A Sign in Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are two separate parks managed as one.  They sit shoulder to shoulder along the edge of the Sierras.  It’s tough to tell where one park ends and the other begins.  In fact, it can be a bit confusing, as the first point of entry into Kings Canyon is Grant Grove, a large grove of sequoia trees, and home of the General Grant Tree, “third largest tree in the world.”   To an analytical left brainer like myself, I think “Wait, shouldn’t you sequoias be over there in Sequoia National Park?  😉

Grant Grove is just a short walk from the Azalea Campground. This group is called "Happy Family."

Grant Grove is just a short walk from the Azalea Campground. This group is called “Happy Family.” Don’t you love how the fence excludes the adopted child of the family, the pine?

I just love the cinnamon-colored finely textured bark.

I just love the cinnamon-colored finely textured bark.

A burn scar can be a thing of beauty.

A burn scar can be a thing of beauty.

It's impossible to photograph these giants, but if there is one thing the little $99 Canon ELPHie has, it's a wide angle lens!

It’s impossible to photograph these giants, but if there is one thing the little $99 Canon ELPHie has, it’s a wide angle lens!

The Visitors Center, Gift Shop, Snack Stand and Market all reside less than a mile from one of the largest remaining groves of sequoias in the world, so it’s easy to think one has “done” Kings Canyon by visiting this area.  But it has little to do with Kings Canyon….

The one mile trail passes several "downed" trees.

The one mile trail passes several “downed” trees.

This one is called "Fallen Monarch." Both ends are large enough to stand up in.

This one is called “Fallen Monarch.” Both ends are large enough to stand up in. (My feet are at the bottom of steps out of the log.)

Inside the Fallen Monarch. This hollowed out giant sequoia has been used as temporary housing for loggers, a hotel and saloon, and shelter for 32 horses of the cavalry.

Inside the Fallen Monarch. This hollowed out giant sequoia has been used as temporary housing for loggers, a hotel and saloon, and shelter for 32 horses of the cavalry.

Bottom half of General Grant tree, "Third Largest in the World." Forty ft in diameter, 268 ft high, 1,700 years old. Taller than a 27-story building, wider than a 3 lane freeway.

Bottom half of General Grant tree, “Third Largest in the World.” Forty ft in diameter, 268 ft high, 1,700 years old. Taller than a 27-story building, wider than a 3 lane freeway.

Though much less touristed and even slighted somewhat in the Park’s collateral material, the real heart of the park lies 3,000 ft below, down a sinuous, steep two lane road “not recommended for vehicles over 22 ft.”   The roaring beast of the frothy white Kings River plunges 2,000 ft in only a couple of miles.  It’s thunderous roar echos between 8,000 ft walls of granite overhead in what is one of the deepest canyons in the US.  But the Kings River is not the culprit.  Canyons carved by water, I learned, are V-shaped.  Kings Canyon is hollowed out in a U-shaped profile, indicative of glacial gouging.  This bold and beautiful river just happens to live there, and I want to go see it.

View of Kings Canyon from Panoramic Point is not so panoramic due to ah "prescribed burn" in Redwood Canyon.

View of Kings Canyon from Panoramic Point is not so panoramic due to a “prescribed burn” in Redwood Canyon. (Note Hume Lake in the center. We’ll go there later.)

The forest near Panoramic Point, 7,500 ft, is carpeted in these tiny blue flowers.

The forest near Panoramic Point, 7,500 ft, is carpeted in these tiny blue flowers.

A closer look...

A closer look…

The 3 mile OW hike to the Fire Tower gets closer to the burn area.

The 3 mile OW hike to the Fire Tower gets closer to the burn area.

The burn is the only natural way to create a mineral soil seed bed which giant sequoias require to regenerate.

The prescribed burn is the only natural way to create a mineral soil seed bed which giant sequoias require to regenerate.

The silver lining to a forest fire is a gorgeous sunset.

The silver lining to a forest fire is a gorgeous sunset.

