Post #101: Away down south from Dixie

August 2, 2021

Getting to some of the most beautiful places in California from our house means crossing the Golden state’s agricultural heartland. California is 800 miles long and for us to get to the amazing areas south of Yosemite means going south on Interstate 5 and then southeast on CA 99, through numerous small towns in the San Joaquin Valley. The valley, where a big chunk of the country’s food comes from, is flat, really hot in summer, has loads of slow-moving truck traffic and is pretty much devoid of interest to travelers. But cross it we did, leaving our house in early afternoon (the air conditioning in the truck howling). 

As we drove south, we saw a caravan of more than 30 fire trucks headed north to help fight the Dixie Fire raging in northern California
Billowing smoke from the Dixie Fire as seen from our house
We could see the fire itself from our balcony at night

Along the way, we passed dozens of fire trucks heading north to help fight the massive Dixie Fire that is burning just north of our home. We’re old hands at the whole wildfire thing now. Our nearby town burned down in the Camp Fire a couple of years ago and we’ve had plenty of others close by. Unless it’s raining burning embers, we don’t get too worried. Still, we were glad to be getting away from the smoke and headed toward the mountains. Our plan for the day was to get close to Kings Canyon National Park and find a place to camp in the nearby national forest before dark. 

Fields give way to the foothills of the Sierra range. When we came this way in the winter, the distant mountains were covered in snow

After the uninteresting valley crossing through less interesting towns, we exited CA 99 in Fresno and began climbing the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range—a range of mountains that includes those in Yosemite as well as the highest in all of California, Mt. Whitney. Kings Canyon is just south of its well-known cousin Yosemite and far less visited, which is why we chose it. Yosemite in summer can be mind-bogglingly crowded. 

After climbing from near zero elevation in the valley, the road eventually rose to around 5,000 feet where the triple-digit temperatures dropped. Susan had a campsite in mind and directed me off the main road down a forest service road that was surprisingly paved. Within a couple of miles of one lane hairpin turns, we found a large shady campground and turned in a half-hour before sunset. Here it was a pleasant 82 degrees and cooling as the sun went down. 

Susan found us a huge campsite in the forest

We had a quick dinner of salad we’d made before we left and enjoyed sitting out until Susan was stung by an unseen insect on her big toe and yelped in pain. We’d been harassed by bees during dinner but there was no stinger in her toe and for a half hour, every few minutes she’d yelp again in pain as if she’d just been stung again. The pain vanished eventually and we never learned what it was.

That night it was cool and though there was no moonlight we couldn’t see the stars in the dark night sky because we were camped beneath tall pines, firs, and even a few young sequoias. I woke a few times hearing visitors near us but saw none of them.

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