Drive Electric Road Trip Exposes Damage to Sequoia National Park

This story about National Drive Electric Week was first published by CleanTechnica

On National Drive Electric Day (Week), instead of celebrating EVs like Kyle did in Santa Monica, I drove my SUV* to Sequoia National Forest where I joined over a million annual visitors to bear witness to the climate devastation our fossil fuel habit has wrought. Having grown up in Northern California, the Redwoods are more my home than the Sequoias.

While the National Park Service has done a lot to stop the damage to this fragile forest, I fear it may be too late. Looking out over Sequoia Kings Canyon from the Kings Canyon Panoramic Point, it seemed almost as many trees were dead as living. The pine scent was missing from the air, too. As the trees dehydrate, they lose their ability to fight the bark beetles that prey on them, hastening their demise. This “Leaf to Landscape” study is the most comprehensive one on the bark beetle epidemic. A ranger I spoke with at the park told me she’s been involved in collecting data for the study.

National Drive Electric Week

View of Hume Lake from Panoramic Viewpoint by Robert Verez

Surveying the desiccated forest with tourists from all over the world, I felt as though we were among the last people able to enjoy the Sequoias as a forest. The desertification of this area seems to be progressing rapidly. Although, scientist Diane Six sees the bark beetle invasion as an invitation for trees to adapt. Or die, as many have.

The Redwoods I more frequently visit don’t seem to share the desperation these drier forests have, since they do get a lot more water. Deep in the woods on the San Francisco Peninsula, a stone’s throw from the tech capital of Silicon Valley, the forest is rich and humid, with grand Redwoods surrounded by their healthy saplings growing from sprouts. Because Sequoias are only born in fire, we only saw saplings where there had been fires a couple years ago. It was sad to see so many young adult trees standing dead, mixed in among living trees, as below.

However, as we drove south on General’s Highway toward Visalia, we saw a staggering variety of native Californian trees and plants. Perhaps the evergreens will die off and be replaced by broadleaf plants and trees better suited to capture carbon? That remains to be seen, but the pine scent is already sorely missed. And the water from the snowmelt, as Lake Kaweah, a lake created to ensure the farms of Tulare County have plenty of water, was looking mighty low for having just come out of the second wettest winter California has ever seen.

Panorama of Lake Kaweah

The vast nature of the 631 square mile park makes it impossible to see it all in one weekend, particularly when traveling by car. Most of the park is off limits to all but hikers and equestrians, a good way to preserve such a vital and fragile carbon sink.

We managed to see enough to realize how car-dependent it is for most visitors. However, some improvements have been made. Instead of one central hub, there are a few smaller resort areas which each have all the basics a tourist could need, and plenty of trails to hike as well. There’s also plenty of handicap access, with paved trails to major sights and plenty of handicap parking.

Disappointingly, the LEED gold restaurant in Grant Grove Village that boasts these energy efficient parking spaces (which were always empty) didn’t have charging to go with them. A glance through PlugShare found the only “charging stations” in the park are simply access to 110v outlets in a dark alley next to a tank of diesel fuel. Gross.

While the park is out of reach for most current EV owners, it’s not out of reach for Tesla owners. Sequoia National Park is the perfect candidate for Tesla’s Destination Chargingprogram. The first two stations are free! Tesla could install their solar-powered charging here, then some of the many Tesla owners in Los Angeles could visit and explore the nearby park without contributing to its demise. Meanwhile, tourists from all over the world would see the Teslas as they head into the gift shop. Or as they hold up traffic in a dead tree…

Don’t visit this attraction if you’re in a hurry. I have no idea who these people are, but figured they’d enjoy being here.

As EV owners, we can all do our part to convince more of our friends to make the switch. Guilt won’t do it, lamenting the demise of the forest won’t do it. Better approaches are showing people how much more fun we’re having, and how nice it is to never have to stop for gas, or never having to go in for an oil change and be told you need to spend another $800 for something that doesn’t even exist in an EV.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already an EVangelist. Keep talking the talk, help your friends find deals, do whatever it takes to weaken the stranglehold the oil industry has on us all before all of our favorite forests are dead.

The prettiest part of the forest we saw.

Photographer Robert Verez contemplates the view.

Susanna Schick

Susanna is passionate about anything fast and electric. As long as it's only got two wheels. She covers electric motorcycle racing events, test rides electric motorcycles, and interviews industry leaders. Occasionally she deigns to cover automobile events in Los Angeles for us as well. However, she dreams of a day when Los Angeles' streets resemble the two-wheeled paradise she discovered living in Barcelona and will not rest until she's converted the masses to two-wheeled bliss.