Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Giant Sequioas By RV

Off to the Sequoias for a week and a half.

As we pass through Turlock on our way south, I express a wish to look at the old orchard. So off the highway we go. I tend to worry about the place as in just over a year the current owners have a balloon payment due. Their plan as far as we knew was to take out the elderly orchard and replant. The last time sister Sharon drove past, the orchard had been removed and some type of vegetable was growing.
Now the area is plowed clean. The corner house orchard was replanted about the time this orchard was to have been replanted. They have nice 3+ year old trees.

The Garmin certainly has a mind of its own. It likes to take us on back roads. We ignored its directions until we get closer to the park. We think programming it for the shortest way leads to lots of “short cuts” that probably take longer.

We stop at the visitor center where I look at books and gifts for 2 year olds, wondering if Lily would like a book about a bear's house or an owl's house, but in my indecision buy nothing.

We decide to stop in the first campground, Potwisha. It has been a long drive. Then the quandary. The parking spots look flat, but are just enough off that it is hard to level the RV. We try about 3 different spots before settling on one that we can get nearly level, if we drive in backwards so our heads don't slope down in bed.

Rodents: This place is packed with bold, fat ground squirrels. Where are the hawks? Where are the rattlesnakes? William says hawks prefer flatter hunting territory and snakes prefer not to be around people. So rodents thrive. Some people must be feeding them, although they have plenty of acorns for natural food. William scares them off by pelting them with small rocks. But William is soon off on a hike. I am just sitting outside reading the newspaper when I glance up and see two sitting on the boulder next to me, so close I could have reached out and touched them. I scream like someone is murdering me and they scatter, but I am very unnerved. Now it is hard to read, so I just watch squirrels. One is trying to get something off of the underside of the bench of the picnic table.

Food: We started off with a full load of vegetables. I picked up our huge box of vegetables from Mountain Bounty Farm on Monday evening and I had William pick all the tomatoes that were even slightly ripe. We will have a vegie rich holiday.

William found a suspension bridge and pools for taking a dip, while I fought off the rodents.

Another day at Potwisha

We are still tired from our long drive yesterday, so we sleep in. The air is nice and fresh. It will be cool and cloudy today, so we will stay at this low elevation, 2080 feet. William decides that there is a slightly flatter parking spot that someone has just vacated, so we move. The spot is not flat, but better. There are no rodents to be seen as we set up, but they soon move in. Before William heads off to hike and visit with everyone, he sets up our chairs overlooking the Marble River, a fork of the Kaweah. Nice.

I am engrossed in my Kindle when I see a furry head poke out from between my feet. Another rodent is soon eying my foot from the side.
I throw stones, but am not taken seriously, so I retreat to the RV.

I have spotted the Oak Titmouse, the Acorn Woodpecker, Western Scrub Jay and the Steller's Jay. All birds you might commonly find in this oak woodland.

Off to the Giant Trees

As we get ready to pull out, we look around and our wood is missing. We had 4 nice oak chunks we had found at the side of the road where some trees had been trimmed. William had put them next to our bear box and they are gone. I wonder if the people who had the smokey fire last night were the culprits. We still have some more wood, but this was dense stuff.

Along the winding road we see more healthy oaks. Many different varieties and no oak death like Lena battles on the coast. Then there are the big trees. Big, orange barked giants. We stop at the Giant Forest museum and take the Round Meadow hike. Towering sequoias around a fragile meadow. Huge trees with furry brown red-orange bark. The bases of the trees are lobed like giant bear paws.

In the 50's this area was the site of a restaurant, gas station, lodge and cabins. The park has since lessened its footprint and decreased the stress on the trees. Now there is just the museum, parking and foot trails here. We spot a Dark-eyed Junco.

We drive on to the General Sherman tree, the biggest tree in the world. The hike down to the tree is fairly steep. On the way we and many other visitors spot a small black bear digging in a log for bugs.

He has been tagged with a green numbered ear tag.

The General Sherman tree is big. Its top is dead so it grows no taller than its 275 feet, although it continues to grow in diameter.
There is a cypress that has a larger girth, but when you consider its diameter and height the General Sherman is the biggest. Since the trail back is a steep up hill and William wants to find our campsite for the night, he huffs up hill and sends me down to a lower pick up spot. We have noticed lots of German tourists. Germans are great travelers.

