California! Sequoia National Park and a Shockingly Good Deal on Our COE Campsite

Once we left Asheville we made what is for us an aggressive drive all the way through New Mexico in five legs, with all but one ending in a one night layover. We slowed down in Arizona, spending five days between Petrified Forest and Sedona, but now it was time to pick up the pace again to reach our next destination, Sequoia National Park in Central California. Keen eyed and sharp minded readers might remember our painfully long explanation of our “Texas to California” route planning, and that the final proposal included a stop at The Grand Canon. Yeah, we skipped that. “The Plan” was always just a starting point from which to deviate, and since we have been to the big ditch before, we decided to forego it along this section of our 2021 tour, with the hope of putting it back into the mix later on.

We did not go to Grand Canyon, but we did visit another national park. That makes 32 of the official 63 for us so far.

We started the drive by taking 89A north through Sedona to I-40. This is the road I specifically avoided coming to Sedona due to our bad experience with it back in 2015, but I reasoned that it would be much easier to manage going up hill rather than down, and it was no problem, even pleasant when Rosemarie wasn’t whimpering and clutching the seat rests while looking down the cliff faces along the sharp turns.

We had over 600 miles to go before our Sequoia campground, which meant three modest legs. Three legs meant two stops in route, and since these were going to be one nighters, we wanted them cheap and close to the interstate. We consulted our standard sources: All Stays, Campground Reviews, Passport America, and the newly added Campendium, which is the best of the bunch for boondocking sites. The weather was turning quite hot, and since we were closing in on the Mojave Desert, we decided to forgo boondocking in favor of electricity and air conditioning. Many of the options along our expected stopping point were either pricey or had shaky reviews, but Passport America came through for us again, leading us to Route 66 Golden Shores RV Park just shy of the California border.

Desert flowers in a Boron community park.

Now, I’m not gonna lie: this place has some bad reviews, but a close reading of them suggested that the problems described were not ones we were worried about (awkward dump station, unusable wifi, run down, etc.) We just wanted safe, convenient, cheap, and serviced, The place was nothing to look at, could use some maintenance, and needs some signs to clarify the confusing split-level lay out, but once we located the camp host, we were good to go, getting a 50 amp, full hook up, pull through, level site for $20 (cash only.) It even had a bit of a view from the front. No complaints.

We usually try to get at least few pictures from every place we stay, no matter how short or forgettable, but this is the only one we took at Route 66 Golden Shores RV Park. Not a bad view at all.

We departed the next morning, stopping briefly for a geocache in a field along the dirt road back to the interstate, before continuing west and crossing into Cali. We had topped off all of our tanks (motorhome, car, generator, gas can) before leaving Arizona since the prices are more than a dollar steeper per gallon in The Golden State. To my surprise Passport America again provided our stopping point, this time at Arabian Oasis in Boron. I had expected PA rates to be mostly unavailable in California, but Arabian Oasis, a better maintained and serviced campground than our previous one, gave us a full hook up site for $18. Sweet.

Our perfectly serviceable site at Arabian Oasis.

Our short drive and early arrival allowed us to explore Boron a bit, but only on foot as we tend to leave Loki attached for one night layovers in pull through spots. The town was established after the discovery of a borax deposit nearby (borax, used in detergents, is a compound derived from boron) and now sits near the largest borax mine in the world. Given a few more hours and energy we might have checked out the 20 Mule Team Museum or one of the rock and mineral shops, but this short pass through visit we satisfied ourselves with a stroll and come geocaching.

Retired equipment from the borax mine. Also part of a geocache “earth cache.”

In the morning we made the leisurely three hour drive to Horse Creek Campground, a Corps of Engineers owned place on Lake Kaweah about ten miles from the national park entrance. We had considered several possible campgrounds, but selected this one based on price ($20 a night), availability (plenty of first come first serve sites,) and a recommendation (my dad and stepmom had stayed here a couple of years back in their 5th wheel.) It was all dry camping, which we initially did not worry about since the park is into the mountains and we figured it would be reasonably cool. We were quite wrong: the temps were pushing 100 degrees, and even before checking in we had pretty much decided to make this a one night stop and to seek an electric site the next day.

The view from near our site at Horse Creek.

