The Travels of a Journalist—18 -CALIFORNIA ADVENTURES: MINGLING WITH GIANT SEQUOIAS
Posted on March 20th, 2010

By Shelton A. Gunaratne ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚© 2010

(Background: I was an exchange instructor at Fullerton College in 1983 occupying the residence of my exchange partner, Larry Taylor, at 2903 Wellesley Court, Fullerton, a suburb of Los Angeles. I arrived with my family in California on 2 Feb. 1983, and we decided to make use of our weekends and the summer break to explore the West Coast to the fullest.)

Exploring the outstanding geographical features of the Sierra Nevada (ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Snowy Mountain RangeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚), which stretches 400 miles (650ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ km) from Fredonyer Pass in the north to Tehachapi Pass in the south, became our primary recreational concern in the summer of 1983, though our tours extended to as far north as Corvallis, Ore.

My son Junius, who had become a seasoned traveler after the long coach tour of New Zealand, where we experienced the delights of crossing the Alpine passes in December 1981, had grown 1.5 years older when he faced the next challenge of crossing (at least a sample of the 13) mountain passes of the Sierra Nevada, which is bounded on the west by California’ s Central Valley and on the east by the Great Basin. The Sierras determine the boundary between California and Nevada. The mountain passes of the Sierra were higher than those crossing the Southern Alpines.

Those days we were very much dependent on the maps and tour books of the American Automobile Association and the tour routes prepared by the AAA specialists for road travel. The Internet and the World Wide were the preserves of the elite. Our desktops were not equipped to spew out customized maps, direction finders, distance calculators and satellite photographs of streets and places all over the world. (Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who founded Google in 1998, were just 10-year-olds in 1983!)

Thus, we planned our camping tour for the Sierra Nevada experience the old-fashioned way. We planned the trip based on three considerations. First, it should be a self-conducted camping tour. Second, it should be confined to the summer vacation, not during the school year. Third, it should include the following distinctive geographical features of the Sierra:

  • Groves of giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), the most massive trees in the world, populated along the narrow band of altitude on the western side of the Sierra Nevada.
  • Lake Tahoe, the large, clear freshwater lake in the northern Sierra, with an elevation of 6,225 feet (1,897 m) and an area of 191 square miles (489ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ square km). Lake Tahoe lies between the main Sierra and the Carson Range, a spur of the Sierra. Water from Lake Tahoe eventually reaches Pyramid Lake, where it evaporates.
  • Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Lower 48,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ with an elevation of 14,505 feet (4,421 m), located on the eastern border of Sequoia National Park. Mt. Whitney ranks 11th in the United States, after Mt. McKinley with an elevation of 20,320 feet (6,194 m) and nine other peaks in Alaska.
  • Yosemite National Park, which is filled with stunning features, such as waterfalls and granite domes.
  • The beautiful, glacially scoured canyons such as Hetch Hetchy Valley, Yosemite Valley, Kings Canyon, Kern Canyon and Tehipite Valley on the western side of the Sierra.

However, we soon discovered that reservation of camping sites in popular national parks during the crowded summer required very advanced planning or some luck.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Because we could not find back-to-back accommodation at Sequoia and Yosemite national parks at the same time, we had to make two separate trips to accomplish our travel goals.

As it turned out, the first trip was a 10-day excursion (15-25 July) of the Sequoia National Park, the KingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Canyon National Park, Lake Tahoe and western Nevada. It involved a driving distance of more than 1,500 miles roundtrip from Fullerton.

The second trip was a 22-day excursion (30 July-21Aug.) of a larger area of the West Coast, including five days (12-17 Aug.) of camping in Yosemite and four days (17-21 Aug.) exploring the Great Basin in the immediate vicinity of Mt. Whitney.

The Sequoia Experience

On Friday, 15 July 1983, weƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚Junius, Yoke-Sim and IƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚drove 286 miles northeast of Fullerton to reach the Ash Mountain entrance to Sequoia National Park. We reached our destination via Bakersfield, which lies parallel to the Tehachapi Pass at the southern end of the Sierra; Tulare, where we ate lunch at Zumwalt Park; Visalia, where we visited the 155-acre Mooney Grove Park; Lake Kaweah; and Three Rivers.

