National Park Road Trip 2011: Sequoia National Park's Wuksachi Lodge
Editor's note: Snow continues to dog David and Kay Scott as they forge their way across the West to update their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges. But that didn't deter them from enjoying a stay in Sequoia National Park.
Greetings from Sequoia National Park’s Wuksachi Lodge, where we have completed a two-night stay. The bright, sunny morning is most welcome after a day of fog and cold. It is still early in the season and snow remains on the ground here at the lodge, which is at an elevation of 7,000 feet.
Wuksachi is the only lodging facility in Sequoia, although sister park King’s Canyon has guest lodging at Grant Grove and Cedar Grove. Lodging is also available in the section of Sequoia National Forest that borders on the two parks.
Following our stay at Zion Lodge, we drove southwest to hit I-15 that took us around the south end of the Sierra Nevada where we could loop back north to Sequoia National Park. Unlike Yosemite, Sequoia has no east-west through road and is accessible only from the south or the west.
Between Zion and Sequoia we spent a night in Barstow and a night in Bakersfield. On the way we heard a radio advertisement for a local bookstore that the announcer reported ‘carried a large selection of religious books for people who were searching, and a large selection of regional titles for people who wondered where they were.”
We also spotted a billboard for a business in the small town of Baker, California, that advertised “alien fresh jerky.” We didn’t stop to find out where the aliens were from.
Baker is best known for a giant thermometer that must be ten stories high. Barstow has what is perhaps the best restored Harvey House in the country. Fred Harvey built a series of upscale dining establishments along the route of the Santa Fe Railroad. The restored facility in Barstow now contains a Route 66 museum and a railroad museum. The building is quite impressive.
Between Mojave and Bakersfield, California, we took a short side trip to visit the Tehachapi Loop, one of America’s most famous sites for railroad buffs (sometimes called “rail foamers”). Completed in 1876 by the Southern Pacific, long freight trains snake through a tunnel and around the loop on a 2 ½-percent grade. From a viewing area above the site, rail fans watch trains emerge from the tunnel and slowly creep around the 360-degree loop to continue south. This was the last section completed when the Southern Pacific was connecting San Franciso by rail to Los Angeles.
Wuksachi Lodge is quite new by national park standards. Completed in 1999 following the dismantling of an older lodge at Giant Forest, the current facility was intended to be the first segment of a three-stage development. From what we have heard, the NPS wasn’t able to find a bidder that would agree to take on the complete project, and only four buildings of Wuksachi have been built. Interestingly, the roads and other infrastructure for additional buildings have been in place for over a decade.
Delaware North Parks and Resorts won the initial 15-year contract and currently operates the lodge. A new contract will open for bidding prior to completion of the current contract in 2014.
The lodging complex consists of a registration/dining building plus three nearby buildings with 102 guest rooms. The complex sits in a heavily forested area of the park and views from the rooms are generally quite good. We are writing this from our room beside a window that offers a view of cedar and fir trees on the nearby hillside. The buildings are cedar and done in a rustic style that fits well with the terrain. None of the rooms has a balcony.
Three classes of rooms are available; Standard, Deluxe, and Superior. Deluxe are a little larger than Standard, while Superior rooms have a separate sitting area. Even the Standards are quite roomy. Rates vary considerably by season, but peak prices are $199, $219, and $249 respectively. Substantial discounts are often available depending upon occupancy, so it is worthwhile to have some flexibility in the dates you plan to visit.
Our stay occurred during a period when there is some question about the water quality in the park. Thus, the lodge has been providing bottled water for drinking, brushing teeth, and making coffee. I’m certain the coffee we make is strong enough to kill any foreign substance, but have been using bottled water anyway. Also, the ice machines have been shut down. No problem, we fill our ice chest with snow that is right outside the building.
The NPS operates free shuttles from Wuksachi to Lodgepole, a small commercial area two miles down the road, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. A shuttle at Lodgepole services the museum at Giant Forest. From Giant Forest, another free shuttle offers transportation to Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow.
Our next stop is Kings Canyon and a night of camping at Cedar Grove where, at 4,600 feet, where it should be warmer. Then it is back to Grant Grove for a night in a cabin. The drive along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway from Grant Grove to Cedar Grove is outstanding. It is also a drive that many visitors either don’t know about or don’t have time to take. That is their misfortune.