al4kosh: Random Thoughts

Southern Sierra National Park Trip

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My 50th high school reunion was scheduled for September 23 at a country club above the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. I decided that it would be great to return home via the road-accessible areas of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  I managed to secure reservations at the lodges and cabins in each park . What follows is an account of the five day trip through the area. Of course, there are photos associated with the trip. 

Day 1 —Visalia to Wuksachi

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On earlier trips this year, I realized that the economical way to maximize my time in a scenic area was to spend the night before in a gateway town. So, on Sunday, the day after the reunion, I departed the Valley for the Visalia, which is about 35 miles from the Ash Mountain entrance to Sequoia National Park.On Monday, I entered the park. From Ash Mountain to the Giant Forest, the Generals Highway climbs about 5000 feet in 16 miles on a tortuous path. Along the way are views of the mighty Sierra as well as interesting collections of rocks. At the top of the climb, one reaches the heart of the park at the Giant Forest Museum. Until the 1990’s, visitor services were concentrated in this area and causing the main attraction of the park, one of the largest Sequoia groves, to deteriorate. So, most services were moved to less sensitive areas at Lodgepole and Wuksachi, with the old store converted to a museum. Most parking lots were reclaimed with only a large parking area across the road from the museum remaining.. So I parked there aned walked over to the museum and proton of my first Seqoia experience. You can find pictures here.

I then headed to Lodgepole for a quick lunch and then returned to the north end of the Giant Forest to see the largest sequoia, the General Sherman Tree, as well as the various collections of trees along the Congress Trail. Photos are here.

After a full day, I retired for the night at Wuksachi Lodge.

Day 2 — Exploring the Park’s Core

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To start the day, I drove back to the Giant Forest and up the spur road to Moro Rock (which you can see in the pictures fromj Amphitheater Point on day 1).  A 350-stairway and path provides access to the top of the rock. From the top (and also a points along the way, the view stretches from the Great Western Divide in the east to the San Joaquin Valley to the west. The top of the rock is at 6725 feet above sea level while the peaks in the distance top out at 12,000 to 13,ooo feetand shield views of the Kern River drainage and the High Sieera crest further east. Pictures from the climb of the rock are here.

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I continued along the road to its end at Crescent Meadow. Crescent Meadow is the trailhead for the High Sierra Trail which ends 60 miles later at Mt. Whitney, but my ambitions were much more limited: to hike to Tharp’s log, returning via the west side of Crescent Meadow. That I did, encountering a woodpecker along the way. Pictures are here.

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I returned to the museum and ate a sandwich that had been packed at the lodge. Afterwards, I joined a ranger-led walk on the Big Trees trail around Round Meadow. A highlight of the walk was encountering a black bear and her two very agile cubs (video clip above). After the walk, I returned to the lodge and observed a great sunset from my room. Pictures? Of course.

Day 3 — Wuksachi to the Grant Grove

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On Wednesday morning, after breakfast, a deer in the lodge parking area greeted me and I was off to the Grant Grove in the smaller but older section of Kings Canyon National Park (originally known as General Grant National Park). Before arriving at Grant Grove Village, I stopped at viewpoints: one with views to the north otver the Kings watershed, and the other, to the south, over the vast Redwood Mountain sequoia grove. Pictures here.

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Then, it was down to the Grant Grove, home of the second largest Sequoia, for an initial view and ranger talk. Pictures.

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Finally, I took a short drive in the other direction for Panorama Point, for a view of mountains behind Hume Lake. Pictures here.

Day 4 — Kings Canyon and the Grant Grove

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After breakfast in the 3-month old restaurant at Grant Grove Village, I spent most of day touring the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (Highway 180). The road, built in the 1930’s, descends about 3000 feet into Kings Canyon before rising  to an elevation of 5000  feet at Road End. This road connects the Grant Grove with the High Sierra Section of Kings Canyon National Park (created in 1940), although the sections in the canyons were not added until 1965. The area between the two sections was part of Sequoia National Forest until 2000 when it became part of the newly created Giant Sequoia National Monument. 

