After rounding the southern end of the Sierras and working my way through a week long self imposed lock-down in Bakersfield I merrily rolled along toward Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. I have yet to figure out if this is one park or two. Two names, but shared literature and website. I’m sure more research (or a phone call, which sadly is not as simple as it once was) would result in an answer to my quandary. For now I’m going to assume they are two different parks, if for no other reason than it adds to the numbers of national parks I’ve visited.
As of today I have spent time in 29 of our National Parks on my journey (32 of them in my lifetime) and endless numbers of our National Monuments, National Seashores, and National Forests. I’ve said it before… I am eternally grateful for these protected lands. I cringe when pondering how different our national landscape would look if not for the forethought to set these lands aside for the enjoyment of generations to come. They truly are places of awe and wonder… and for those who see this earth as I do, they are places of spiritual connection, renewing and healing.
Since most of the campgrounds within Sequoia and Kings Canyon were still closed for the season my research took me to a simple but lovely site at Lake Kaweah… Horse Creek Campground. I’m told that there are times when this campground sits right on the shore of the lake, parts of it underwater even, but during the current drought the lake was some distance away.
Now that I’ve taken you for our evening stroll I must back up a bit. As soon as I settled into my campsite we loaded into the car and headed straight in to the park for a look around and a stop at the visitors center. For some reason it was impossible to reach anyone at the park(s) before my arrival. The recording I kept getting claimed problems with the phone system. Since most of the parks roadways and campgrounds were still closed for the season I wonder if they were simply understaffed. Regardless there were a few staff members at the visitors center that afternoon who were able to advise me on road conditions and what my best accessible hiking options might be.
Since it was already getting late in the day I simply drove the Generals Highway, enjoyed the scenery and stopped a few times for fairly typical photo ops… scrambling only once down to the Kaweah River. The weather was gloomy, hiding much of the landscape from my view (and from what I understood, dumping snow at the higher elevations.)
I stopped at a site called Hospital Rock, once home to about 500 Potwisha Native Americans. Some evidence of their lives there was Bedrock Mortar, circular depressions in the rock used by the Potwisha to grind grains, acorns and other foods.
As I was traveling back down the road on my way out of the park the clouds parted some, letting rays of sunshine pass through here and there. The rainbow in the image below gave me hope that tomorrow would bring clear skies, sunshine and open roads.
Before coming to Sequoia a fellow traveler suggested a restaurant outside of the park that had a deck overlooking the river. I didn’t remember the name of the restaurant nor the name of the town, but I’m pretty sure I found it… and stopped as directed. The Gateway Restaurant literally sits perched over the cascading river in Three Rivers. It was chilly, but I stepped inside and asked the manager if I might sit out on the deck with my dogs for a glass of wine and appetizer. He happily accommodated us and we had the deck to ourselves. While enjoying the scenery I spotted something amusing across the river. Someone creatively created what looks like a doorway in the hillside with the words “Keep Out. No Trolls” etched on the front. I would love to have hiked out for a closer look but found no access short of crossing the rushing stream. Funny!
The following morning, after a quick jaunt with the girls, I headed back up the highway to the park for an early hike. It was my hope that the roadway leading to the “Giant Forest”, which was still closed when I arrived, would be open by the time I finished my hike at the lower elevation. The morning was so lovely I had to stop and hike along the river before I even reached the park!
Once again I drove into the park on Generals Highway. With the sun shining brightly I was able to see mountain peaks with a fresh coat of snow left by the previous days cloud cover. In the morning light of a new day the lovely drive I’d taken the afternoon prior took on a whole different kind of charm and beauty!
I’m hoping someone can help me identify the following mountain peak. I’m considering the possibility that it’s the western side of Mount Whitney, but after more than 30 minutes of searching online I’m still unsure. Could be Mount Stillman. (This is where I burn up an amazing amount of time with each blog post… researching for interesting information and facts.)
Since the trailhead for my morning hike started in Buckeye Flat campground, which was still closed for the season, I parked near Hospital Rock and hiked the mile long roadway to the campground and found the Paradise Creek Trailhead… where the real hiking began. Because it was so early in the season the trail was not very well marked nor maintained, and much of it follows the rocky shoreline where there are no markings at all, so it was not surprising to find myself “off trail” a few times with no choice but to backtrack until I found it again. As is often the case no one else was around the entire hike. (Worrisome to a few of you I know. Rest assured I have a good sense of direction, was pretty much raised like a boy scout and keep a can of bear spray close at hand.)
I hiked for an unknown period of time while enjoying the fresh air and bright vivid hues of spring. Sometimes along the rocky shoreline, but often in the rich and thick forest. After a few miles on the trail I reached a dead end along the river, and looking across noticed the trail picked up on the other side. In the summer this might be an easy crossing, but not while the river swelled with the snow melt, and especially not across extremely slick river rocks. I picked my route very strategically and while carefully teetering on said slick rocks slipped my camera into my backpack and slid the backpack onto a large rock midstream. While using my tripod for balance and with the help of a fallen tree limb pulled myself belly first onto the moss covered rock.