As it was the office was closed and we could not find a camp host or employee anywhere, but during our search we stumbled across a single sentence on one of the posted forms, practically fine print, that suggested the park had three full hook up spots for rent, and we were parked in front of the two empty ones. Rosemarie found a phone number on one of the RV websites, and a somewhat surprised ranger answered and met us in the office ten minutes later. He confirmed that, due to a shortage of camp hosts, they did indeed have a couple of hook up sites available, though they tend not to advertise them.

One of three sites with power and water at Horse Creek.

The real surprise came after I mentioned I was retired military: after doing whatever it is they do to note that status in the computer, he reported that the system was telling him the site would be free. Perplexed, he called his boss, who lacking contradictory information told him to go with it, both of them apparently thinking that some recent rule changes, perhaps associated with the free national park pass for veterans, had changed things. The bottom line: we got one of three full hook up sites in the entire campground, for four days, and didn’t pay a dime.

Now, the arrival day of any RV visit is often a wash: it’s for setting up your campsite and relaxing after the drive. But even during the next three obligation-free days we only visited Sequoia National Park twice. Did I mention it was hot? Like, super hot? Things cooled off as you actually climb in attitude into the park proper, but we were having a bit of a problem with our tracker, with a very noticeable smell of something burning and a bit of smoke coming off the catalytic converter. It looked like a slow leak from something dropping onto the very hot exhaust system, though we could not be sure it wasn’t the cat itself failing, and with the heat, altitude, and uphill grades, we decided to keep things very limited until we could get Loki checked out.

When we did finally visit the park, the “arboreal transformation” was rather astounding. Ever since turning north off I-40 in Bakersfield I kept noticing the arid conditions, with most of the vegetation rather scrub like and stunted, at least the greenery that wasn’t irrigated fields and orchards . Even after turning inland at Visalia and reaching our lakeside park, the trees all seemed rather anemic. It wasn’t until you got closer to the national park itself that things changed, but they did so dramatically. Within a couple of miles you go from “where are the big trees” to being surrounded by giants, though the true monsters are well into the park boundaries.

The largest tree in the world. My distance from the trunk in this picture diminishes how large the tree appears in person. The base circumference is over 100′!

After clearing the park entrance using our free annual veterans pass acquired back in Arizona, we parked at the information center lot and then caught the park shuttle to the main sights. During most of our first year of full time RVing we did not have a tow vehicle, and thus really appreciated national parks that had shuttle services available. While we have not had to rely on them since buying Loki, we still appreciate having the option, particularly under current “smoky engine” circumstances. The downside is usually that those parks with shuttle services are also the most popular and crowded. During COVID such human density would be “no bueno,” but fortunately with school still in session, few international tourists, and limited general travel, the otherwise popular park was rather sparsely attended.

This made for a simple and and efficient limited tour. We never had to wait for a second shuttle despite each bus allowing fewer riders than capacity, were able to keep spaced out from other tourists, and even the informal lines for pictures in front of the most famous trees were quite short. The trees themselves were rather astounding. We had thought the ones in the Redwood Forest were giants, but these seemed much bigger due to our ground perspective: though the tallest redwoods grow about 100′ more than the tallest sequoia, the latter are much, much wider at the base, thus giving them the distinction of being the larges trees in the world by volume.

Between the heat and concern for our little truck’s smoking, we really minimized our outings during this four days. No restaurants, just one brewery, a bit of grocery shopping at the little town store, some geocaching, and an evening dip or two in the very low water level lake a couple hundred yards from our campsite rounded out the extent of our activities.

Next post: May 2021 Full Time RVing Report, then our visit is to Concord, CA to see Rosemarie’s sister Dolores and niece Tamiry.

7 thoughts on “California! Sequoia National Park and a Shockingly Good Deal on Our COE Campsite

  1. Love your post you camp like we do I always find the cheapest campground then work my way up in price. We’re on 2-3 month trip from Florida in Wisconsin now have not made any reservations yet and have not had any problem finding a place to camp. COE park county parks passport parks all cheap and not crowded. Way to camp. Have fun out there. Look forward to your next post

  2. Great pics! Instead of getting my own RV, I’ve decided to just move in with youse guys! I’m cute &cuddy…and almost always pee in the litter-box! Where should I meetch’all?!

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