We are at Lodgepole campground for the night. We are at a higher elevation, 6720 feet and it is spitting tiny snowballs as William lets me off to hold a spot. This is a huge campground, so he drives back to the entrance station to pay. I find that the rodents du jour of this campground are chipmunks.
The parking spaces are also flatter. We choose a nice edge of a loop spot. William is not sure about spending more than one night in the cold, but I know that the Hungarian goose down comforter spread over the sleeping bag will keep us warm.

A spit of snow after dark.


We waken to a winter wonderland. A bit of snow and a hard frost. I wish I had worn my hat on the way to the bathroom as the trees are shedding a light rain of melting snow and frost.

After breakfast we head back on the Generals Highway to the Moro Rock/Crescent Meadow Road. After taking the bypass around the Tunnel Log (carved out by the CCC in the 30's, but only 8 feet high, we are 9feet+) we park at Crescent Meadow parking lot. Many cars have been here overnight. Backpackers who are hiking the High Sierra Trail from here to Mt. Whitney. This trail was built from 1928-32.

We are just going on a short loop hike from the bottom of Crescent Meadow to Tharp's Log,
Chimney Tree and back down Crescent Meadow. The trail to Tharp's Log is handicapped access with a paved surface. I am careful on the small snow covered bridges.

Hale Tharp came here from Three Rivers in 1858 and established a summer camp for cattle grazing. The tiny cabin was made out of a fallen burned out sequoia. He grazed his cows here every summer until the park was established in 1890.

The paved trail ends at the cabin. We continue around the cabin to the Chimney Tree. The inside of this giant is burnt out. We continue around Crescent Meadow finding a huge goose pen (burnt out place) on a live tree and a burnt through arch on another.

Even though there has been plenty of fire, necessary for the reproduction of the giants, the trees are scattered with many red fir, white fir, sugar pine and jeffery pine forming the dominant species. Unlike the coast redwoods Sequoia Sempervirens (always living) which reproduce from root and trunk sprouts as well as seeds, the Gigantea reproduces only from seed. A fire is necessary to prepare the seedbed and heat the cones to release the seeds. Then a tree may grow.

From Crescent Meadow we drive to Moro Rock. There are stairs all the way to the top. 400 steps.
I feel dizzy about ½ way up and stop and wait at a bench for the intrepid climber to reach the top. He said there were places without railings and just low walls that made him a bit nervous. But he made it all the way to the top.
Moro Rock is a huge lump of granite that looks a lot like Half Dome.

Back to Lodgepole Campground. We have neighbors. The spots are close together and their tents are right in back of the RV. We plan music and a campfire tonight.

William hikes to the top of a sloping granite outcrop for some sun and finds a couple of large bear scat. No one screams in the night so people must put their scattered food items away in the bear boxes at dark.

William builds us a nice campfire. Lovely with the music of Dr. John and a glass of wine. We decide to eat later and enjoy the fire. William asked about marshmallows, but I only remember those when grandchildren are about.

We probably bothered the tenters more than they bothered us as we needed to run the generator until off time at 8PM to recharge the batteries.

A Narrow Twisting Drive

We head north on the Generals Highway into Sequoia National Forest/Monument. Lots of hunters as we enter the National Forest. It is hunting season. Successful hunters stop here. No animals to be seen. Maybe they know.

Our impression is that there are way too many small trees growing too close to the road, especially incense cedar. Too bad the forests hardly have the budget these days for clearing fuel breaks. Lots of dusky blue elderberries bent over in ripe bunches. Lots of nice animal food.

The land gets drier and drier. Creeks are dry. But Hume Lake has water and lots of development. Summer cabins along the edge and a huge super fancy Christian Camp. Nothing like the barracks, tables and camping spots under the trees that I remember from church camp. Huge soaring wooden structures. A multistory glass fronted building. A fancy stone block structure with a cross inlaid that has a sign that it is a deli. The neon sign says OPEN. A Christian church with a lot of money supports this place.

More up and down mountain roads, dry scrub and oak until we get to the Kings River. William says the road was built in '39. There is a lot of fancy 30's style stonework marking the road edge. Now you have to hire a specialized stone mason to get work like this. Places where the road has had to be repaired have the road edge work replaced with steel and cement guard rails.

