To Your Own Drum

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, CA

I don’t know how many times I have sat down to write about Henry Cowell State Park. It has become one of my special places and a must-visit for every guest we have. After every trip, I vow to complete this entry and every time it is left abandoned as I struggle to capture the spirit as well as include our latest adventure in this corner of the world.

4.1327340838.mike-and-i-redwood-grove-trailI was blessed to discover this awesome park. Last Spring Highway 1 to Big Sur washed out and was closed for a couple months. At the time I was really disappointed, but looking for other hiking opportunities, I ordered a Santa Cruz Mountain Trail Book and learned of the these redwood covered mountains. Just outside of Santa Cruz, this park and the town of Felton offer ample opportunities to explore my beloved trees. The easiest and most spectacular hike is the Redwood Grove Trail, an .8 mile hike through an old Redwood Grove boasting 1400-1800 year old trees. Every time I enter this grove a calmness settles in me. The crowns of the glorious trees tower above. The duff covered path is soft beneath my feet. Large clovers that taste like granny smith apples provide an emerald carpet around the trees. Some of the trees display the scars of past fires reminding me of their strength and perseverance. I pet the now familiar creatures saying hello as the now appear to me as old friends. The tallest tree in the grove stands soars as high as the Statue of Liberty. By slowly walking around the base, alternating by looking up to the top and examining its enormous width, I try to comprehend its size. Every time I do this I am no less amazed than my first visit.

4.1327340838.crawling-out-of-freemont-treeMy absolute favorite tree is the Freemont tree and I always pack a flashlight just for this tree (although I recently discovered you can check out flashlights from the visitor center). A small opening, like that of an elfin door in a fairy tale, allows one to crawl inside the giant and study its girth from the inside out. Once inside even the tallest man can stand comfortably with several of his friends. Burnt bark explains how the tree was once hollowed by a fire. A shelf had been carved into the bark at some distant time perhaps when Captain Freemont himself camped here. It is impossible to venture inside this redwood and not hear childhood whispering at my soul. Reminding me of those days when living in a tree in a magical forest would be a dream come true.

4.1327340838.old-railraod-bridgeThis short walk always grounds me and awakens my appreciation for life on this earth. Yet I love continuing further into this park. It’s always fun to walk across a hundred year old rail bridge. Other trails wander to the Cathedral Redwoods Old Grove then to a wonderful swimming hole which is the perfect spot for a picnic with an old friend. A hike up the mountain to the observation deck reveals views all the way to Monterey. Next door to the park, Roaring Camp Railroad ventures over old trestles, up the mountain and through the woods on an original logging train. At the top in another old grove, the ancient tour guides gives a conservation speech so impassioned that I have to resist from enveloping him in a giant bear hug. For a different perspective, we spent one afternoon zip-lining our way through a Redwood Canopy Tour at Mount Hernon. Here I had my only opportunity to be in the trees themselves, marveling in their size by looking down instead of up.

There are so many ways to enjoy this area, truly something for everyone. I love this area. And I know I am not the only one who feels this way. One day driving just outside the park, I passed a man who had set up his full drum set on the side of the road was playing his soul out. And although it’s not how I would celebrate the beauty of Henry Cowell, I respected the passion as I felt it myself.

Joy Unscheduled


Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, CA

Mike and I had a little fight this morning. He was irritated by my lack of planning for this trip. I understood his frustration. I had booked the trip in April, but that was all I did. Earlier in the week, we had learned that we needed permits to hike up to Half Dome and it was way too late to obtain them. I wanted to point out that if I had planned ahead we would be hiking almost 15 miles and 5000 feet to Half Dome today. This had sounded like a great idea back in Monterey, but the hike yesterday had clearly left my husband exhausted. I tried to explain that I did not want to be too scheduled, that I wanted to see how the trip would unfold, deciding each day what we wanted to do. I also wanted to add that if he was so concerned, he could have done the research. However, he seemed a little too cranky for that comment. I suggested a couple of hikes, but Mike finally admitted that he was too tired to do another “crazy hike” up the canyon walls. As always I wanted to explore as much as possible, so I suggested if we weren’t going to go far on foot that we drive the hour and a half to Tuolumne Meadows in the High Sierras for a couple short hikes and some sight-seeing along the way. After leaving the Valley Floor, we drove through pretty but ubiquitous pine forests until reaching Olmstead Point.

