we headed out on the Big Trees Trail. This trail is wonderful as you can do the short loop in 15 minutes or go off on the smaller branching trails to add more to it. It also has the option of going around Round Meadow - which can add 30 minutes (of walking, much more if you stop and enjoy it). Before kids, this would've been a good warm up/lazy trail. Now that we have the girls, we slowed down and really enjoyed it - spending the afternoon on it. Showing Blue the trees, letting Baby Bear rotate a sequoia pinecone in her hands. Watching the way the sunlight peeked through the leaves to make beautiful patterns. And finally taking in the peaceful beauty of Round Meadow - a mini-Crescent Meadow (which we decided not to do this time around because of its length and Blue's short legs).
Humbling to think a giant sequoia is 100x taller than Blue and 100x older than me.
Because we didn't think the day could get any better, a butterfly came and landed on Blue's hat (which was purchased at that Walmart since I had forgotten her sunhat.... and then she liked wearing it backwards, ah children!) :)
We returned to camp for showers and dinner. That night, we let the girls read their new book and we had grilled cheese and meatballs for dinner (sounds weird but eh, that's camping)
That night, we let Blue stay up to enjoy some campfire time. We even tried to teach her about s'mores, but she insisted she liked her marshmallows by themselves. So I enjoyed the s'more :) (Note: leaving chocolate and marshmallows inside a hot bearbox all day will result in a bag of marshmallow mush and strange looking chocolate bars)
Next time: the second half of the trip!