Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

From the Three Rivers entrance, the iconic Sequoia Welcome and Come Again Soon.
The Gateway

The Gateway Restaurant and Lodge in Three Rivers, Gateway to the Sierra and entance to Sequoia National Park.

Having stayed here twice now I can happily recommend this place as just the stop for a Friday night - leave work early, hit the road and you'll make it before dark.
This is the cutest of the seven motel-style accommodations.
You do have to plan ahead and make reservations because Friday and Saturday nights are No Vacancy nights in and near the park.
Beautiful views off the dining patio.

Here is where the Middle and East Forks of the Kaweah River merge, under the historic Pumpkin Hollow Bridge built in 1922...
...seen here from above.
...and ducks, waiting for the inevitable chip-hurled-over-the-rail snack time. In late-spring early-summer this river is raging and the ducks have no place to float.
Except in October of the 2014 drought when we're glad for any water at all.
One trip on my own I decided to have some food and a glass of wine in the bar as there seemed to be a lively vibe and a football game on tv.

I asked for the smoked salmon and a glass of red wine. And that was it, I was a regular and my real red wine glass was always full and I got to 'kick it' with the gang. I forget who we were rooting for in the football game.
Entering Sequoia

A minute from the Gateway we are here at the entrance to the park. The aroma-rush of dry grass mixed with a blast of sweet herbed chaparral and you are putty in their hands.
And now driving into the park. 'They' say the reason the roads into and inside Sequoia are so twisty-curvy is because the builders already knew what happened in Yosemite and deliberately didn't want so many people here, so they made it hard.
Biking these roads? Lord-y.

I take a picture and then get in the car and pass this guy. Then I stop for another picture. Then he passes me. I take another picture and then I pass him, heads nodding in acknowledgment, and we do this several times until finely I just take His picture. This guy is Committed (should be committed?).
It's Moro Rock out there. Cool.

There are three distinct eco-systems you get to travel through in one day in Sequoia being 1) the foothills, which are these last few pictures, 2) the forests and 3) the high country, and lovin' it all.
In 2008, for the first many miles inside the park the road was wonderfully re-surfaced and all the retaining walls were newly re-built. You can see here how the walls are made of the same materials as the mountains.
Lovely fall colors during a late October visit.
Moro Rock

The first one-fifth of the steps leading up Moro Rock.
The Ranger at the top told us that before they built these steps in the '30s there was a wooden ladder-type thing with a handrail on One Side that the hearty few used to climb up the over 300' to the top. Right.
The Great Western Divide.
The Ranger was up here to do a 10:30 talk but since it was not yet 10 and we were the only ones interested at the time we got our own personal Ranger Talk with extended Q&A. Since she didn't blame LA for everything bad that ever happens in nature I took her opinions to be especially interesting and well reasoned.
The top of Moro Rock reaches an elevation of 6,725 feet.

Windy asked, who were the native population and where did we send them? The Ranger replied, they were members of the Monaches, a Paiute group and we killed them off with land grabs and disease.

The National Park Service website is Awesome. Here's everything you ever wanted to know about the Tribes of Sequoia National Park Region despite the article's equivocation as to the constraints of time and money.

Here is an attempt to show what we learned about identifying sequoia trees - the mature ones have rounded tops and are taller than their neighbors.
A few degrees turn from the above.
Heading down.
Looking up.
Wild Life.
between Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow

We called this Big Boy Down.

Since Sequoias are nearly impervious to fire, disease and insect invasions (more later), they just keep getting bigger. They build bulk from the bottom and end up shaped like giant upside-down ice cream cones with the top bit off. So, according to one of the posted signs, they don't so much die as simply 'lose their balance' and topple over, always entirely unexpectedly, kaBoom, the towering giant has lost his balance.

This happens because their root system is so shallow, their only area of weakness. Very extended climate fluctuation can cause the root system to be alternately too wet or too dry, or too crowded, or people can be walking over them. That's why the park has fenced off access to the most famous trees.
The trees in this, the Parker Group are 'not that big' in comparison to the really big guys but it's cool that you can get back far enough to take their headless picture.