4.1324683869.lake-tenayaHuge granite plutons bulged high above the road. We pulled into the overlook viewing tall Pines growing from more giant boulders. Areas of the bedrock had been polished smooth leaving evidence that this was all once covered by glaciers. Beyond the trees and rocks was Yosemite Valley and the vista offered another view of Half Dome; this vantage point showcasing its rounded side. To the east, Tenaya Lake’s deep blue water shimmered below the three rounded mountains framing all but the western side.

4.1324683869.soda-spring-trailA few miles down the road, the Tuolumne Meadow Visitor Center recommended we walk the Soda Spring Trail and then head east leaving the park to see Mono Lake. Named for the carbonated water that bubbles out of a spring, the Soda Springs hike was flat, short and tranquil. We had escaped the masses of the Yosemite Valley. The meadow was flanked by domes and peaks. The northern sides containing small glaciers protected from the warm sun. I could imagine vast herds of moose and elk once roaming the serene meadows and drinking from the meadow.

4.1324683869.mono-lakeFeeling refreshed from the mountain air and the bit of exercise, we continued driving to Mono Lake. As we climbed higher in the Sierras we passed more beautiful lakes and ice-capped mountains. Just shy of 10,000 feet, we exited the park at Tioga Pass and began the descent down the rain shadow side of the mountains. Examining the semi-arid environment, I questioned if this was the correct choice. I love forests much more than the desert. Mike and I decided that since we had made the trip maybe we could at least find a place in Mono Lake to swim. I knew that it had once been a volcano that had exploded, so I figured the water had to be warmer than the snowmelt river we swam in yesterday.

4.1324683869.1-south-tufaA quick trip in the Mono Lake Visitor Center and we were directed to the South Tufa area of Mono Lake for sightseeing and swimming. Being a geographer, I am a bit ashamed to admit that I had no knowledge about tufa. Apparently tufa is a limestone rock formation that forms when springs with high calcium levels mix with carbonate-rich lake water. Over hundreds of years, towers, similar to stalagmites in caves, form underwater. In the middle of the last century, new water policies resulted in water that normally flows into Mono Lake being diverted to large population centers. As a result, the water level in Mono Lake receded revealing the tufa. Further exacerbating this issue, the lake lies in an arid region with high rates of evaporation. Every day more water is lost into the atmosphere. Besides the unusual tufa landscape, the evaporation causes the lake to be 2.5 times saltier than the ocean.

4.1324683869.glaciers-behind-tufaAs soon as we left the parking lot, we began passing tufa surrounded by desert scrub. We were still at least 200 yards from the water itself. The tufa disclosing how much was once underwater. We reached the shore; it was unlike anything I have ever seen before. I could’ve been on the moon. I looked at the desert landscape surrounding the large lake. Despite the warm temperatures where I was standing, glaciers clung to the sides of the western mountains. Over 300 miles from the ocean, seagulls dipped down into the sapphire water.

The water was only shin-deep for several feet from the shore. As soon as the water reached my thighs, I realized it was much cooler than I anticipated. I knew if I wanted to swim I better just dive in. Unsure of the water’s depth I entered via a shallow dive. I was rewarded with a nose full of very salty water. Once my airways were cleared, I discovered how effortlessly I could float due to the high salinity of the water. Copying Mike I folded my hands behind my head and laid back. It was very relaxing, but I soon got antsy as I wanted to look around. I flipped over on my stomach and floated with my head up admiring the tufa and glaciers. 4.1324683869.south-tufa

The only downside to swimming was the alkali flies. They were particularly fond of Mike, making me wonder if they were turned off by the sunscreen I had layered on. Despite this minor annoyance, I found myself feeling giddy. My love for travel was renewed by this unexpected discovery. I was almost overwhelmed by the joy of seeing something completely new. I wanted to soak up every second of the feeling. Unfortunately, the point came when the sun began to lower in the sky and getting chilly we ended our swim.

