Daily Archives: September 10, 2013

King’s Canyon National Park

One tiny section of King’s Canyon


Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park lie east of San Francisco, in the Sierra Nevada mountains. These are an interesting combination – they’re jointly administered but remain separate parks. Kings Canyon actually has a small disjoint section to the west, next to Sequoia, that acts as a gateway to both parks, and which features only sequoias, while the main park is 30 miles to the east. Both parks are nestled inside a national forest, show the beauty of the Sierra Nevada, and prominently feature sequoias. It doesn’t make much sense to me. I knew little about King’s Canyon before I visited; apparently Muir called it a “second Yosemite,” which is strong praise!

General Grant tree: by presidential edict, the nation’s Christmas tree.

After passing through the entrance, I stopped to visit the General Grant tree. This is the 3rd largest living thing in the world; the trunk is 40 feet wide and it’s 280 feet tall.

Sequoias are a strange tree. They’re enormous – as big as a really big tree – and the larger among them have really peculiar bark. They really look like paper mache or something. The top of the trees is also misshapen, so they have none of the elegant beauty of redwoods. The same compound that allows redwoods to grow so large is present in sequoias: tannin, which limits damage from fire and insects.

After checking out the sequoias, I drove the 30 miles to the canyon itself. Along the way I stopped at one overlook and took a few pictures, not impressed. It looked like every forested valley, ever. But then the road turned a corner and I saw the true canyon itself. I was gobsmacked. It’s a huge canyon – measuring over 8,000 feet deep in most places – and composed mostly of exposed granite and sparse conifers.

I proceeded to the only accessible section of the canyon, Cedar Grove, at the very floor and next to the river which carved the canyon. It has a few campgrounds, a small lodge, a ranger station and a general store. An important bridge over the river was closed making travel between sections of this area circuitous.

The summit of the Lewis Creek trail.

After grabbing a camping site and talking to a ranger, I went on a hike. This was on the Lewis Creek trail; many of the trails are similar. The problem is that the walls of the canyon are quite steep before opening out into a somewhat broader highland meadow, so they are all strenuous to begin with. But, the views are just spectacular.

View of just a small section of King’s Canyon.

The next day I’d decided to do an overnight hike, and settled on Copper Creek. This was ambitious for a variety of reasons: it was an 11-mile trail, which gained a vertical mile and finished at 10,500 feet. And I would be carrying 20 pounds more than I was used to, with an overnight pack and gear rather than my daypack. I knew I was in trouble almost from the start – pretty quickly my legs felt like jelly and I was gasping for breath.

Ad hoc tent support…

I made it 5-6 miles and about 2500 feet up, and had to set up camp. Unfortunately, I discovered that my purification tablets were for *already* potable water and so useless with the mountain streams; my fiberglass tent pole snapped as well. So I was considering turning back – I knew the downhill trek would be fast.

But a Czech couple arrived and I was able to get some iodine tablets from them, and then improvised a support for my tent, so I stayed the night. The campsite grew quite crowded with at least 4 groups there, some noisily arriving at 8 pm, after dark and with everyone else in their tent.

Early morning view from the Copper Creek trail, I believe with aldens in the foreground.

I awoke very early, packed, and headed out. On the easy downhill jaunt back, I was treated to some great early morning views of the canyon. The air was cool and I was looking forward to the treat I’d promised myself the next day: an ice cream sandwich and Mountain Dew.

More of King’s Canyon

Driving back along the canyon road, I passed a few ranger SUVs and an ambulance; there was a pickup about 50 feet off the road and terribly smashed up. The driver must have been going incredibly fast to get that far, and cause so much damage. The speed limit was only 35 in the area.

Almost immediately after passing this worrying sight, my check-engine light came on. This was the second time it had happened. The previous time, it had gone out and I never noticed any problems, so I hoped the case was the same here. But of course it’s the last thing you want 60 miles from civilization.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing in the campground (and not driving…). By sheer luck I found a wonderful site on the edge of the campground with a little stream running through it, so I was able to read and relax, preparing for my trip to Sequoia the next day.

From San Francisco to King’s Canyon

The freakish ‘sheep crab’


After returning from San Francisco by train I drove after dark south to Monterey. There I was able to meet a friend’s mother the following morning (I also had a driveway to sleep in – always important!). The following morning I also received a really cool meteorite pendant. I don’t know how people can find meteors (and this came from the Congo!), but it’s neat to have something which was in outer space so recently.

This is what living sand dollars look like.

After breakfast I headed to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, supposedly the largest aquarium in the world. It’s in a really touristy area of a small city, but the aquarium itself has an impressive collection.

There are dozens of tanks of these etherial jellies

There’s a ton of exhibits featuring the usual suspects – crabs, starfish, sea cucumbers, crabs, various fish. There were a few special temporary exhibits: *two* with jellyfish, one with seahorses. I’ve seen a lot of jellyfish at aquariums, and these creatures are surprising crowd-pleasers. Although they have no active mental faculties, and thus no charisma, it’s easy to illuminate jellyfish with a blacklight and watch them elegantly float around, like a real-life screensaver. It’s a good deal for the aquarium, because these animals must be awful cheap to raise and maintain.

I loved these spotted jellyfish, which seemed to have more internal structure than the kind you normally see.

Another popular exhibit were small penguins, which waddle along, torpedo back and forth through the water, and generally act like little clowns. Similarly charismatic are sea otters, perhaps the most popular animals at the aquarium. They’re active, playful, and by nature assume adorable poses.

My favorite exhibit, though, was an opportunity to touch stingrays: their texture is very soft and quite unique, and it’s a rare thing to be able to feel these creatures.

Seals and ptarmigans, visible from viewing decks outside the aquarium.

There’s also an outside section to the aquarium, where a seal was hamming it up on a rock. It was much bigger than the rock and hardly looked comfortable, but it maintained its position and kept other seals from knocking it off. Sometimes it seemed to turn and look right at me through my telescope, with a huge grin on its face.

From the aquarium I drove east to Fresno. Surprisingly, Fresno is a city of 500 thousand people… that’s roughly the same size as Portland! I sequestered myself there in a cheap hotel for two days, catching up on things, charging all my devices, and writing blog posts…

I also had a decision to make: where to head next? I’d initially planned to visit Yosemite, but after mmuch deliberation decided to skip it for this trip. There were forest fires in the north of the park, and although those weren’t much risk, many of the roads and campgrounds were closed. Those that remained open were fully booked for the weekend. It was almost Labor Day, after all. So, I decided to head directly to King’s Canyon and spend more time there and in the other parks; I’d also be able to travel at a more relaxing pace rather than try to cram in all the parks in a rush. So, after my stay at the hotel I got back on the freeway and drove west.

This area is filled with fruit farms and is some of the most fertile land on earth, but what was surprising to me was how dry and arid the land around the fields was. Almost every drop of water must be carefully marshaled so that it goes to crops; the loose soil and lack of natural plants means that most rain must drain directly to reservoirs rather than remaining in the soil. Also in this farmland, I saw my first migrant workers, crouched over in the hot fields. What brutal work; it’s strange that this was the first time in my life that I’ve seen intensive non-mechanized farm labor.