We know how big these giant sequoias get and here are some facts: they grow naturally only on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada (the trees on the coast are redwoods), the General Sherman is between 2300 and 2700 years old and each year adds enough wood to make a 60-foot tree of usual proportions.
Crescent Meadow

I took a lovely stroll out to Crescent Meadow, John Muir's 'Gem of the Sierra'. This walk is about point four miles from the parking lot, shouting distance. But the wildflowers are gone, the sun is overhead and there isn't much to say about standing here. So I back up three steps, back to the path, turn my head and...

Can your pounding brain break through your skull? Can your pounding heart break through your chest? So I'm backing up, quickening the pace, but can't resist. I snap the shutter at my waist, hoping the bear is in frame (see him on the path there).

SNAP. The bear raises himself UP and takes two Bounding strides in my direction. WHOooooow. Here's me: no no no no I'm not no going no no to get mauled by no no no no a bear point four miles from no no no the no parking lot no no that's just not no going to happen no no no no.

All this thought in one gasping breath.

Then the bear seems to lose interest and lopes off into the meadow and I sit down on a log, listening, intent, waiting.
Tell me about it...
The kids crossing the road without giving the cars or their occupants even a glance. This is just a cute and sweet and fun-oh-wow awhh-so-special encounter with wildlife. Nothing at all like having Big Daddy raise Up at you and Bound at you while you are alone in the woods and you stagger and stammer and clutch at your seizing heart. It's nothing at all like that.

The park booklet said you are unlikely to see bears but I can attest to multiple sightings. All the bears in the park are black bears, whatever their color since by 1922 hunters had killed all the grizzlies in California. A black bear can weigh up to 500 pounds and can run as fast as a horse, which is very easy to believe!

And on behalf of the Park Service let me echo their constant refrain, 'Please don't feed the bears!'.
Crescent Meadow in Fall.

There are so many different kinds of trees besides just the signature sequoias and to name a few - you've got your red fir and white fir, incense cedars, sugar pines and yellow pines and ponderosa pines.

Here we even see Aspen.
And flowers, though it takes more looking to find them.
Crescent Meadow, Sharon showing us some scale in this much smaller Sequoia.
Big Tree/Giant Forest area

The entrance to the Big Trees Trail.One of the signature trees in this nature trail. Oh My! Check out Nancy and Sandy down there at the base of the tree.
The Giant Forest meadow.

This is one of the National Park walks at their most accessible best, even handicapped accessible, and as you look in some direction perhaps a question will come to mind.

Look down and there will be a plaque carefully explaining the answer to the very question you meant to ask. Too good.
One visit I arrived on the day when the park was presenting activities in honor of Captain (later Colonel) Charles Young and his Buffalo Soldiers. This was the Centennial of Colonel Young's season as the first African-American Park Superintendent. The parks were run by the army until the National Park Service was established in 1916. Prior to 1916 the Army assigned cavalry troops to make improvements, patrol the parks and protect the Big Trees.

According to the program, 'Young and his troupers accomplished more in that one summer than their predecessors had in a full decade'.

Colonel Young was the third African-American to graduate from West Point and this is another quote from the program 'It is recorded that he felt that "...the worst he could wish for an enemy would be to make him a black man and send him to West Point."'
Our Park Rangers. Most worthwhile payroll in the government.

The current Park Superintendent gave the opening words at the Remembering 1903 ceremony. This poor fellow was trying to speak extemporaneously but he couldn't settle on naming vocabulary and was so uncomfortable he made me squirm. He said African-American and Afro-American, black people and people of black descent and descendants of black people. It was obvious he cared about the parks and this event so I was thinking he might have been better off with notes for his talk since he was not fluent in the topic.

The keynote speaker came on and he made me uncomfortable too. He was on about slavery and lynching and discrimination. We just want this to be over like we want the Israelis and the Palestinians to quit it and we want the Africans to lay off each other and we want everyone to Just Get Along.
They set up a 'living history encampment' (you're lookin' at it - the whole thing...).