Walking back to the car, we finished the South Tufa nature loop. This portion of the trail demonstrating that the lake was at least twice as big at one time. It was such a sad testimony to poor environmental policies, yet I could not help but be captivated by the unique and beautiful creation that man’s mistake had made. 4.1324683869.tufa-showing-lake-recession

Before our trip, a friend had told me that a gas station here had a gourmet chef. Famished from swimming we pulled into the Mono Lake Mobil. Fish tacos for Mike and Ahi tuna on a seaweed salad for me. We settled outside at picnic tables overlooking the lake. I looked at Mike and then down at myself, our skin was crusted with salt. I touched my hair which felt like a five year old dirty mop, but I didn’t care. Our food arrived and we inhaled every bite of the deliciousness while enjoying the gorgeous view. Tufa, glaciers, gourmet gas station food…A reminder to always have an open mind because you might get to experience a unexpected, unplanned, spectacular, perfect day.

Mono Lake: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=514

Yosemite: https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm

Wonder Fall

Yosemite National Park, CA

It would be a crime to live in California and not venture to Yosemite National Park. Knowing that we wanted to stay in the park itself and that it often books up months in advance, I had made reservations last spring at Housekeeping Camp. And today was the day that we were headed to “America’s Treasure.”

4.1324219514.yosemite-fallsLeaving the Central Coast and heading east we watched the temperature rise to three digits. Luckily once we ascended into higher elevations, the temperatures dropped a little. As we entered the park and Yosemite Valley, sheer granite canyon walls surrounded us and the occasional waterfall cascaded down. We drove deeper into the valley, Mike pulled over so we could admire the view of Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America.

We checked in then unpacked the car settling into our semi-tent (three concrete walls separated from the outside by a canvas sheet). Making up our bed, I could smell the rain before the air exploded with a late afternoon thunderstorm. It had been quite awhile since I had experienced a down pour accompanied by thunder and lightening. I honestly found it invigorating and refreshing especially since the temperature then dropped below eighty. Luckily the rain was short-lived but we weren’t sure if the rain had passed for good, so we decided on some short walks with scenic vistas. We drove back west and began at Bridalveil Falls. Yosemite is famous for its waterfalls. Although the best times to visit is in the spring and early summer when the snow melt is at its peak creating surging turbulent falls. I couldn’t help but wish we had come in June as we walked the short quarter of mile to base of Bridalveil Falls. Nevertheless the 600 foot waterfall was still beautiful.

4.1324219514.tunnel-viewWe next drove up to Tunnel View. A crowd was gathered at the overlook that provided a gorgeous view of the Valley. I noticed a sign for a 1.5 hike uphill to Inspiration Point and suggested we explore that. Five minutes from the overlook, the views were more spectacular than the overlook without any people. We continued climbing up the mountain until we reached a backcountry campground. We soon realized that the campground was in fact Inspiration Point, which was disappointing. We turned around stopping about fifty feet above the overlook. The sun was sinking lower into the sky behind us casting gold and pink hues over the Valley, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls and El Capitan. This spot was much more inspiring.

4.1324219514.steps-to-top-of-yosemite-fallsThursday morning we woke to vibrant sunny skies. We decided to begin the day with a 7.2 mile hike with a 2700 foot climb up to the top of Yosemite Falls. Immediately the hike began with switchbacks and I knew we were in for a challenge. Luckily the trail was shaded, but I still ditched my long sleeve shirt in the first fifteen minutes. Mike was determined to keep a good pace, but after thirty minutes I needed to take a break and catch my breath. The trail had begun to lose its tree cover and the sun was shining directly on us. As soon as we resumed walking, the trail began to head downhill. I cursed it as I did not want to lose any of the elevation gained. We rounded the corner of the mountain to see the first views of Upper Yosemite Falls from the trail. Looking up, I knew we still had a very long way to go.

4.1324219514.yosemite-falls-and-half-domeThe last mile up was rough. The trail continued to get steeper and the sun continued to get hotter. As we approached the top, we needed a thirty-second-catch-our breath-break every five minutes. I kept looking up at the trees clinging to the edges of the cliff longing to be down climbing and sitting in the shade. Almost three hours later, we finally reached the top. We walked another ten minutes and descended a rocky staircase to the top of the falls. Looking upstream, the water flowed down two small falls separated by a refreshingly lovely pool before plummeting over the edge and flowing over 2000 feet to the valley floor. Nearby we found some trees to rest under and enjoy the vistas of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley.

