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Sunday, June 9, 2013

California Mountain Road Trip - May 2013 - Part 1

We recently completed a week-long vacation road trip, this time wandering around the outer edges of the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the eastern side of California. We started out driving from San Diego to Visalia, where we spent the first night. The next morning we drove up into Kings Canyon National Park to check out the big sequoia trees and great views. From there we headed north to Angels Camp, where we spent the next few days exploring the little towns and countryside in the Gold Country, in the areas where the California gold rush of the mid-1800's took place. From Angels Camp we crossed over the crest of the Sierras heading north east and spent a few nights at South Lake Tahoe before heading home to San Diego traveling south mostly on US 395.

Along the way we saw quite a bit, from the second largest tree in the world to the largest alpine lake in North America. We toured the town Mark Twain wrote about in his story of the Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and toured some recently restored summer homes from the late 1800's on the shore of Lake Tahoe. We saw the sharp, ragged crests of the eastern side of the Sierras, and visited the site of the Manzanar War Relocation Center.  We left home with an itinerary of hotels for our evening stops, and a vague plan of what we wanted to see along the way, and an even vaguer idea of what routes we wanted to take to get there. We're both believers in the concept that a plan is merely a baseline from which changes can be made. Once you get that concept, if something doesn't go "according to plan", what to other people might be a disappointment becomes to us an opportunity. All that said, the Xterra is always loaded with a few days worth of food, water and camping supplies, just in case.

During our 9 days on the road we drove 1,445 miles in the Xterra, taking it from about sea level up to 9,235' and back. 

We've got our destination programmed into our low-tech but extremely reliable navigation system.

The Xterra is loaded up and ready to roll.

The original plan was to get to Visalia early enough on Monday that we could see part of Kings Canyon NP late that afternoon. We hit 3 major traffic incidents on the way up there, and what should have been a little over a 5 hour drive turned into almost 9 hours. The first day wasn't even over and we were already changing plans. We did find a good place for a late dinner in downtown Visalia, which is quite a nice little town. In the morning we headed up into the mountains.

There are some pretty big trees at Kings Canyon National Park. These aren't even the largest of them. That's Heather in the picture for some sense of scale.

We didn't have enough time to drive into the canyon itself, but we did get up to the Panoramic Overlook, which has some spectacular views.

On our way to Angels Camp we found some beautiful countryside along the backroads of western foothills of the Sierras.

The town of Angels Camp has some old buildings, and a lot of reminders about the other thing, after gold, that the town is famous for.

I found these bronze plaques in the sidewalks going back to the 1920's, each one commemorating that year's champion in the Frog Jumping Contest.

We made several trips to the little town of Murphys, which is just a few miles up the hill from Angels Camp. After a great sandwich for lunch one day at the Aria Bakery we just had to try one of their little banana cream pies for dessert. That was the best coffee of the trip too.

We also stopped into the small towns of Jamestown, Sonora and Columbia. At Jamestown we took a guided tour of the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, which included a visit to their working roundhouse. This is one of only two remaining, fully operational original shortline roundhouse complexes in the US.

They still take this 1920's vintage oil-fired steam locomotive out on regular runs, and it has been featured in many movies and television shows over the years, including Back to the Future III.

Click here to see more images from Kings Canyon National Park.

Click here to see more images from the small towns of the California Gold Country.

Click here to see more images from the Jamestown Railtown 1897 State HIstoric Park Museum.

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San Diego, California, United States
About me . . . When I'm not working I like to be out exploring and photographing. I do this blog just for fun, and to be able to share these images with friends. I hope you enjoy viewing these images as much as I enjoyed creating them.

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All of the content and images on this site (c) Frank B. Baiamonte. If you would like to use any of these images please contact me via email at to discuss terms of usage. Note that images from the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are not available for commercial usage. You can also see more on my Instagram page @frankbaiamonte.

Header image: Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, Cibola, Arizona. End image: Downtown San Diego, California skyline from Coronado Island. Profile picture: Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho, by Heather Baiamonte.