The most entertaining part for me was a conversation I had with one of the leaders who was just arriving. He went off on how some of these guys just didn't get it - their uniforms were wrong for the time, they were wearing watches and carrying cell phones, they hadn't studied history and they were just flat out doing it Wrong.

He reminded me so much of all those Civil War re-enactment fanatics. But he was touchy when I mentioned this. He said well, some people call them re-enactments but he calls what they do Living History. I didn't stick around long enough to hear him share with his troops his opinion of their watches and cell phones.
Lodgepole Visitor Center

Picnic lunch at Lodgepole, with the birds who live off the tourists.
General Sherman Tree

It's a StairMaster trek to General Sherman. The close-by parking is handicapped only.
Another trip, another view.
Wuksachi Lodge and Village

The Wuksachi Village Dining Room, what they call 'the only white-tablecloth restaurant' in Sequoia and Kings Canyon. And even at that... But hey, you don't go to the National Parks for the food.
The view from the Wuksachi dining room on a foggy night.
Just leaving Wuksachi - Deer Alert! Hello you lovely thing.
National Forest campgrounds

Following are a few pictures from a high country National Forest campground in the pass between Sequoia and Kings Canyon.
This is the look at over 7,000 feet. The scenery is much rockier, with smaller trees and thin forest.
Grant Grove

Our Grant Grove Guide to all Good Things, or so he allowed. He enthusiastically marked up our map and several times called out 'wait, just one more thing!'. Maybe I could do that - you know - telling people where to go...
You have to drive to the trail-head for the walk to and around the General Grant tree. The dogwoods were all aglow.
More of this walk from another season.
On the US Grant trail, an awe-inspiring collection of trees.
Bus loads of people disgorge in the handicapped parking lot and there is a funny crowd gathered here waiting turns to have their pictures made in just this spot. This woman is perfect. What an outfit, what a face, what a Hat!

The occupants of those disgorging buses included school groups as well as scores of German tourists and Senior Citizen outings.
And here he, General Ulysses S. Grant, is in all his glory.
A smaller one in front of a bigger one.
In the parking lot. Even in the parking lot.
A view of another stand also from the parking lot!
I chased this squirrel for several minutes. You can follow the story starting at the far right and ending with a scamper out'a Dodge on the left.
These guys are everywhere too. But no bears this trip. We want bears!
This is the view walking from the tent cabins in Grant Grove to the Visitors Center.
The view out the window of the tent cabins. No electricity, no water, plenty of creepy-crawlies, but still, fun.
From just above the tents, the view out the deck of John Muir Lodge also in Grant Grove, with a heater and everything.
At the Visitors Center, always something good from the rangers.
And deer making their way through the burnt forest.

There is a bit of sub-divided land between the Parks that retains private ownership and I stayed in one of those places, turned into a b&b, during the first trip. Whooa it was strrrange. And the pictures of the place didn't work - but here's The Guy. It wasn't quite as scary as it looks...
Some houses in the development.

After staying at the Mr Scary-Face b&b Saturday night, Sunday morning I'm up at seven with no sign that there is anyone who is even thinking about making breakfast there at the Greenwood Lodge Bed and Breakfast and I'm thinking maybe that's just as well considering the condition of the kitchen... No coffee even. So I head out to walk to 'town'.
And I'm walking and walking and then there's this Park Ranger (we Love the Park Rangers) and I ask him 'if I keep walking in this direction, will I run into coffee?'. He replies 'Well, actually, no, but hop on in and I'll take you to coffee.' Don't we just Love the Park Rangers.

At the Grant Grove complex there was one of those coffee kiosks that was just opening so I could get my favorite coffee drink, they'll do your way.
a trail on the drive between Wuksachi and Grant Grove

This is a real hike, on a trail that leads up into a stony vista of delights. A manatee? Notice how that smiling head is balanced on a point.
And more from way up there.
Hume Lake

There is a loop drive on the way to Kings Canyon that takes you through Hume Lake where gas can be acquired.