I figured it would take us half the time to get down the mountain. However, I was wrong. On the hike up I was so fixated on the climb that I didn’t realize how many loose rocks littered the trail. Mike and I had to carefully choose every step on the slippery slope down, and it took us longer than 2 hours to descend.

4.1324219514.picnic-timeAlthough we had some snacks at the top of the falls, we were pretty hungry. A picnic with some noshing sounded perfect and we stopped at Yosemite Village for supplies. The rugged hike was a sharp contrast to the full grocery store. I was not prepared for the amount of development in the village as a whole or the size of the grocery store. I couldn’t help but try to think of what I could cook over the campfire with curry paste but the reality was I wanted out of the air-conditioned food extravaganza. We quickly selected some crackers, salami, herb goat cheese and blackberries. Back at Housekeeping Camp, we changed into our swim suits and grabbed a bottle of wine, towels and chairs.

The Merced River flowed behind the camp and the nice sandy beach provided the perfect entrance point. I hadn’t been swimming in over a year. I was hot and sweaty and truly looking forward to a nice dip. As soon as my feet entered the water, the icy cool temperature sent a shiver through my body. I really wanted to swim, but it was freezing and I was no longer hot. I finally mustered the courage to jump in. It was so cold that the second my head was under water I immediately wanted out. It was not refreshing; it felt like needles puncturing every pore of my skin. 4.1324219514.half-dome-in-the-late-afternoon-sunI raced back to shore. Mike, who would love to be in a Polar Bear Swim Club, was laughing hysterically. He jumped in and happily swam around while I thawed out in the late afternoon sun.

After Mike dried off, we opened a bottle of Pinot Noir and nestled into our chairs. Yosemite Falls towered in front of us. We stared up at the falls in awe that we had actually climbed to the top. Tapping our glasses together, we congratulated each other. A deer swim across the river. To our right, Half Dome began to glow as evening approached. We sipped our wine in silence soaking up all the natural wonders.

Park Website: https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm

One Way to Get High

Garrapata State Park, CA

Despite an absolutely gorgeous day, I was a little down. Laziness, bad TV and the couch beckoned. My husband was feeling the same way and had resigned himself to the sofa. As much as I too wanted to succumb, I knew I needed to get out and enjoy the perfect day. My girlfriends were all at work or out of town, so it was up to me to get moving. Luckily an upcoming trip to Yosemite motivated me to do some climbing and work those leg muscles. With sad tunes on the radio and a sigh in my heart, I drove down to Garrapata State Park one of my favorite spots between Monterey and Big Sur.

4.1316544973.taking-a-needed-breakThe Rocky Ridge trail is a brutal 1700 foot climb in 2 miles. With each step, I questioned why I was doing this. My calves began to ache earlier than expected and my lungs begged for a break. The sun beat down; it was much hotter than the previous times I’ve climbed this mountain. Luckily incredible views of the Pacific Coast provided great excuses to stop, catch my breath, and take in the scenery. Sapphire waves lapped at marine cliffs. Barking sea lions punctuated the fresh air.

4.1316544973.the-distant-trailheadA passerby informed me she spotted a baby rattlesnake further up the trail. Again I questioned my decision but kept going. I told myself to just put one foot in front of the other. I climbed above the hawks looking down at a cloud clinging to a smaller mountain. At 1400 feet above sea level, a bench rewards the tired climber with a needed break. I sat for ten minutes letting the blood drain from my head. I wondered if I should call it quits as I looked up at the last few hundred feet. I decided to power through and in another ten minutes I had reached the summit. To the east, the Santa Lucia Mountains bordered Carmel Valley. To the northwest, the coastlines of Carmel Highlands and Point Lobos. To the south the distant trailhead was barely visible along the now tiny Highway 1. I took a deep breath and felt the rush of endorphins.

Going down is a little had on the knees but easy on the eyes and heart. The car ride home: radio blaring, sunroof down, grinning ear to ear. No medicinal marijuana needed for me. Life was again good.

Park Website: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=579

 

 

What is Lost

Portola Redwoods State Park, CA

I’ve fortunately made a great friend, and Bree is also a perfect hiking partner. She, like me, is also dismayed at the number of California State Parks set to close in the next year. We made a list of parks in the area and have been making an effort to visit all those on the chopping block. At the top on my priority list was Portola Redwoods State Park as I had read about a secluded old growth redwood grove located in a remote canyon. The park itself is off the beaten path on windy, narrow mountain roads, an hour northeast of Santa Cruz. The Peters Creek Grove is a six mile one way hike in. I was delighted that Bree was up for the adventure.

