Monday, November 3, 2014

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, CA

These two national parks are conjoined twins with Kings Canyon sitting on top of Sequoia NP. They are surrounded by the Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument. The entire area is spectacular and one of our new favourite destinations. These parks are situated in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and include Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the "lower 48" at 14,494 feet. We had views of Mt. Whitney two years ago when visiting Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills on the east side of this mountain range. We can't see the peak from the places we visit this year, but the other peaks are equally beautiful although not yet snow-capped as Mt. Whitney was.

Many campgrounds are closed in both national parks this time of year, but there is free dispersed camping in the national forest and we find a beautiful site along the South Fork of the Kings River, although it is at the bottom of the canyon so we don't get a lot of sun - about 3 hours each day only. Steep cliffs rise on either side of us with the two sides being less than 100 feet apart. Yes, we are beside the main road, but it dead-ends in about 10 miles, so the only traffic is rangers and other park visitors who want to be out before dark. The road coming in from Fresno (Highway 180) calls for some white-knuckle driving to be sure, at least with a 31-foot trailer. We ascend up over 6,000 feet, then back down to 3,000 where our campsite is through twisty roads with steep drops into the canyon (no guard rails). Many times we take up two lanes and pray no one else appears around the bend. That said, Highway 198 into Sequoia NP to the south of us is impossible for us to take as it has a maximum vehicle length of 22 feet (we are 50 feet).

Bears are apparently all around us, but we never see one during the 5 days we're here. At many of the parking areas, bear lockers are provided to store food and, as many of the signs warn, it's the law!

Of course, some signs are amusing, like this one warning us to not abandon our food if a bear approaches. I don't know. If a bear wants to eat my food instead of me, I'm all for that!
Grant Grove, Kings Canyon NP
link to video of the General Grant TreeThis grove is so named for one of the world's three largest trees, the General Grant Tree, which is also the Nation's Christmas Tree. It is third largest by volume at 46,608 cubic feet. It weighs an estimated 1,254 tons, stands 268 feet (82 meters) high and is about 1,700 years old. At its base, it is 107 feet (33 meters) in circumference and 40 feet (12 meters) in diameter. Its largest branch is 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) in diameter (the size of some trees!) and its lowest branch is 129 feet (39 meters) from the ground.

Sometimes the trees are more interesting when they've fallen over. The root structures make beautiful abstracts. I'm inside this one, in fact, I can walk all the way through the trunk.

Brad inside another fallen sequoia.
Redwood Mountain Grove, Sequoia NP

This sequoia grove is not spectacular in itself, but what makes this hike on the Sugarbowl Trail special is that a mist rolls into the treetops, coming up the western slopes of the mountains. The strong sun burns off the mist almost over top of our heads and there is only clear, blue sky to the west. A somewhat spiritual experience. Oh yeah, we also spot bear tracks on this trail, but no bear.
Cedar Grove and Kings Canyon, Kings Canyon NP

Kings Canyon is my favourite part of this huge mountain park with massive granite cliffs rising from the steep canyons. This crazy cloud formation moves in from the east as we head to Sequoia National Park for the day, which is southwest. Even when we return in the evening, the cloud seems to have remained in this location, never fully encompassing the canyon.

Along the hike in Zumwalt Meadow near Road's End (the end of Highway 180) is a bridge that crosses the Kings River. Brad is on the beach in the shade, so he's almost invisible. It is such a pretty spot.

Although this is meant to be a photo of Muir Rock (named for the Scottish environmentalist/adventurer John Muir who was instrumental in making this part of the Sierras the preserved natural area it is today), it is over-shadowed by the granite cliff wall behind it and the reflection. The rock is in the middle of the photo, beneath the trees on the right.
Giant Forest, Sequoia NP

The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree by volume in the world. More tree facts: volume is 52,500 cubic feet; weight is 1,385 tons; circumference is 103 feet (31 meters) and diameter is 36.5 feet (11 meters) at the base; height is 275 feet, age is 2,200 years old. Sequoias are unique, growing tall as quickly as possible to reach the sun, then growing their protective, fibrous bark around the main trunk after they reach near-full height. The bark contains little sap and is very fire-retardant, allowing sequoias to survive forest fires. Tannins in the bark also resist disease, insects and fire. All this allows sequoias to live 3,000+ years, while other trees suffer old age after 300 years. A truly remarkable species.

Moro Rock is a spectacular experience climbing a quarter-mile long staircase built into the granite peak. At the top is an incredible 360 degree view of the San Joaquin Valley to the west, and the high Sierras to the east (behind me in this photo). The Sierras are so rugged here that no roads cross their peaks, even in the valleys. There are hiking trails, but the trek would take many days or even a week! To get to the valley in the east, you have to drive north to Yosemite National Park, or south almost to Bakersfield.

Tunnel Log on the drive between Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow. Of course, we have to stop to snap a pic.

Tharp's Log is a cabin in which Mr. Tharp stayed during the summers in the 1800s while tending his livestock in the nearby meadow. He must have been very short. A little too rustic for me, but I suppose it suited Tharp's needs.

The outside of Tharp's Log which is built into the hollowed out trunk of a fallen sequoia. I'll bet he wasn't married.


  1. Thanks Lynda. I love that hat and I hate hats! Bought it in New Mexico last year. Looks better now that my hair is longer.