It’s a breathless exercise to climb the roughly 350 steps to the top of Moro Rock, which summits at 6,725 ft ASL. No, this is not the Morro Rock along the California coast but a granite monolith in Sequoia National Park. The effort to complete the climb of 300 feet is worth it for the views. If you’re prone to acrophobia, it’s likely you’ll not get very far, because the stairway winds tightly around the granite rock’s contours, one side sometimes facing the dropoff of a thousand or more feet, and the passageway occasionally is wide enough for only one person to pass.
All along the ascent, every view was more splendid than the last.
Looking westward toward the San Joaquin Valley
At the summit, I was rewarded with a spectacular vista of the Sierra Nevadas’ Great Western Divide.
The catwalk at the summit (image from nps.gov)
Panoramic view of the Great Western Divide atop Moro Rock
Granite domes like Moro Rock are common in the Sierras (think Half Dome in Yosemite), shaped over eons by a process called exfoliation where sheets of rock get shed (spalled) because of upward expansion. There are several more in the park that are relatively easily accessible.
This amazing rock-cut and concrete stairway construction is not recent, but another formidable achievement of the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was built in 1931 and extends almost 800 feet bottom to top. Why weren’t similar public works projects launched after The Great Recession of 2008?
Moro Rock is not as popular as other attractions, maybe because it’s located just inside the park’s southern entrance and visitors are anxious to see the giant sequoia trees. Still, it should be on everyone’s list of things to do, just be sure there isn’t a lightning storm before the climb.
California is a really long state. In the north-south direction, drivers traditionally traverse the state on either U.S. 101 or Interstate 5. Highway 101 is more picturesque, going through seaside towns and redwood forests and boasting gorgeous coastal scenery and mild weather. It’s also slower. Travelers wanting to make haste take I-5, but south past Redding the penalty is long, boring stretches of flat valleys, farmland and orchards that go on forever.
My wife and I have made the drive from Seattle to Los Angeles (and back) several times to visit family, and each time we’ve taken one of these two routes. Early this month, we drove to L.A. on I-5 in three days over 1,200 miles, not a pace we particularly like. For the trip home, we decided to change things around and take our time on the overlooked easternmost route astride the Sierra Nevada Mountains on U.S. 395. We’d view it as a road trip instead of a way home. Maybe drivers avoid this highway because it crosses desert environments with very few towns along the way. Never before have we taken this way home, previously only having gone as far north as Mammoth Mountain to ski when we lived in L.A. many years ago.
This post is about the drive home, an eye-opener for me that made me rethink future road trips to and from Southern California. There are no big California cities on 395. Reno in Nevada comes closest. It’s an epic drive that the Sierra Nevadas dominate, but also skirts the highest (Mt. Whitney) and lowest (Badwater Basin) points in the continental U.S. We drove nearly the entire length of Highway 395 through California, from Victorville in Riverside County in the south to Susanville close to the Oregon state line, including the brief portion into Nevada, a drive of 500 miles.