4.1316551988.old-fordA couple miles in we reached the back country campground. Another mile or so, we discovered an old car down in a narrow ravine. From photos, my husband later identified it as a 1948 Ford. The car was upright, but the front and top were smashed in from flipping over. The rubber from the back tire had blown over the rear wheel. The interior was gone and plants grew in the car and the engine. Bree and I looked up and around wondering where the road had once been and how and when this car had ended up here. What happened to the passengers? How long had this car lay here?

4.1316551988.santa-cruz-mountainsThe trail continued through an overgrown and more densely wooded section. Before long we started climbing down. The few gaps in the trees revealed amazing views of the Santa Cruz mountains as well as the depth of the substantial canyon we were descending into. I tried to enjoy the hike down, but with every step I couldn’t help but wonder how miserable the long climb up would be.

At the bottom of the hill, a magical lush forest emerged at the head of the one mile Peters Creek loop. Giant Redwood trees towered above filling the sky with their crowns. Emerald ferns and fields of clover blanketed the ground. The thousand year old trees surrounded a creek that we crisscrossed a few times stepping on the polished rocks. At various points in the creek, small waterfalls tumbled down filling the air with the sound of gently flowing water. It was absolutely serene. 4.1316551988.bree-in-peters-grove

After finishing the loop, we found the perfect spot for a rest. Settling on a fallen redwood over a bubbling brook, Bree produced a half bottle of wine and some fresh berries from her backpack. The Touriga, from a local winery, was delicious. We laughed as we sipped directly from the bottle.

Perhaps it was the wine, but we powered up the canyon wall.”Touriga: Great for Stamina!” Bree delared. Before we knew it we had passed the Ford and the back country campground. After ten minutes, we found a gate across the trailhead. A gate that was not there on the hike in. We had forgotten about the trail junction at the campground and apparently had taken the wrong spur. We retraced our steps and had to giggle that we had proceeded down a path clearly marked, “Not a Trail”. “Touriga: Good for stamina, bad for focus!” Bree revised her earlier slogan.

4.1316551988.peters-groveAfter finishing our wonderful hike, we toured through the car camping section. It was early evening on a Friday. Families were setting up tents in the lovely redwood dotted campsites. The sounds of children playing echoed from the creek below. Unfortunately, this campground only has a few more months before is closes in November and the whole park closes in July 2012. What will happen to it? No more campgrounds packed with families enjoying quality time away from the TV and computer. Is it even legal to close these parks that were bequeathed to the public? Is it even possible to absolutely close them? Is there a way to protect the park from people coming in and trashing this sacred spot? Or will the trails simply grow over and the beauty of this place be forgotten? And this is just one natural treasure on a list of seventy. It makes me so sad to think that these places, our state parks, may simply be lost.

Park Website: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=539

Bear Minimum

Sequoia National Park, CA

4.1313588265.hume-lakeWe packed up our camp site in King’s Canyon National Park then began the beautiful though somewhat long drive to Sequoia National Park. In the higher mountain peaks of Sequoia National Forest, Mike stopped for a morning dip in Hume Lake. Being a Saturday morning, several fishermen lined the lake. The swimming area was still largely deserted as the morning temperatures hung in the 60s. Trying to respect the tranquility, Mike swam stealthy while I enjoyed the scenery and thought about the plan for the day. Mike had a lot of homework he needed to finish before Monday, so he wanted to head back to Monterey by mid-afternoon. I knew I had to choose carefully as we were only going to see a few highlights in this national park.

4.1313588265.general-sherman-treeThe General Sherman Tree and the Congress Loop were “must-dos”, so we began exploring in the Giant Forest section of the park. The parking lot at the trailhead was filling up fast, but we got a spot and began the short trek down to the largest living creature on Earth, the General Sherman Tree. As we walked I looked for differences between the closely related Redwoods and the Sequoias. It is often hard to gauge the height of tress that grow as high as city buildings. I knew that Coastal Redwoods are the tallest trees on the planet, and the Sequoias are the biggest trees measured in volume. However, some of these trees were as tall as some Redwoods. As I gazed up, I noticed that their upper branches were much thicker than those on Redwoods. An overlook revealed the General Sherman. Around 2300 years old, 275 feet tall and over 100 feet around, this was a massive tree. A lot of the surrounding forest appeared to be cleared, so that one could attempt to comprehend the true size. We continued down to the base of the trunk. Yet even walking around the tree it was hard to grasp the extent of this colossal creature.

