Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Weekend with Moms in Montecito Lodge, Sequoia National Forest

We couldn't wait for Mother's Day to appease our desire to whisk away our mothers and spend a weekend with them. So a quick check on our budgets and a few clicks here and there we were booked and headed out to Sequoia National Park for a weekend in the mountains and a night in Montecito Lodge.

The Montecito Lodge is an all inclusive, open all year round resort. We loved the idea that we need not have to worry about anything else once we've checked in, except to look for stuff to do. The meals are included in our stay. Since we only stayed for a night, it included our dinner and breakfast, but lunch is available for those staying longer and I believe they can even pack a lunch for you if given a heads up, if you're going out for a hike. Lodging and worry-free meals for 4 adults for a weekend in the mountains for $200 including tax? Why not! They even have wi-fi, too! Which I felt weird using. Not used to being connected while I'm in park!

It's the almost the end of February, in which normally most of the mountains in California would still be blanketed with snow. It is expected to be completely snow country in January till early March, unless it's an epic snow season, then of course it extends. But this season, it was not. It's not even a normal winter in California standards. We drove up to the Big Stump entrance after gloriously missing the turn off to 180E from 99N freeway. Kari got mesmerized driving and me, sightseeing to nothingness on the 99. We toyed with the idea to change plans to Yosemite instead since we were getting close to its exit! It got quickly brushed off with the closest exit and turned on the opposite freeway to get back on track.

It was a slow day at the entrance when we arrived. My mom excitedly fished out her Senior Annual Pass, a lifetime pass for senior citizens all for $10. She's been eager to use it again since she got it on our last visit to Yosemite years ago. I just tucked away our own annual pass, hers supersedes it anyways! It was nice to see her face get excited, even giving the ranger her ID without being asked 'cause the instructions said so, she said. Made me smile.

(** For more information on the America The Beautiful Inter Agency Annual Pass click here to get redirected to the National Park Service - Support the parks!)

At the "Y" from the Big Stump Entrance in SEKI via 180
Driving into the park, we already weren't expecting much snow. But we were taken aback at the complete absence of it around us..  in February. At this point, I was already not regretting leaving the snowshoes behind.

Making a right turn at the "Y", we found the Montecito Lodge sign on our right, with three carved wooden bears (I think it was missing Goldilocks!), not long after and made for the turn off. We were now leaving the park boundaries and entering the National Forest area where the resort is located. The sight of the lake welcomed us as we drove up to the lodge to check in. I can see the lake to be abuzz with guests swimming, paddling and all during the summer. Kari and her mom have been her during that season when they picked me up from a backpacking trip before and they both said it had been a busy lake and it was all they could do to just lounge by the beach and watch kids and families have some water fun.

Check in was quick and easy. The check-in desk can be found right by the lodge's main entrance as you enter it, and opens up to large space of long wooden tables, that was to become the mess hall during meals, and the space extends further more to a sitting area filled with several couches by a big fireplace.

We decided to locate our rooms and dump our belongings first then explore the grounds before dinner. Finding the right staircase closest to our room was a bit tricky for me, there were several small staircases leading off of the main hall that leads upstairs to the rooms. But Kari quickly figured it out.
Our room was not very big but adequate enough to accommodate sleeping 4 ladies. We won't be staying cooped up in there anyways! It had a queen bed in the middle of the room and a bunk bed by the door. The bathroom looks recently redone, small but clean. And it has an ample closet space. Though I don't know how it would fare for a week-long stay for a family in winter, outerwear and all.
Exploring the grounds, the swimming pool, slightly off of the lodge's entrance, was closed for the season. However the hot tub next to it was bubbling and steaming with a few folks enjoying it.

We walked in the direction passing the pool and found a small climbing wall behind the lodge and beneath the outdoor deck. It was empty and appearing to be only offered during their summer season for the kids. After all, winter season is for snowshoeing, cross country skiing and they even have down-hill skiing and snowboarding! Found a non-functioning lift on the opposite side of the lodge. But due to lack of snow for the season, these were not being offered that time. Too bad, would have been nice for a ski-in/out shindig with half the price on big winter resorts!

After walking around the grounds and goofing off for photos on the outdoor deck, it got too chilly already and we all decided to check out the indoor amenities.

From the outdoor deck, doors lead inside to a recreational room with a couple of ping pong tables, couches by a fireplace, table and benches for endless board and card games and a bar! With a decent selection of beers and wine.. score! Beer on hand, challenged Kari to a game of ping pong while the mothers got comfy by the fireplace with their respective books on hand. Then dinner was served.

Meal is served buffet style and have options for every picky eater. We picked a table next to a big family who were all there celebrating their "Abuela's" birthday. They even brought their own cake for the occasion! Their joyous celebration was contagious, couldn't help smiling at them!

After dinner, kids and wanna-be kids were gathered around the fireplace and a resort employee facilitated some marshmallow roasting for some S-mores to end the night. We stayed longer on the lounge area, reading and talking before we all retreated for the night and get ourselves ready for a day of exploring the park.

The following morning, after a yum buffet of breakfast (my favorite way of having breakfast.. ever!), we cheked out, perused the small gift shop across the check-in desk and a routine my sister & I do when we travel, mailed out a postcard to her. The car loaded up, we were ready to explore Sequoia National Park!

Some tree hugging commenced. Some awestruck moment staring at fallen giant Sequoia trees. And since it was not the peak season of summer, the road looping around to get to Moro Rock, Auto Log and Tunnel Log by the Giant Forest Museum was open for private vehicles. We drove and stopped at each landmark and even went to climb the 400 steps up to the top of Moro Rock. My mom, who is not a 'hiking gal' per se, but grew up playing outside when she was young, was happily climbing those steps and really determined to finish it. Slowly but surely she made it!

Some more pictures below!

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