Having grown up in northern Idaho and western Montana, we have always loved the mountains.
But we have spent too many years in Southern California to appreciate icy roads and the drudgery of dealing with tire chains.
Trying to figure out when to squeeze in a late fall trip to the mountains has always been a challenge.
You want to wait until all the kids have gone back to school and the roads are clear of the Sam’s Club motorhomes that seem to clog the mountain roads.
Yet you can’t wait too long because snow and those icy roads have a way of arriving quickly.
So, we were pleasantly surprised early last week when we called a ranger at Sequoia National Park and told daytime temperatures in the park were hovering near 80.
Yet nighttime temperatures had dropped sufficiently to give the mountain floor a blaze of color — reds and oranges and yellows.
The friendly ranger warned us to stay off State Route 65, which he claimed had suffered of late with too many serious accidents.
“Stay on State Route 99 all the way to Visalia and then take State Route 198 all the way to the park,” he suggested. When he asked if we should stay in Visalia, since it would be dark by the time we got to his area, he started praising the number of motels in Three Rivers, at the park’s entry.
We juggled the schedule and headed off Thursday morning.
One certainly does not lose any stress on Route 99, where the two right lanes are packed, bumper to bumper, with trucks and their trailers, all going as close to 70 miles an hour as they can.
The “weekend” really began after we left Visalia and found ourselves in fruit and nut groves that lined 198 as it climbed up toward the park.
Those wonderful youngsters had put out signs identifying the trees for us city slickers who can’t tell a peach tree from an almond tree.
The groves of fruit and nuts were wonderful, the traffic light and you could begin to feel the strain and stress of the city just lifting off.
The scenery got more spectacular as we neared Kaweah Lake and found ourselves climbing up into Three Rivers.
We grabbed a room at the Lazy J motel because we liked the grassy and well landscaped gardens, the sheep that were kept nearby and one of the branches of the river that ran nearby.
The price wasn’t bad either. About $50 for a double. A continental breakfast was spread out and as they checked in, guests were expected to carry to their rooms what they might want in the morning. But best of all, one wall was lined with old VCRs and guests were invited to borrow one without charge.
Yes, we know one is supposed to leave the TV behind when one comes to the mountains.
The sun was still up when we headed “downtown” for a look-see. We ducked into a pharmacy to buy some cough medicine.
A pharmacist/owner was attending a customer behind his counter but a lovely cashier came out from behind her counter to help us with the cough medicine.
There were rows and rows of the usual stuff.
“Oh, you probably don’t want that stuff,” she told us. Waving at the pharmacist, she said, “He has stocked some cheaper stuff and says it is just as good.”
When we reached for a large box of the “cheap stuff,” she directed us to a smaller box.
“This is probably enough and it’s cheaper,” she advised.
At the cashier’s desk, we found buckets of ChapStik, another thing we needed because of dryness of the mountains.
But next to the ChapStik was a second bowl full of lip balm that the cashier suggested he try.
“It’s cheaper and it’s just as good.”
Wondering when we had ever had such attendance try to talk us into cheaper, but just as good merchandise, we were already enjoying our visit to Three Rivers.
After a so-so Mexican dinner, we dropped in on a market next door to buy a couple bottles of water.
We found three sitting in the shelf but no cashier around to pay.
Eventually, a cashier did show up and ran one of the bottles through a scanner.
“Oh, no. These are supposed to be sold in a six-pack,” she told us.
But we didn’t want a six-pack and besides there were only three bottles there.
The cashier stumbled around, looking for a calculator. Finally, she found a pencil and a piece of brown shopping bag and started to figure out what to charge us for the two bottles of water.
She was a real charmer, but obviously not an MIT grad.
After much struggle, she decided that she should charge us $2.02 — for the two bottles.
“But that’s cheaper than if you were buying a six-pack,” she sighed.
We paid her the $2.02 — right to the penny — and were putting away the rest of our change when she turned to the next customer.
“Oh, I see you are making a birthday cake. Whose birthday is it?”
From there she continued on to “how do you make your birthday cakes anyway?”
Behind the customer, a fellow trying to buy two bottles of something was more amused than annoyed at the delay. And behind him, a lady carrying one half-pint of ice cream decided she’d better put her ice cream down. This could take a while.
By this time the sun had gone down and it was dark in the mountains — really dark.
We spent a few moments watching the end of the VCR tape and then decided it was time to turn in.
As we turned out the light, we glanced at the clock:
Yep, that’s about the right time to tuck in on a getaway weekend.
Yes, we did get to Sequoia Park. That’s another story for another time.