Although the engine in the Little Tracker has not missed a beat since the day brother Don performed a heart transplant with a complete engine replacement back in 2014, it still doesn’t like to climb.  For some reason, it has been known to emit smoke after a steep incline, though it does not appear to be radiator-related, nor does it appear to be overheating.   I believe the culprit to be an oil leak.   But still, I don’t like to over-tax him.   But, if I don’t drive down this hellish road, I won’t get to see the namesake for “Kings Canyon.”   It will just be another sequoia grove.

Looking down over Kings Canyon and the Kings River from the "Junction" where Middle Fork and South Fork meet.

Looking down over Kings Canyon and the Kings River from the “Junction” where Middle Fork and South Fork meet.

Heading down to the valley floor.

Heading down to the valley floor.

I decide I will just take it slow.  I’ll get an early start so I can take all day to climb back up if necessary.   The volunteer at the Visitors Center tells me there are plenty of turnoffs, and to just take my time!  “It’s your park too!  Go as slow as you need to!”   She also tells me I can return back via Hume Lake, a gravel road not quite as steep as the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.

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I head down down, down, down the hills, filled with dread knowing I will need to climb back up the way I came.   I imagine several “self rescue” scenarios on what I would do should the Tracker fail in an area with no cell signal (SOS compliments of Delorme InReach!)  There are several times when I pull out to take some photos and think I will turn around, it’s not worth the worry.  But I so want to see that canyon!

This is one of the loudest rivers I have ever heard, probably because of the granite walls.

This is one of the loudest rivers I have ever heard, probably because of the granite walls.

The Tracker's version of a "selfie" out the roof.

The Tracker’s version of a “selfie” out the open roof.

Frequent signage along the river.

Frequent signage along the river.

It was a spectacular drive alongside this river!

It was a spectacular drive alongside this river!

Then at one of the turnouts, I see a sign….”The Don and Suzanne Highway.”   Rarely does anyone spell “Suzanne” correctly, but to see it on a highway sign along with “Don,” my brother’s name, it just feels eerily spooky.   I take it as “a sign” and continue on.  How can I possibly go wrong on the “Don and Suzanne Highway?”  😉IMG_0299

Beautiful Hume Lake, very serene (except for the Christian kids camp at one end.)

Beautiful Hume Lake, very serene (except for the Christian kids camp at one end.)

This is a terrible picture taken into the sun, but take a look at this interesting "scalloped" dam built in 1908. It took only 114 days and cost $45K. The "multi-arch" design is considered to be much stronger than conventional dam design.

This is a terrible picture taken into the sun, but take a look at this interesting “scalloped” dam built in 1908. It took only 114 days and cost $45K. The “multi-arch” design is considered to be much stronger than conventional dam design.

I am grateful and relieved to report that the 22 year old Little Tracker was able to make the trip to the bottom of the canyon and back out without a single hiccup, let alone a belch of smoke.

Roads End

Roads End

Look what else I found at "Roads End!" This very cool Ranger in the Wilderness Permit hut playing his banjo.

Look what else I found at “Roads End!” This very cool Ranger in the Wilderness Permit hut strumming his banjo.

But 97% of this glorious park is designated as “wilderness.”  The Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trails run right through the heart of it.   As you can see from the photo below, there are only three roads that lead in to the park.  I have circled where those roads end.

Both parks are only accessible from the west. Roads go only as far in as the circles.

Both parks are only accessible from the west. Roads go only as far in as the circles.

All that beautiful mountainous territory on the right is inaccessible except by foot, which means we will never experience it fully unless we get out of our cars.   The sign at Roads End reads, “Welcome to where roads end and trails begin.  Walk a few hours or hike further into a glorious wilderness ruled by elevation and climate.”   I can imagine I know exactly how John Muir felt when he said, “The mountains are calling, and I must go…”

Knapp Cabin, used by wealthy businessman George Knapp as a storage shed for camping expeditions back in the "Roaring Twenties."

Knapp Cabin, used by wealthy businessman George Knapp as a storage shed for camping expeditions back in the “Roaring Twenties.”