Hume Lake has some public camping sites that were pretty nice but more than half the lake is taken up by a Christian Camp and isn't really Park Service land. It is nice though, and for quiet water action it looked appealing - fishing and canoeing mostly and the campground had what looked like a lot of big family groups.
From the gas station and marketplace in Hume Lake in mid-October. I was expecting a lot more in the Fall Colors world but I guess it happens here later.
A wooded path leading around the whole lake, fragrant, easy, beautiful.
Panoramic Point

The walk up from the parking lot...
...a very easy slog up to a 7,520 foot high ridge. Sights of a previous fire however this is too high for sequoias.
At the edge of Panoramic Point where you mostly drive and then walk enough to think you've earned this view. Just knowing that kid was climbing around there On The Edge like that made me feel queasy. That's Hume Lake down there.
Me and Sharon.
Another view including a peek at Hume Lake.
Kings Canyon

Taking the drive out to Kings Canyon.
And even more.
The Ranger back at Grant's Grove sent us here. He said the squiggle rock was in every single geology textbook in the World. It's about plates and pressure and heaving - you can kind of picture it just by looking.

I think King's Canyon is dang spectacular but not so often visited because it is at the end of a long twisty drive from Sequoia and then you have no choice but to re-track your steps...

...still, if you've never seen it I propose it's worth the drive.
A close-up of the wall.
More, from across the street.
And a close-up from the bed of the above. I guess we have to have all these different views since it's in every single geology textbook in the World according to the Ranger.

Now I need to find out its actual name.
A one minute walk from the road, Grizzly Falls.
A little amble to Thundering River Falls, this waterfall is about 10 minutes from the road.

Sandy on the left, Nancy on the right, so sweet.
Can you even Believe this. Check out at the right edge, two thirds down and see the cars on the ledge there. Gaspingly gorgeous.
I think this is vitually the same place? I'm going to re-address these panos later.

Don't miss the river way down there. Wow.
Enough kitchen counters for the whole state.

Read all about it! National Park Service - Sequoia and Kings Canyon.
mid-2000s, Fire In The Park

Morning with the Big Trees.

During one visit there was a lightening fire causing this smoke in the Giant Forest area back country, but I didn't know that at the time. Then I thought this was just how it looked.
Two weeks later the fire is still burning and the Forest Service has started what they call a Prescribed Burn to meet up with the lightening fire. This is all in keeping with the policy of fire management begun in 1968.

Their bottom line is that Sequoias need fire - more later.
We're driving along and there by the side of the road is a Forest Service Fire Truck and a Forest Service cutie with postcards and brochures, there to serve the public, our tax dollars at work, to explain what was going on to anyone who stopped, which was a good idea since there was Fire right there by the side of the road.
In preparation for setting the Prescribed Burn, they cleared a few trees.

The idea now is to let naturally occurring fire burn itself out and to set prescribed burns, to keep the brush and tinder under control so that the natural fires don't threaten people or structures.
Sequoias usually live 2,000 years and often more than 3,000. John Muir wrote 'nothing hurts the Big Tree. Baring accidents, it seems to be immortal.' Chemicals in their bark protect them from disease and insects. They survive fire because their thick layer of bark protects the 'alive' layer inside and then the bark grows in folds back around the fire scars. The bark doesn't harbor flammable sap and it holds water, adding to its fire survivability.

The sounds, walking along a forest trail with fire all around was a-MAaa-zinG. The Forest Service was keeping the fire to a snappy sizzle and that's what you could hear, like a fajita just out of the kitchen sizzle, punctuated by huge thunderclaps and scattered machine gun fire.

And they need fire to make more little baby sequoias. Fire releases the seeds from their cones, provides nutrient-rich ash and mineral soil for germinating the seeds and burns down the competing trees so the sequoias can hog up all the sunlight.
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