In addition to its waterfalls, California has other attractions to keep you busy taking photos or admiring the scenery. I’ve singled out some of the features that you’re bound to see upon a visit to the Golden State. Read below to get a brief introduction to these features.
Big Sur: Gracing the central coast of California, it is where you can see the ocean meeting the sky. Traversed by Highway 1, one of the most beautiful drives in the country, you'll see miles of sea cliffs, romantic getaway spots, and even sea lions. So enchanted we were by this slice of our home state that we almost made this place the site of our wedding.
Death Valley: As ominous as the name sounds, come during autumn, winter, or spring and let the subtle beauty of this forbidding place take hold of you. You'll find salt flats, natural arches, sand dunes, canyons, and even history here.
On top of that, the park contains the lowest spot in the lower 48 states at Badwater juxtaposed with the 13,000ft Telescope Peak. There are even mysterious moving rocks at the Racetrack Playa, an ancient lake bed now riddled with hexagonal cracks.
Sequoia Trees: Groves of sequoia trees (redwoods) are found in both Sequoia National Park and Sequoia National Forest. These organisms are amongst the largest on earth and many of them over two thousand years old. Only Bristlecone Pine Trees in the Eastern Sierras are older.
To truly appreciate the size and magnitude of these trees, you've got to see them in person. You may end up with a stiff neck after tilting your head way up to see high these trees can grow.
Moro Rock (Sequoia National Park): Not to be confused with the Moro Rock in San Luis Obispo just south of Big Sur, this monolith towers conspicuously over the foothills around the Kaweah River. You can see it throughout much of the drive along the curvaceous Generals Highway between Three Rivers and the Giant Forest.
On the way to Crescent Meadow, look for a large car park behind the back side of this rock. From there, you can take a short 1/4-mile trail up granite steps to the summit. Just about anyone willing to do the natural stairmaster session can get to the top.
Kings Canyon: Believe it or not, this canyon is technically deeper than the Grand Canyon. Cutting between the 12,000ft peaks surrounding the canyon is the Kings River. John Muir called it a rival to Yosemite Valley though I'm not so sure about that comparison. Still, you'll find a far quieter experience than the famous valley to the north if you're looking for an alternative.
San Fransisco: I'm normally not too thrilled about cities, but I have to admit that this city has a certain charm to it that I can't put my finger on. Could it be bustling Fisherman's Wharf? Ghiradeli Square? The iconic high rises? Or the Golden Gate Bridge? Perhaps a getaway to the charming little bayside town of Sausalito captured my imagination. Regardless of what it is about this city, sometimes one needs to experience both the city as well nature for a well-rounded perspective.
The Needles (Sequoia National Forest): Although this section of wilderness doesn't quite get the same notoriety as its national park counterpart, there are some things that are every bit as memorable as what you'd find in the national park. For example, the Needles is one such attraction. Posing quite a challenge for rock climbers, you can see these interesting rocks throughout the Lloyds Meadow Road. I find the shape so unusual that I have a hard time taking my eyes off this attraction each time I come here.
Mono Lake: This high salinity lake was once in danger of disappearing when the city of Los Angeles diverted much of the water that fed the lake. Now that the lake is once again protected, you'll find unusual wildlife that have adapted to this unique ecosystem. You'll also find strange white formations called tufas which line the southern areas of the giant lake. Visitors to Lee Vining, Yosemite's Tioga Pass, or Mammoth Lakes can easily see this attraction in a short side trip.
Caves: A little-known fact about the mountains within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks as well as their surrounded National Forests is that they contain one of the most extensive cave systems in the country. It may be no coincidence that California black bears can be found here as sometimes they would use them as dens. A couple of the publicly accessible caves are Boyden Cavern on the Kings Canyon Highway and Crystal Cave on the Generals Highway near the Giant Forest. Both feature the usual stalactites and stalagmites and have colorful lighting.
Devils Postpile: This strange formation found near the San Joaquin River between Minaret Falls and Rainbow Falls consists of nearly perfect hexagonal columns. There's so much order in this structure that it's hard to believe Mother Nature did it and not people. This is really evident if you manage to make it to the top of the postpile where you can see hexagonal "tiles."
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees: These are believed to be the oldest living organisms on earth! Perhaps what's more amazing is that groves of these hardy and ancient survivors can be found roughly 30-45 minutes from the Eastern Sierra town of Big Pine.
A buddy of mine and I visited these strangely fiery-looking trees on the way home from a backpacking trip (albeit a failed one), and even though we went on a hike looking for the unlabeled Methuselah Tree (said to be the oldest of the ancient bristlecone pines), we could easily envision taking our families out here to see other groves to experience more of this intriguing place.
Maybe next time, we'll spend time checking out the Patriarch Grove where it's said that the largest living bristlecone pine tree resides. It's places like this that really remind you how resilient and diverse life on this planet can be when allowed to thrive.
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