A fifth grader's adventures at Sequoia and Yosemite national parks

DOWNEY - For months my family had talked about this great place in Central California called Yosemite National Park. According to Dad, this is a place where millions of people visit each year and tourists from all over the world come to admire.Hmm I thought, what is the big deal about a huge forest with lots of trees, wildlife and the occasional waterfall? C'mon people, I thought, it's a PARK! What can be so extraordinary about it? Why would millions of people halfway across the world come to see it? Why would you travel thousands of miles by air and car to see big trees? Well, I would soon find out for myself. After weeks of planning, packing, buying goodies and talking about the activities we would do there, the day finally came. School let out and we were excited to welcome summer! Our camper was packed, our clothes neatly organized, our food carefully stored, our cameras with new batteries and our video-cameras ready to roll... Yosemite, I said to myself, here I come.... But before we could make it to the Jewel of Central California, we were to spend a few days visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. And on an early summer morning the road trip began....we made stops along the way and visited quaint, almost postcard-like towns with friendly people and a rich history. Locals talked to me about the good 'old days and the fascinating Gold Rush era of California, a time that I have only read about in history books. We crossed the great San Joaquin Valley and I marveled at the thousands of acres of farmland. I learned California farmers grow half of all U.S. vegetables, fruits and nuts! Wow, that's a lot of crops! At last, after several hours of car travel we had arrived at Sequoia. What an incredible sight! The truly Giant Sequoias are named "Giant" for a reason! We visited the famous General Sherman Tree, which is estimated to be 2,200 years old and it is the world's largest living tree. It stands at 275 feet tall and the trunk weighs approximately 1,385 tons. The trunk circumference measures nearly 103 feet! In other words, to go around the tree trunk at the base it would take 25 adults with their arms extended holding hands to circle the Giant Sequoia tree. Unbelievable! The average Sequoia measures up to 311 feet in height. I learned that Sequoias grow naturally only on the west slope of California's Sierra Nevada range, and the Redwoods grow only in a narrow strip along the Pacific Coast. I felt like an ant next to these huge trees. But all the while I kept thinking about what Yosemite would be like.... Would I find these same trees? Would it be just as lush? Would there be lots of waterfalls? Would I encounter 'real' wildlife, besides the occasional squirrel & wild rabbits? C'mon I thought, I want to see some bears! Ok, ok, maybe not bears, but how about some deer? Coyotes? Elk? As the days went by, I kept getting more curious and wondered what Yosemite Valley would be like. Well, I didn't have to wait too long. Three days after our Sequoia arrival, we packed and headed north. Some hours later we arrived at a small town called Mariposa (Spanish for "butterfly"). This small historic town of California's Gold Rush era is located at Highway 49 and Highway 140. Mariposa, I learned, was established in the early 1850s along the Merced River, 40 miles from Yosemite Valley. Its courthouse, the Historic Mariposa County Courthouse, was built in 1854. It is the oldest courthouse west of the Mississippi and it has been in continuous use since its doors opened in 1855. Wow! Talk about a small town right out of a history book! We excitedly visited its antique shops where I helped my mom find unique treasures to add to her collection: fine bone China tea cups. We also visited the town's museum and learned about Mariposa's Gold panning days. Although I didn't exactly go panning for gold, I did get myself a souvenir, a vile of gold shavings. At last, the day of visiting Yosemite arrived! I was beaming with anticipation. I longed to finally witness the majestic Granite monoliths and discover Yosemite's Grandeur, or as it's commonly referred as "the incomparable valley." I could not believe it; I was finally there! No books, or magazines or people's opinions could match what I saw. The most beautiful green meadows, valley along the Merced river/rapids nestled along the Sierras, and there it was, the famous El Capitan Granite cliff. At a distance I could see Half Dome (Yosemite's most distinctive monument, believed to be 87 million years old), behind it, I saw Glacier Point and more incredible cliffs. As I looked around I could spot dozens of waterfalls all around me. Soon my parents informed me that we would be hiking to Lower Yosemite Falls. As we hiked there I learned that the upper and lower Yosemite falls drop 2,425 feet and combine to make this the tallest waterfall in North America. Wow, what an adventure we were having already; this was way more spectacular than I thought. Coming back from a small hike to lower Yosemite Falls we had a peculiar encounter. My dad whispered, "Hey kids, over here, quickly look over there, between the trees and the shrubs." And there they were, two small bears! "What? Let's go!" my mom nervously whispered, quickly grabbing the kids closer. And on our way we continued.... So there it was, I had seen some bears! Woohoo the adventure had gotten even better! So we continued our small walk down the valley when we had another encounter, this time it was a friendly deer munching on some leaves. Great, I said, this is too cool! Bears, deer, squirrels, wild rabbits, this is an awesome camping trip. We continued our trip visiting the beautiful Mirror Lake and even went in the freezing water for a while. The most spectacular view was from Glacier Point, which is 32 miles from Yosemite Valley along Wawona Road along the rim of the Valley. From there, we got a majestic eagle's view down 3,214 feet to the Valley. Wow! What a view! What I learned about this great trip is the incredible formation of these Granite monoliths as a result of Glaciers melting over millions of years because of climate change and erosion, which still baffles geologists today, as the landscape continues to change. I felt lucky I was to be able to witness such a spectacular gift of nature. Thanks to the efforts of the great young Scotsman, John Muir, who persuaded Congress to establish Yosemite as a National Park Treasure on Oct. 1, 1890, we now can enjoy its beauty and preserve it. Over 4 million visitors from all over the world visit Yosemite each year, and I, along with my family, was lucky to have been there and enjoy its scenery. I can't wait to go back again. So did this trip meet my expectations? No, I say it surpassed them! I want all kids to know how fantastic our national parks are, and what awesome experiences we can all have if we protect and do our part in keeping our environment clean and recycle. And, if you happen to visit, please don't litter! Take good care of it, this is for us and future generations to protect and enjoy. Daniel N. Frometa is a lifelong resident of Downey. He is an honors student and has been involved in Student Council, and was recently awarded the Silver Presidential Award for Academic Achievement. An avid chess player, David will begin middle school this month.

********** Published: September 9, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 21