First Trip during COVID

[Dunlap, CA, Aug 24, 2020]

Back in January, we went to Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains and White Sands national parks. Little did we know that was going to be our last trip for a long while. COVID decimated all 6 trips I had planned from March through July. Our trip to Australia in November is also looking highly unlikely.

We’d been taking day trips around southern California since March, but by August we were both getting antsy. Even though we could use a break, we didn’t want to take vacation days just to spend them in house. When my boyfriend suggested we check out Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, just 4 hours away from Los Angeles by car, I was ecstatic! To minimize the risk of exposure, we decided to travel Monday to Friday. We also booked a house on AirBnB instead of staying in one of the lodges open inside the parks, my preferred option in normal times.

Our AirBnB in Dunlap, CA, just outside Kings Canyon National Park

Our drive to the parks took us through the Grapevine. This 40-mile stretch of Interstate 5 connects Los Angeles with the San Joaquin Valley to the north through the Tejon Pass. It’s a steady climb up the mountains to 4,000 ft. I had not done this drive in summer and I was astounded at the dry, yellow vegetation all around. This was what little to no rain in more than 6 months does! No wonder the littlest spark can start a raging wildfire!

Charred fire spots were not uncommon

The week before our trip, a record-breaking heatwave and rare, massive thunderstorms combined to unleash lightning strikes that caused major wildfires in the northern part of the state. The air quality deteriorated steadily as we approached Dunlap. This only added to the wave of anxiety I was already feeling.

Between the heatwave, the air quality and the fact that we hadn’t ventured out much in 6 months, I was (irrationally) nervous about this trip not turning out the way we’d hoped. I knew I’d feel much better once we spent some time outside. I couldn’t wait to explore the parks over the next few days.

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