Tonight we are here at Sheep Creek Campground in Kings Canyon National Park near Cedar Grove Village. We are at a lower elevation here and the campground has few visitors even though it is the only one open. We are in the host spot. The host left right after Labor Day.

A Couple Short Hikes

After breakfast we drive along to the parking lot for the Roaring River Falls. The hike is quite short and paved. The river has cut far down the side of the canyon wall, so the falls, while impressive, is not the height of the falls in Yosemite.
Even though this is a U shaped glacial canyon, the walls are not as high as Yosemite. Maybe since it is further south and oriented differently the glacier melted sooner than that in Yosemite.

Our next hike is a loop around Zumwalt Meadow. The nature guides are sold out, so we have to think of what the numbered posts might be illustrating. We see many logs torn up by bears searching for bugs. I wonder if black bears occasionally dig for ground squirrels, like grizzlies do in Alaska.

The suspension bridge is large and sturdy, not the swaying kind I don't like.
After another wide forest path part we head along a board walk over part of the meadow. This really is an easy path. But then we head up and over a talus slope at the end of the meadow. Huge granite boulders that have tumbled in a giant jumble. Up and down over the boulders.
Sometimes with stone steps, sometimes with just dirt or gravel between the boulders. This stretches the boundary of easy for me. The view of the meadow is nice though.

After this hike we head to the showers at Cedar Grove Village. Buy a token. Three dollars for a ten minute token. The showers are clean, but no hook or bench for your clothes. We bring our toiletries in a bag that fits over the token box and provides a place for towel and clothes. A shower feels nice after a few days of camping.

Back to Sheep Creek campground for another night.

General Grant Park

We head out on highway 180 retracing part of our track toward the Kings Canyon Visitor Center. Pretty red bushes by the highway signal the change of seasons. Poison Oak!

We check in at Azalea campground and only purchase one night. Just in case the park has to shut down on October first.

Our hike today is the short hike around the General Grant tree. This tree is now the second largest after the General Sherman tree, since the top broke out of the former number two, the Washington tree.

This area is now part of Kings Canyon National Park, but you go through Sequoia National Forest to get to this bit. The Grant Grove was settled by the Gamlin brothers in 1872. They lived in the fallen Monarch, a fire hollowed tree, prior to building the cabin that has been restored along the trail.
They ran stock on their 160 acre place. In 1891 General Grant Park was established and the cabin was used for the storage of hay and grain for the horses of the cavalry who were the first park protectors. It was also the home of the first civilian park ranger.

A large battered stump is most of the remains of the Centennial tree.

It was cut down and a 16 foot segment was cut into manageable sections and shipped east for the 1876 centennial exposition in Philadelphia. It was laughed out of the exposition as the “California Hoax”.

In a nearby grove the Mark Twain tree was cut down for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. This time people did take the trees seriously.

We stayed for a ranger talk at the General Grant tree with a few other tourists; We talked about the trees and how groves were cut down for little use. Although the wood is long lasting, it was not good building wood and was mostly used for fence posts, grape stakes and shakes.

Back to Azalea Campground. We are higher here than at Sheep Camp, so it will be a bit colder.

About 10 eleven year olds came racing through our camp accompanied by a couple of adults. They were attracted by the rocks where William is probably climbing. I should have thought to tell them that there were rattlesnakes there, which there probably are.

William saw them scampering over the rocks. He was up on top.

Government/Park Shutdown

Because we have had no cell coverage in the park, we didn't know if the park would have to shut down. But a ranger comes by to give us the news. We pack up and head for home. The park workers have 48 hours to get everyone out, including out of the back country. Roads into parking lots and campgrounds are blocked. I am sorry about the workers who are working without pay. None of them are rich and they are going without pay now, though many have to work to close the park. I doubt that Congress will allow them the back pay.

Of course Republicans would argue that National Parks and Forests are an unnecessary expense. Remember Glasnost in the Former Soviet Union, when wealthy friends of the government were allowed to buy up the resources of the country at fire sale prices. That is what the Republicans would like. “Privatize” all federal lands. And when some hedge fund billionaire buys Yosemite and makes it into a private playground for his friends. Oh well. Free market rules.