Day 3, Fri. May 11: Up before 5 am. On road by 5:15 with coffee from Circle K. Headed west on I-40. Sun is low in the sky and climbing as we speed past brown desert terrain spotted with sage, yucca and cactus. We could see mountains in the distance, dotted with trees that look like black ants on brown hills. We stopped for breakfast at a restaurant that was part store and gas station and truck stop. We crossed into California and were miles past Needles and still had not found an open rest area yet. We had hoped to go into the California Welcome Center and nab a map of the Golden State. Instead we drove through the Mohave Desert for over an hour. By noon it was 80 degrees and windy. When we finally came to a rest area that was open, the wind whipped us unmercifully filling our eyes and nostrils with dust particles. It looked and felt like the Oklahoma dust bowl. And as if it wasn’t bad enough to fight through the raging dust and wind, we were suddenly surrounded by these massive black crows. The menacing birds looked as big as eagles and they stared at us with beady black eyes. Two, three, then six birds seemed to be stalking us as we made our way back to the car. They were not afraid of us, but we were beginning to fear them. One bird opened his pointed sharp black beak to making cawing noises. If these birds decided to attack us we’d be helpless, running for our lives like Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor. Ron said they’d go for him first since he’s the weak one of our herd. I’m sure there’s a reason why a flock of these creatures is called a “murder of crows”.
After we passed Barstow we exited the interstate and headed west towards Bakersfield on CA-58. We passed Edwards Air Force Base on the left. Looked like everything else. A desert. Got us talking about the movie The Right Stuff, the story of seven fearless test pilots who became our first astronauts. We could see the scene where Chuck Yeager – played by Sam Shepherd – and Barbara Hershey ride their horses across this very desert, except now they would have to dodge the hundreds of wind turbines planted in their path.
In Bakersfield we started north on CA-65, destination Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The terrain began to change and now we could see green fields in the valleys below. Since the surrounding area was still desert-brown, it was obvious that there were massive irrigation systems being used. We passed acres of grape vines and orchards of fruit trees. Soon we were driving through orange groves on both sides of the road. A discussion ensued on why the oranges were not being harvested, since most of the trees seemed to be full of orange orbs with over ripe fruit lying on the ground around them. On one side of the road we did see large trucks full of crates and a few men moving among the trees, while other fields were being ignored. We began saying that maybe Trump had personally deported all the migrant workers needed to harvest the fruit, thus leaving the oranges to rot on the ground. But we lost interest in oranges as our attention turned to the hundreds of pumping oil jacks that seemed to sprout everywhere, even among the orange trees and grape vines on both sides of the road. As we got further north the elevation increased and so did the trees. The last two plus hours we traveled up the winding road, higher into the steep mountains toward Sequoia and Wuksachi Lodge where we had our reservations. We stopped at numerous overlooks and landmarks to snap photos of the rapids below and the cliffs and mountains all around us.
The wind calmed down, but the temperature dropped to the low 60s as we climbed in elevation. The Lodge is at 7,200 feet. We got checked in and took our luggage to our rooms around 5. Upon opening the door to our room, we felt like we just stepped back into the 21st century. Compared to our previous lodgings I felt like Granny in Beverly Hills. We have a two room king suite, microwave, coffee maker, small refrigerator, sofa and chair, big flat screen TV, and WiFi. We freshened up and headed to the Lodge Dining room for dinner. I had the trout with wild rice and Joe had the special, another fish dinner. We shared. Rita had a pasta dish and Ron ordered the roast pork dinner. Back in our room for the night, we watched TV and relaxed. But we soon found the chink in the armor of our ritzy accommodations. The WiFi was nearly non-existent, and we had absolutely no cell phone service.