4.1313588265.giant-forestThe General Sherman Trail intersected the 2 mile Congress Trail. This was also a paved trail and with the crowds at the General Sherman tree I expected this loop to be busy too. Fortunately, fewer people were continuing past the main attraction. The loop traveled through the center of the Giant Forest with impressive groves of the amazing trees. As this was the second national park established, several of the trees paid homage to those in Washington DC. The President was an impressive specimen as were the House and Senate Groves. Breaks in the trees along the southern edge of the trail revealed views of the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountain Peaks reminding us that we were hiking at 7000 feet. Towards the end of the loop, we walked under part of an enormous fallen tree that is said to have crashed decades ago, waking a sleeping ranger 2 miles away.

4.1313588265.bear-spottingAs we were driving away from the General Sherman parking lot, I spotted a small bear on the side of the road. Mike stopped the car about ten feet in front of the animal. “He’s cute,” Mike began then we both jumped a little as the bear ripped off half the bark of a tree truck in one swoop. Luckily he was not that interested in us as he appeared to scavenge the stump for bugs. It was pretty thrilling to see the bear so close up, but I was also very relieved to be in the car. When it did appear a bit more curious about us, we decided it was time to quickly move along.

4.1313588265.crescent-meadowOn weekend days the road to Crescent Meadow and the Drive-Thru tree are closed. Visitors either need to hike into these places or take the shuttle bus. If we had known just how crowded this area of the park would be, we would have left our car in the General Sherman lot and taken the trail. Hundreds of people flocked around the Giant Forest Museum. Wanting to get away from the herds as quickly as possible, Mike and I hopped on the first shuttle. Most of the people on the bus exited at Moro Rock, so we continued on. A large family group got off at the Crescent Meadow Trail head, but other than that it was us. The trail wound around the Sequoia and Pine rimmed meadow. Large fallen trees dissected the emerald meadow where the last of the wildflowers lingered. A fair amount of people were visiting the area and it we had to pass several trunks before we found an empty one. Using the fallen tree as a bridge we ambled across the trunk into the center of the field. It was a great place for a snack to soak up the scenery and watch butterflies flit about.

We continued to meander around the meadow before discovering a trail leading a few miles back to the Giant Forest Museum. Once we embarked on that trail, we did not see another soul. Giant sequoias mingled with other trees in this dense and lush section of the forest. I was very much enjoying the solitude, but made sure to keep my eyes out for more bears. We stumbled upon a Squatter’s Cabin and imagining taking up residence in the surreal setting. We hiked up over a ridge guessing we were at 7500 feet. We saw fire scarred trees surrounded by ferns and flowers. Informative plaques began to appear at the base of the larger trees, and we knew we must be approaching the museum. It was a great jaunt through the woods. However, I wished it had lasted longer, especially since the center of the park was much more crowded than before. It was amusing that by choosing to walk more than 2 miles we managed to avoid the mobs.

There was so much more I longed to explore in this park, but it was time to go. On the bright side, I got to smell, see and touch the extraordinary trees. I got to ramble a bit through the Giant Forest and the Sierra Nevadas. I got to see a bear. It may have been a minimal visit, but I was still so grateful for the experience.

Park Website: https://www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm

The First Step

Kings Canyon National Park, CA

The first step is admitting you have a problem, an addiction. Ever since our West Coast road trip, I have been itching to go camping again. I get absolutely restless if I go a week without a good hike. Sequoia National Park was another place I desperately wanted to visit so I convinced Mike that we could leave as soon as he got out of school and go camping for a couple nights.

