Sequoia and Kings Canyon were the next stops on our grand tour of United States’ National Parks. In Central California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, these two parks are adjacent to one another. They really should be one park. It would save a few cents on the stationery costs at least. But we were not going to complain. Our visit would let us cross two parks off of The List. This year, with our stop at Sequoia and Kings Canyon, we’ve visited 7 of the 58 National Parks. With 51 parks left to visit, taking out two National Parks at a time is a good thing.
We entered Sequoia by way of the Sierra Foothills entrance just past the town of Three Rivers. Our intent was to stay centrally in Sequoia Park but the stimulus era roadwork in progress meant that the trailer wasn’t welcome on the park’s through road. The best choice was to stay in the pretty Potwisha campground, a short distance inside the park’s boundary. Staying at the outer edge of the combined parks meant that we couldn’t conveniently reach the far side of Kings Canyon. We’d have to save the actual canyon section of Kings Canyon for a return visit. On this stop, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon’s redwood groves would be the highlight.
Giant Sequoias are the world’s largest trees. Though I’ve seen these massive trees many years ago, my mind couldn’t store just how f-ing large these trees are. What can you mentally compare them to? A giant monarch sequoia is about the size of a Saturn V rocket. The rocket is taller. The largest tree, the General Sherman, is about twice the weight of the launch ready rocket. At the bottom, the diameter of both the tree and the rocket is similar. But I don’t have a Saturn V rocket stashed in the house for comparison purposes. (Although with all of our stuff jammed into the garage it sometimes seems like there could be a Saturn V hiding in there somewhere.) From this visit to the Giant Sequoia groves I wanted to keep some sort of mental marker. I want to be able to always recall the size of these goliath trees and the amazing feeling of being at their base. When I returned home, to create a benchmark, I revisited one of the large trees in the area, the Methuselah Redwood. The Methuselah Redwood is indeed a very, very large tree. I wouldn’t say that the large monarch Giant Sequoias in the National Parks dwarf the local coastal redwood. After all, how can a huge tree the size of the Methuselah Redwood be “dwarfed” by any tree? But the Methuselah Tree was at least the scrawny, malnourished cousin of the monarch Giant Sequoias in National Parks’ groves. Now, if I want to recall the size of the monarch sequoias, I can revisit their skinny cousin that lives nearby. There will be a comparison point. Hey, it’s easier than keeping a Saturn V rocket in the garage.
The parks redwoods seem improbable. When sections of a Giant Sequoia were brought to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1897 and reassembled, the tree was soon labeled as a hoax. Surely a tree this size must have been fabricated from several smaller trees, the easterners insisted. When you stand at the base of the massive redwoods, you are certain that they are not a hoax. You just are not certain that you are on planet Earth.
Beyond the big trees, Sequoia/Kings Canyon offers amazing granite landscapes, particularly in the backcountry. We wouldn’t be able to reach much of the two parks’ granite but we could see a little. At Moro Rock we captured some of the park’s rock experience by ascending a poor man’s via ferrata to the top. One thing I like about the National Parks, at least the older National Parks, is that there are installations of a type that would never be built in modern times. Today no one would dream of cutting a tunnel for cars through a downed Giant Sequoia. The tunnel-cutting act was always more about amusement than a practical need or a way to view pristine nature. And so it is with the stairs that climb to the top of Moro rock.
Originally built in 1917 as a wooden staircase and later reconfigured more solidly with metal handrails, the Moro Rock Stairway uses 400 steps to take hikers the 797 feet to the top of the rock. The trail winds over granite ledges and through natural crevices. It is a fun climb that gives visitors a sense of a climbs exposure without real risk. At the end of the stairway, the top of the rounded Moro Rock allows a dramatic 360-degree view from the Central Valley around to the snow capped Sierra Nevada Mountains. Nowadays a trail like this might be considered too invasive and perhaps too dangerous to build. Perhaps it is. But is fun to visit and hike. The Moro Rock Stairway brings back the days when National Park visits meant adventures.
And if you’re looking for something very different to see in Sequoia National Park, be sure to visit the amazing Crystal Cave. Trips inside the cool cave are by appointment only. Leave plenty of time to get to the cave. We almost missed our time slot. Fortunately, a Sebastien Loeb style drive down the twisty mountain road and a dash down the steep, paved trail got us to the cave entrance just in time for the tour. Inside the hillside is an amazing cathedral of stalactites, stalagmites, and rippled, glistening marble. The cave is dramatically lit Disneyland style by solar-powered lights. Maybe national park wonders as an amusement park style attraction is not entirely an old fashioned concept.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon are the second and third oldest National Parks in the United States. (Yellowstone is the oldest; Yosemite was established on the same date as Kings Canyon.) A visit is more than a trip into the natural world. It’s a trip back to the time that the idea of a national park was being formulated. It’s a trip to the time when no one knew exactly what a national park was. Today a tour of the oldest parks gives a glimpse of this part of our past.
The full picture set can be found on Picasa.