After repeating much the same performance from midstream I found myself in a thicket of bramble and poison ivy on the other side. (I should note there was lots of poison ivy along the overgrown trail which made me very glad I’d worn long pants that day! And honestly… I was sure that alone would not save me from the affects, which for me are usually extreme.) I carefully pushed my way through using a stick and my tripod to avoid the poison ivy where I could. Once back on the trail I hiked no more than a quarter mile before I reached another river crossing… this one even trickier than the last. Since this trail was not a loop and I knew I was likely to see more of what I had already seen, I made an executive decision to turn back at that point. When I got back to where I’d crossed the river I gingerly perched my moss-stained tush on a large damp rock, took my shoes and socks off, rolled up my pants and braved the icy cold water to get to the other side… once again using my tripod for balance.
When I got back to my car the first thing I did was wipe down my tripod, pant legs and shoes with wet-wipes hoping to remove every bit of residue left by the poison ivy (and I’m happy and truly surprised to report that I was never affected!) Then I hopped in my car and headed up-mountain with the hope of finding the road to the Giant Sequoias open. When I finally popped out of the steep windy switchbacks I came to a “chains required beyond this point” sign just before a long pull-out at the side of the road.
Ugh! Luckily I had them with me, but ugh!! The road seemed clear enough to me, but I was still traveling upward. I pulled my two-year-old unused chains out of the box and got to work. I was about half-way through the task when someone driving down the mountain slowed and hollered to me and the others who were doing the same that they were no longer required up to the Sequoia grove I was heading for. The road beyond that was still closed. Yay!! How that set of chains ever fit in the box I pulled them out of I’ll never know. I lost patience with that task quickly, tossed them on the floor of my car and got back on the road. I had a general to see!!!
The General Sherman Tree, located in the Giant Sequoia Forest, is by volume the largest known living single stem tree on earth (although not the tallest, nor the widest.) It is indeed a very BIG tree!
In the same part of the park is the Tunnel Tree, big enough to easily walk through…
After walking the icy path through the “Generals Grove” I headed back down the road until I found a pull-out near the “Big Trees Trail” and hiked alone for a bit amongst the giants in the fresh soft snow.
And while crossing over a nearly frozen creek found a curious face looking up at me. I see a seal pup, while others see a Husky dog in this image.
There was one more thing I was hoping to do while in that park… a 7.4 mile round-trip hike on Marble Falls Trail (with a 2550′ elevation gain) but it would be tough to pull it off before darkness fell that day, and I didn’t even want to try knowing the dogs were waiting for me in my motorhome more than an hour away. All the way back, and while walking the dogs, I debated whether I’d drive back to the park for that hike in the morning or roll out early for the long route to Kings Canyon National Park. (Again, the interior roads that connect the two parks were closed.)
By morning the decision was made. I knew I’d have to come back to these parks one day because a huge part of both of them was inaccessible to me during this visit. I would save Marble Falls Trail for my return. I had another general to see, and Yosemite National Park awaiting me beyond that! After a morning jaunt with the girls I pulled stakes and headed up Hwy 245 toward the west entrance of Kings Canyon.
The drive through the California countryside was quite lovely and peaceful… pleasant even in a large motorhome. The higher I got in elevation though, the narrower and windier the roads became. For quite some distance I wound my way up and through the hills feeling glad that… at least that day… it was a very lightly traveled road. There were many turns in the road so tight that it was not physically possible to keep a 35 foot long motorhome with a tow car in my narrow lane. Through many turns I had to take my half out of the middle. I swear there were times when I thought I’d surely come around a turn and meet up with the back end of my tow car!
When I finally came to a T in the road at Hwy 180… right leading to the entrance of Kings Canyon and left leading back down into the valley and my route to Yosemite, I chose to turn left and find a pull-out where I could leave the motorhome behind and drive my car into the park. (Experience told me this would be far less risky than driving “lock, stock and barrel” into an unfamiliar park with many road closures.) Thankfully the grove where General Grant Tree grew was not more than a few miles beyond the entrance. “General Grant” is considered the second or third largest tree by volume in the world, depending on what research you follow. Apparently the difference is based on mass volume including or excluding the branches. (For more info see this list of largest Sequoia Trees, where I found a side-note explaining the discrepancy… “This table presents giant sequoias sorted by the volume of their trunks. In December 2012, Stephen Sillett announced a measurement of the President tree with a total of 54,000 cubic feet of wood and 9,000 cubic feet of wood in the branches. Ranked according to the total amount of wood in the tree, the General Sherman tree is first, the President tree is second, and the General Grant tree is third. General Sherman has 2,000 cubic feet more wood than the President tree.”)
Interesting tid-bits I think. Regardless, ‘ol Grant here is another very big tree! Unfortunately I walked right past President Tree in Shermans Grove oblivious to this fact.
Finally I had seen and hiked amongst the Giant Sequoia Trees I’d heard about for years! It was really pretty cool (no pun intended) to see them in the snow, but I have every intention of making my way back to these parks at a time when I can see and hike deeper into them. These amazing trees are but a small part of the beauty to be found there I know.
After my brief visit to Kings Canyon I drove back down the highway, hooked Zippy back up to The Beast and rolled on down the highway toward the little town of El Portal where I would meet up with Bay Area friends, Michelle and Sue, for a few days of fun and adventure in Yosemite National Park! That’s up next… and since I’m sitting still in my home state of Washington for a bit that should be soon!
[My visit to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks took place April 2-4, 2014]
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