LIMITLESS TRAVEL WITH TRAVIS
Its summer-time, and families and friends are hitting the road and heading to the National Parks to see our nation’s treasures. It’s good to know that people with all abilities can get out there and enjoy the parks too, just like our friend Travis did.
We invited Travis Norvell to visit Visalia for a special trip to Sequoia National Park. We met Travis at the Travel and Adventure Show an awesome 2-day travel show open to the public that is held annually in San Diego, LA and the Bay Area and in other cities around the country. Attendees to these shows are avid travelers looking to find their next vacation destination, meet with destination representatives, and listen to guest speakers like Rick Steves, Samantha Brown and many others. Travelers wander the aisles meeting people from destinations all over the world like Asia, Europe, South America and all points across the USA, including Visalia-gateway to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Travis was there with his wife Shelly enjoying the exhibits and looking to plan his next big adventure. Travis has done a lot of great things in his life but seeing the giant sequoia trees was not one of them. And that was a problem.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
You see, Travis’ middle name is Sequoia! Yes, he was named after a tree. Here’s why. When Travis’ mom (an earthy, self-described hippy who hadn’t decided on a name for her soon-to-be-born son) was pregnant with him, his grandparents would refer to her ‘bump’ as tree; as in ‘how’s Tree growing?’ However, when Travis was born he had many congenital birth defects and was quite small, not like a tree at all. Very upset, Travis’ mom said to her parents: ‘Here I promised you a tree, but all I got to give you is a twig!’ But his wise grandpa replied, ‘He’ll always be a giant sequoia to me.’ And that is how Travis got his middle name: Sequoia.
Once we heard his story we knew we had to bring him here so that he could see these giants for himself. So we set to work creating an itinerary that would be perfect for a person with limited mobility.
We began by booking a room at the Visalia Marriott Hotel. This newly redesigned property has guest rooms and suites featuring plush bedding and 55-inch smart TVs. It also offers fully accessible rooms, which was just perfect for Travis.
Next we arranged for tickets on the seasonal (May to September) Sequoia Shuttle. Sequoia Shuttle, which picks up at most Visalia hotels, takes visitors from the gateway town of Visalia up into the Park and connects them to the free in-park shuttle. Sequoia Shuttle provides affordable, convenient access to Sequoia National Park, and has wheelchair accessibility on all shuttles. Once passengers arrive at the park, there are numerous trails and attractions that offer wheelchair accessibility.
A gift basket was waiting for Travis at the hotel along with a note that said to enjoy dinner on Main Street, a short, one-block walk from the hotel. With over 50 locally owned restaurants, boutiques, bars and art galleries, Visalia’s historic Downtown is the place to be. He took our suggestion and enjoyed the brief walk to Main Street that proved easy to navigate. Then he was back to the hotel to rest up for the next day’s trip to the sequoias.
A DAY IN SEQUOIA WITH TRAVIS
Travis’ journey began when he was picked up at his hotel by the Sequoia Shuttle for the ride to the park. Each 16-passenger shuttle is wheelchair accessible, features comfortable seats, luggage space, and an informative video during the trip. Once in the park, riders are dropped off at Giant Forest Museum which is a hub for the free, ticketless in-park shuttle that transports visitors to all the main sites. Travis got on the bus headed for the General Sherman Tree – the tree that people from all over the world come to see – and the reason for his visit.
We of course took the obligatory photos – friendly visitors offered to take the pictures for us – and had the chance to hear a ranger talk about the trees and the grove. This informal gathering took place right at the base of the Sherman tree amid the grove of giants. We wandered the paths, reading the educational signs, gaping at the trees’ enormity, carefully looking at the ‘slice’ of a sequoia and noticing the burn marks from 1,000 years ago and were amazed that these trees have stood for 2,000 years.
When hunger got the best of us, we headed to Lodgepole, for a bite to eat and a chance to look for some souvenirs. From there it was back to the Giant Forest Museum for a look at the exhibits and to learn more the park before catching the Shuttle back to his hotel in Visalia.
IT’S TIME FOR A NEW ADVENTURE
I don’t know what exactly Travis was thinking when he saw these giants for the first time but judging by the look on his face he was in awe! Was he thinking about the fact that these tree start life from a seed the size of an oatmeal flake then grow to be the largest living thing on earth? Was he thinking that against improbable odds these trees have weathered storms, droughts, fire, and humans to live to be thousands of years old? (The General Sherman is estimated to be 2,000 years old!) Perhaps his mom knew what she was doing when she named him Sequoia. Travis may have started life smaller than expected but he certainly has grown into an amazing man.
SUGGESTED TRAILS AND TIPS FOR TRAVELERS WITH LIMITED MOBILITY:
General Sherman Tree Trail (Giant Forest): This short trail leads a few hundred feet from an accessible parking area to the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree on earth. The entire trail is paved with gentle inclines and limited cross slopes, and benches along the trail provide plenty of places to rest.
Big Trees Trail (Giant Forest): This level, ⅔-mile loop trail circles a meadow surrounded by giant sequoias. Trailside exhibits interpret the natural history of the grove. The portion of the trail from the Giant Forest Museum to the accessible parking area is packed soil with a slight incline and cross slope. The remaining loop portion is a paved and wooden boardwalk, and is nearly flat.
Sequoia Shuttle: The Sequoia Shuttle, operating all summer long, is the perfect way to get to the Sequoia National Park. The shuttle departs from various convenient locations throughout Visalia, Exeter, Three Rivers, and Lemon Cove, Ca. several times a day, seven days a week. Reservations are required and round-trip tickets are only $15, this includes unlimited shuttle service inside the park.
Visitors Centers: All visitor centers and museums have paved, flat paths leading from parking areas to information desks, exhibits, bookstores, and restrooms
Wheelchairs may be borrowed at no cost at Lodgepole Visitor Center and Giant Forest Museum. They can be used anywhere in the parks but must be returned by the end of the day, before each visitor center closes. Ask at information desks, and be prepared to provide your address and phone number.