Thought we’d change things up a bit so we took a road trip in mid-June without the RV. We left Our Way at Park Sierra in Coarsegold, CA and took the Jeep south to explore Kings Canyon National Park on Sunday, June 18th and Sequoia National Park the following day. We weren’t sure if this trip would require one or two nights in the tent but one night turned out to be plenty, in more ways than one.
Kings Canyon was established on March 4, 1940 and adjacent Sequoia National Park was established way back on September 25,1890 and together these jointly administered parks cover 865,964 acres.
We were convinced that leaving the RV behind was the right decision while driving up the extremely steep, switchbacked narrow mountain road to 6,500 feet above sea-level on our way to King’s Canyon from about 308 feet above sea level when we left the Fresno, Ca area. Don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful drive. Just happy to be doing it in the Jeep!
Once we located a campsite in Azalea Campground at Grant Grove Village and pitched our little two-person tent (Siobhan despises this tent, way too small for her taste), we got the opportunity to chat with two Park Rangers as they walked by our place. We asked about the bear boxes and if we needed to use them or could we just leave our stuff locked in the Jeep? The ranger dryly replied, “well, it depends upon whether or not you need any of that stuff you have in your Jeep”. Surprised by his reply, I asked again, “well, a bear isn’t going to be able to get things out of our locked Jeep, right”? (Just to make this clear, be aware that our Jeep currently has a hardtop on it.) Excited by the question, he quickly pulled a picture out of the pad of papers he was carrying to show us the shot taken in the park of a bear that had smashed a Jeep window and ripped everything out of the cooler in the back seat. Shocked by that photo, they now had our undivided attention. His advice included moving not only our food but literally anything that has a scent (our toothpaste, hand-wipes, even lip balm and sunscreen). You know we filled that bear box with all of our stuff before turning in for the night!
After our chat with the Rangers we drove the King’s Canyon Scenic Byway all the way to its end for a hike through Zumwalt Meadow. The Scenic Byway is breathtaking. A panoramic view of this magnificent canyon is available from Yucca Point (see pic at start of this post) where you can see the shear canyon walls leading to the South Fork King’s River a mile below. But, as neighbors from Park Sierra had insisted, you simply can’t experience King’s Canyon from the rim, you’ve gotta go down in!
This past winter brought record snowfall to many areas out West and the Sierra Nevada mountain range was certainly included. That meant this river would be full and moving fast and that is exactly what we experienced on our way through the canyon. In fact, in many places the water was moving so fast and sending such a thundering sound through the air, we could feel its force before we even got out of the Jeep. When we arrived at the Cedar Grove Visitor Center (near the end of the King’s Canyon Scenic Byway) we checked in with the Ranger Station there to learn more about the conditions in Zumwalt Meadows where we planned to hike. The Ranger told us of the record-high river level and the added dangers it creates, including the fact that a portion of the normally easy Zumwalt Meadow Trail was now underwater and that the water level varied even within the same day. It was a “pass at your own risk” situation and we were to consider ourselves informed. As an added piece of cautionary advice, the Ranger shared that he had just been informed through the rangers communication network earlier that day a 28 year old young lady had gotten too close to the rivers’ edge and slipped in at another section of the park. Unfortunately, she didn’t survive. He then added that the rescue teams that train for this very type of event were not even going into the river while it was at this stage, just far too risky even for these highly trained professionals.
Zumwalt Meadows is an awe-inspiring place. We began our hike, crossed the suspension bridge and followed the trail to the point that it was underwater. It appeared to be about thigh-deep on me (maybe waist-deep for Siobhan) judging be the two people we could see struggling to make it across the now-submerged boardwalk on this otherwise easy trail. Now this was not part of the main river with the torrents of currents you see in the pictures, rather, an overflowing portion around a bend that was normally not underwater. Still, the rangers stories echoed loudly in our heads as we made our decision to proceed or alter course. We wisely altered course continuing in another direction to a higher point for another view of the meadow and a safe walk out.
We also stopped to check out Grizzly Falls on our way back out of the canyon. We were told by other tourists that by this time of year, one would be lucky to see water flowing here at all. Not this year, no way! Couldn’t even get close to the falls to snap pics without getting drenched. Siobhan nominated me for this job so I hope you love the pics.
Back at Azalea Campground with some daylight left we hiked to the General Grant Tree Trail to take a look at the second largest (by volume) tree on Earth. This behemoth is 268.1 feet tall and its circumference is an astounding 107.5 feet at its base. Its hard to imagine the size of these trees without the perspective of being there in person. Hopefully, some of the pictures will give you an appreciation for them.
Back to the campsite to make dinner and try to get some sleep. Can’t say we slept all that well though, as getting up in the middle of the night to take care of business when its pitch black and the nearest facility is 1/2 mile away is not too much fun. Not easy getting old!
Looking forward to Sequoia tomorrow.