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The road first travelled along ridges scarred by the 1955 McGee and 2015 Rough Fires with views of the Converse Basin, the world’s larges Sequoia grove, throughly logged over in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The descent into the canyon began at Junction Point, with its view to the junction of the Middle and South Forks of the Kings, 5000 feet below. Pictures.

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Once in the Canyon, I stopped occaisionally to  view the canyon walls and two waterfalls. Photos.

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I then stopped to hike the 1.5 mile Zumwalt Meadow loop. Although billed as an easy hike, the first portion of the hike through the fallen rock below the Grand Sentinel involved a bit of scrambling and uncertain footholds. Once I came into the flat damper area along the river, I had to constantly wave away the gnat swarms from my face.  At Road End, the gnats defeated my patience as I observed backpackers returning from their trips into the backcountry. Pictures.


I left the gnats and returned to the Grant Grove area in mid-afternoon. Pictures.

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I finished with another whirl around the Grant Grove trail (also taking in the side loop to the fallen Michigan Tree) before dinner. Pictures.

Day 5 — Last Hikes

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Day 5 was getaway day. Originally, I planned to return home. After realizing that I would be fighting the Bay Area Friday evening rush hourto return home, I made arrangements to stay in Fresno Friday night and return home on Saturday. So, after packing and seeing that a ranger walk  at the Grant Grove was scheduled in 5 minutes, I headed dwon the road and arrived 3 minutes later. The talk walk provided a final chance to hear about the role of the Sequoia in the founding of the national park system (3 of 4 original national parks involved the preservation of Sequoia groves) and a re-emphasis on the role of all natural elements, including fire in sustaining a healthful environment for the forest. Pictures.

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After the walk, I went to far end of the parking area to the trailhead for the North Grove loop, a hike around a grove at the northwest corner of the park This hike provided an opportunity to hike thfough the border area between a living grove and one that had been thinned in the 2015 Rough Fire. Pictures.

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For the final hike of the trip, I parked at the Big Stump entrance station to hike 2 sections of the Big Stump trail. The trail was a loop trail, but the end eastern portion (nearest to the Grant Grove) was temporarily closed and being used as a staging area for controlled burns to help maintain a healthy forest. The Big Stump area was added to the park in 1958, having been logged over in the 19th century with even a swmill at its center. Sights on the hike included , the Sawed Tree (with a visible sawcut through the trunk), the Mark Twain Stumps, and other smaller stumps around the meadow that was the sawmill site. Pictures.

From the Bing Stump entrance, it took a bit over 1 hour to reach Fresno. After cleaning up, I headed over to the Apple Store in the local mall to upload the 700 or so photos residing on my iPhone. After about 30 minutes, the job was done, and, after dinner and a good night’s sleep, it was time to head home.


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•Photo Notes —  All photos were taken on an iPhone 7. In order to capture the full height of some of the Sequoia, I created vertical panoramas, so you may see some distortion.

•Auto Notes — I travelled 1043 miles round trip from home over the 9-day trip. My 2016 Prius averaged 52.5 mpg. I started with an almost full tank of gas and filled up twice during the trip: on Sunday morning in Burbank, CA and on Saturday morning in Fresno, CA.  A day by day log is here.

•Connectivity Notes — Cellular and Internet services were almost non-existent in these parks. There was intermitent satellite interset service as the Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia while the only reliable service in Grant Grove Village was in the area between the registration desk and the restrooms in the John Muir Lodge. The main lounge on the other side of registration had intermitent service at best. Nonbe of it was robust enough to aloow one to backup or edit one’s photos. While this is not critical, I find it amusing that Apple’s last 4 computer operating systems* have been named for regions where the ability to use Apple’s interconnection services is almost non-existent. Perhaps Apple would want to deidicate some funds to encourage the government, concessionaires, communications companies, and public utilities to use existing right-of -ways to provide most robust services in the developed areas of the National Parks and Monuments in the area.

*Yosemite, El Capitan, Sierra, High Sierra

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