Grizzly Bear Falls

Grizzly Bear Falls

Roaring River Falls

Roaring River Falls

Suspension Bridge to Zumwalt Meadow

Suspension Bridge to Zumwalt Meadow

A 1.5 mile hike makes a loop around scenic Zumwalt Meadow on the valley floor of Kings Canyon.

A 1.5 mile hike makes a loop around scenic Zumwalt Meadow on the valley floor of Kings Canyon.

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Tribute to the Poet of Grayscale

As a final look at Yosemite National Park, no blog series would be complete without a tribute to one of it’s biggest advocates and most famous of residents, Ansel Adams.  Of course, you know I have to do it, right? The tonality of the sheer granite cliffs is begging for it. The shadows and light demand it. Any self-respecting photography enthusiast has to do it…so forgive me, Ansel, while I play momentarily with your muse of monochrome… Continue reading

Halfway to Half Dome

Regardless of whether you are a bucket list believer or a bucket list basher, everyone has a secret mental list of “things I wish I could do one day.” If you don’t, then you are not a dreamer. And if you are not a dreamer then you may as well be dead. But that’s just my opinion.

I confess to maintaining two bucket lists….those I think I can actually achieve, like Zion’s Angels Landing, or visiting all 59 of our National Parks. And then there is that “secret list” of things I wish I could do but Continue reading

I’ve Looked at Crowds from Both Sides Now

Yosemite National Park sees four million visitors each year. It ranks in the upper half of our Top 10 most visited national parks. “No temple made with human hands can compete with Yosemite,” wrote John Muir, early conservationist who influenced the creation of many of California’s parks.

As I mentioned in the previous post, coveted campsites within Yosemite Valley sell out four months ahead within minutes of inventory being opened up. Continue reading

Winning the Yosemite Lotto

Roll the tape back to the night before I am to depart on the 9:00am ferry for the Channel Islands camping trip. I have just learned that what I thought was a simple gray water leak turned out to be my entire hitch and holding tanks hanging by a single bolt. I am pacing the floor trying to make a decision over whether to continue on with my last minute packing required to cover every conceivable need for the next three days, or bag the Channel Islands camping trip and stay behind to face my problem. I am having an anxiety attack. Literally. I cannot breathe. I am in the middle of a mini-breakdown when a “ping” comes in from Facebook Messenger. Continue reading

One More for the Road…

Once back in Ventura, the repairs at Barker RV go more smoothly than I have anticipated.   The new “beefier” frame rail extensions have arrived from Winnebago Industries in Forest City, Iowa, and it takes just four hours of labor to make the switch.  They are shorter than I would have thought, at around four feet long.    Justin, the Manager of Service invites me out to view the Winnie’s “belly work” while she’s up on the rack.    Once again, I marvel at the consequences averted, as the hitch pulling the Tracker, along with the holding tanks had been riding on one bolt.  The remaining bolts were still attached to the strips of sheered metal. Continue reading

Monterey to Morro Bay

I get word from Barber RV back in Ventura that my parts are due to arrive on Tuesday, and I have an appointment to go “up on the rack” first thing Wednesday morning. So I decide to break camp at San Simeon continuing north with the intent to make Monterey my turn around point for my long weekend getaway. I have no reservations for Saturday night, but figure I can always come inland a few miles and book some “highway hotel.” Continue reading

La Cuesta Encantada, the Enchanted Hill

Yet another reason for my road trip, I had booked space in San Simeon State Park far in advance to be guaranteed of a place to park for Memorial Day Weekend.  Had I cancelled that space due to the Winnie repairs, I would have lost both booking fees and cancellation penalties, consuming the majority of the refund.   Since the reservation was for the “primitive” campground (Washburn, dry camping on the grass with no hook-ups,) I figured I could get by with pitching my tent there. Continue reading

Going Coastal

So, things have been moving slowly here in Santa Paula, California, Lemon Capital of the World.  But at least they are moving.   My new frame rail extensions have been ordered from the Winnebago factory in Forest City, Iowa. Once they arrive, the local Winnebago dealer in nearby Ventura, Barber RV, will be doing the repairs.   Many said “just have it welded,” but Continue reading