When we paid our $2 park fee at the Ash Mountain ranger station, we received a packet of literature, which included a copy of The Sequoia Bark that gave all the news about the parkƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s daily activities. After entering the park, we zigzaggedƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  along the Generals Highway (SR 198), with brief stops at Hospital Rock and Amphitheater Point, and passed through the Four Guardsmen (giant sequoias) to make our way to the Lodgepole Campground on Lodgepole Road.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

It being 5 p.m., we set up our tent, not too far from the South Fork of Kaweah River. After dinner, we went to the Lodgepole Amphitheater to listen to ranger Jack StittƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s talk on ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Rock glaciers and running water.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ The night was freezing cold.

Established in 1890, the Sequoia National Park covers 404,051ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ acres (1,635ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ square km).

Saturday (16 July) morning, we joined a small group of people led by ranger Gail Cording for a hike to Tokopah Falls. The trail followed the Marble Falls of the Kaweah River, a typical U-shape of a glaciated gorge. The falls is a series of cascades totaling nearly 1,000 feet in vertical drop. On the way up, Cording gave a simple account of the geological formation of the area, as well as of the flora and the fauna. She taught us to eat ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-fiddle nets.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

In the afternoon, we drove south and west past Wuksachi Village to see the Crystal Cave, nine miles from the Giant Sequoia Forest, along a narrow paved road. The temperature inside the cave was a constant 50 degrees. The cave had a remarkable gate built like a giant spider. The uphill return hike was quite arduous.

On the way back, we stopped at the General Sherman, a giant sequoia with a height of 275 feet (83.8 meters). (As recently as 2002, the volume of its trunk measured about 1,487 cubic meters, making it the largest non-clonal tree by volume. General Sherman lost its largest branch in early 2006, but that didnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t affect its status as the largest tree.) Thereafter, we walked on the two-mile long Cypress Trail that took us to the middle of the Giant Forest with numerous giant sequoias. We were very much the Lilliputians.

Back at the Lodgepole, I took Junius to a childrenƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s campfire at the amphitheater. He and I also ambled along the riverbank. At 8.30 p.m., Yoke-Sim joined us for the Lodgepole campfire program. The highlight was ranger Vaughn FolkmanƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s slide presentation on ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Tooth, fang and claw,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ a look at the Sierra animals.

Clarification from Wikipedia

Lest there be confusion, I should explain that the Kings Canyon National Park, which lies to the north, is territorially contiguous with the Sequoia National Park. Wikipedia clarifies that Kings Canyon National Park consists of two sections:

One is the readily accessible General Grant Grove section, which preserves several groves of giant sequoia, including the General Grant Grove, with the famous General Grant Tree, and the Redwood Mountain GroveƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚the largest remaining natural giant sequoia grove in the world (covering 3,100ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ acres, with 15,800 sequoia trees measuring more than 1 foot in diameter at base). Both Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks share the Giant Sequoia forests.

Other is the remaining 90 percent of Kings Canyon National Park, lying to the east of General Grant Grove. This section forms the headwaters of the South and Middle forks of the Kings River and the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. Both the South and Middle forks of the Kings River have extensive glacial canyons. The park derives its name from the portion of the South Fork canyon called the Kings Canyon, one of the deepest canyons glaciers have carved out of granite. The Kings Canyon, as well as its developed area called Cedar Grove, is the only portion of the main part of the park that is accessible by motor vehicle. Both the Kings Canyon and its Middle Fork twin, the Tehipite Valley, are glacial ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-YosemitesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” deeply incised glacial gorges with relatively flat floors and towering granite cliffs thousands of feet high. The canyon also contains a cave formation called Boyden Cave.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

More of Sequoia ExperienceƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Sunday (17 July) at 7.30 a.m., we left Lodgepole to explore Cedar Grove and Grant Grove sections of the Kings Canyon National Park.

Back on the main drag (Generals Highway), we tarried at Lost Grove and stopped at Stony Creek Village for gasoline. A friendly old attendant served us. At Quail Flat, we took the scenic route northeast to nearby Lake Hume, which deserved a brief stop. Then we joined highway 180 heading east for the breathtaking descent to Kings Canyon. East of Boyden Cave, SR 180 snaked parallel to the South Fork of Kings RiverƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚a geographical formation similar to that of Yosemite Valley. (We could not spot the Tehipite Valley on the Middle Fork of Kings River, further to the north. Kern Canyon was further to the south on Sequoia National Park.)

SR 180 provides the only peek into the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Other 90 percentƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ of the KCNP for motor vehicle exploration. We stopped at Roaring River Falls, a drop of 80 feet through a granite gorge. Next, we walked around the famous Zumwalt Meadow (which offers ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-magnificent views of high granite walls, a lush meadow, and the meandering Kings RiverƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚) after turning back at RoadƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s End. The meadow featured a moraine deposited by a glacier. It overlooked the granite monoliths North Dome and Great Sentinel. We ate lunch on the riverbank. Then we headed west again on the Motor Nature Trail and stopped at the Cedar Grove Village.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Finally, we backtracked SR 180 to visit the General Grant Grove, which has the second largest living thing in the world, the General Grant tree, also called ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-The NationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Christmas Tree.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ There we ran into the family of an expatriate Sri Lankan, Francis Perera.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  After visiting the Grant Grove Visitor Center, Junius and I explored the Big Stump Trail. It was 7.30 p.m. when we returned to the Lodgepole. I had a headache.

MondayƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  (18 July) was our last day at the Sequoia National Park. In the morning, we headed south on the main drag, and then turned east on Crescent Meadow Road, close to the Giant Forest Village. We exercised ourselves on the pretext of following the trails to Crescent Meadow and Huckleberry Meadow. Names such as TharpƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Log, Chimney Tree, Squatters Cabin and Dead Giant aroused our curiosity that induced us to touch, smell or sit on them.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

We were disappointed that we were unable to get a view of Mt. Whitney from the western flank of SPN /KCNP because many of the snowcapped peaks in the Great Western Divide reached altitudes of 12,000 feet (3,657 meters) or higher.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  It was, therefore, impossible to see over them to view Mt. Whitney from the 6,725 ft. (2,050 m) Moro Rock, a granite monolith overlooking the deep canyon of the Middle Fork of Kaweah River. Yet, it was most remarkable that we walked to the top of this rock (trudging each of the 400 steps of the stairway) to see the Castle Rocks and the divide.

The Sierra has no mountain pass in an east-west direction for 200 miles from Tioga Pass to Tehachapi Pass. Although no motor vehicle can access the eastern side of S/KCNP on this horizontal band, hikers and horseback riders can cross the forest through the Kaweah Gap on the 49-mile High Sierra Trail from the plateau of the Great Forest at Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw Meadow. Via this trail, the distance between Crescent Meadow and Mt. Whitney Portal is 72 miles.

We ate lunch on a log along Round Meadow, adjacent to the Lodge. On the return journey to Lodgepole, we stopped at the Visitor Center to watch a slide presentation of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Fungi in SequoiaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ by John Taylor, a mycologist from UC Berkeley.

One of the delights of camping in U.S. national parks is attending a choice of ranger-led programs and activities. Therefore, even on the eve of our departure from Sequoia, we did not want to miss the eveningƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s post-prandial activity: a very interesting presentation on ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Awareness in picturesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ by ranger John Satnet and Kodak specialist John Greene.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Next: Crossing the Sierra Passes to Lake Tahoe and Reno

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ (The writer is a professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead.)

Figure 1: Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park has two entry/exit points: A=Tulare/Visalia to the south or C=Fresno to the north. B=Lodgepole Campgrounds within the national park.

Picture 1: The author and his son at the Ash Mountain entrance (via Tulare-Visalia) to Sequoia National Park on 15 July 1983.

Picture 2: Lilliputians (authorƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s wife and son) at the feet of a Brobdingnagian (General Sherman) on 16 July 1983.

4 Responses to “The Travels of a Journalist—18 -CALIFORNIA ADVENTURES: MINGLING WITH GIANT SEQUOIAS”

  1. Sita Perera Says:

    Incredible stories. Scintillating stuff. Please keep writing. Shelton has definitely become the modern day Jonathan Swift/Pearl S Buck. Noble Prize in the offing for him?

  2. Sita Perera Says:

    I wonder what is position of Junius now? Why was he named so?

  3. gunarat Says:

    Junius, now 30, works for a prestigious company in New York, where he lives in The Village.

    We named him after the leader of Sri Lanka who was in power in 1980, the year he was born. g

  4. Sita Perera Says:

    Thank you Shelton. You must now be regretting to name your such a fine son, after a such a failed statesman

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