4.1313006571.glaciers-in-backgroundSequoia and King’s Canyon National Park are adjacent to one another and it took us almost four hours to reach the park gate. The ranger informed us that the camping in Sequoia was full so we decided to camp in the Cedar Grove area of King’s Canyon. We headed over the sequoia covered ridge peaking at around 7000 feet. The narrow road wound along steep and jagged cliffs as we made our way down the back side of the mountain and along the sides of King’s Canyon. The sun was rapidly lowering in the sky highlighting the majestic vistas of the glacially carved landscape. I glimpsed waterfalls through the pine trees; the water eventually flowing to the surging King’s River that cut its way through the narrow canyon floor. An hour later the road ended in the Cedar Grove area. Twilight was settling in as we tried to select a good camping spot. We finally decided on a large site in the Sheep Creek campground. Although several large pines and sequoias towered around the area, I was a little disappointed that the campground was not more densely forested. Then I looked up. The first stars of the evening were appearing directly above. The shadows of the tall trees bordered the perfect outlook of the night sky. Once our tent was set up and the camp fire crackling, we nestled around the fire watching the sky brighten with stars until there was almost more light than darkness.

4.1313006571.mist-fall-trailThe next morning we woke to see the campground in daylight. Despite our 4600 foot elevation, the cliffs of the canyon loomed above us. We decided to stay in King’s Canyon for the day then explore Sequoia National Park on Saturday. A park ranger recommended hiking to Mist Falls, a nine mile round trip. Despite the beautiful scenery, the first steps of the trail were sandy causing it to be more difficult to walk on. The wooded area of the trail head opened to meadows allowing the sun to beat down on us. Luckily after a mile or so, more trees lined and shaded the trail and pine needles were a welcome relief to my calves. The chilly green water of the turbulent King’s River offered lower temperatures especially in areas where large boulders dotted the trail trapping in the cooler air. Rocky stairs appeared ahead and we climbed up above the tree line onto granite boulders. Sweating, I looked up the canyon walls and beyond to the mountain tops. Small patches of snow still remained in the cirques above. The roar of the water increased and water toppled over the side of a giant rock. We questioned if that could be Mist Falls, but did not think we had walked far enough. Another twenty minutes later, the aptly named Mist Falls appeared. 4.1313006571.mist-fallsAt least 100 feet from the base, the spray hit our faces as we walked to the edge of the water. It felt amazing. A lot of people were sitting in the area enjoying their lunch. We continued climbing up to the top. Smooth rocks provided a perfect sitting and vantage point. Snacking on apples, we spotted a waterfall high up on the canyon walls, tumbling through a narrow corridor. The break from hiking was nice, but we were still hot. On the way down, we walked back into the mist and spent a couple minutes enjoying the refreshing droplets. I was happier and feeling better than before we started as we retraced our steps back to the trail head.

After a little rest and a late lunch back at the campground, Mike decided that he needed to cool off with a swim. Posted all along the King River were scary “Deadly River” signs warning against swimming with a photo of a lone hand reaching out of the water waving for help. “We don’t advocate swimming anywhere, but people sometimes swim in a calmer section near the Zumwalt Meadows trail head,” a ranger advised. 4.1313006571.mike-s-swimming-holeMike looked for a good spot to get in and also get out. There did not seem to be a lot of options. He finally just dove in. The current was much stronger than he anticipated and he grabbed onto a branch in the water to stay in place. It did not take long in the nippy water for Mike to cool down. He dried off and we hit the Zumwalt Meadow trail, a 1.5 mile loop that had also been suggested. We followed the river than headed across a footbridge that resembled a miniature Golden Gate. We entered a small forest than followed the trail along a wooden path raised about a foot above the meadow. The aquamarine river flowed between the trees and the emerald green pasture. The gorgeous setting was backdropped by huge granite mountains. The trail skirted the perimeter of the meadow before ending at the base of the southern mountains. Here the trail was flanked with massive boulders and riddled with smaller ones that often required climbing. The rocks were visible reminders that glaciers had once carved this canyon, plucking these rocks out of the mountains as they advanced and depositing them as they melted.

It was late afternoon. There was one more spot we wanted to see: Roaring River Falls. Fortunately for our tired legs, it was a short five minute walk from the parking lot to the overlook. The two tiered cascade swirled through the stone walls surrounding it. The hot temperature had faded and the air was perfect as we sat on a enormous rock watching the torrent of water. For now, my hiking craving was satisfied and my soul was happy. I believe some addictions are nothing but positive.
Park Website: https://www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm