Oh Yeah ~ Oh! Ridge NFS Campground, June Lake, CA

June Lake

We have taken the drive into the Eastern Sierras on US 395 and it is simply a breathtaking slice of California!  Although a slow starter, Autumn is finally announcing her arrival. Once again we have met up with our buddies Nina and Paul at the Oh! Ridge NFS campground overlooking June Lake and, oh yeah, this is something special.  There is so much to do here that a month would not suffice.

Parker Lake Trail fall colors

Nina and Paul have been here a week so they, being the ever-so-gracious hosts, have given us multiple ideas and a number of trails to set off on for viewing fall colors.

Parker Lake

Given that I have a bit of an altitude issue, I am working on acclimatizing myself to hiking at higher elevations.  This campground sits at roughly 7600 feet above sea level so we opted for a nice 4-mile hike to Parker Lake, with an easy 680 foot elevation gain, a great starter hike for me.  Parker Lake is a sparkling little lake nestled into a small canyon at the base of some 12,000 foot peaks of the Sierra Crest.  It is a lovely little prize at the end of the trail.

Next up was a sunrise visit to the Mono Lake Tufa Towers, which Nina said was a must-see and oh yeah, she was not kidding.

Sun breaching the mountains over Mono Lake

Mono Lake is a large, shallow lake that formed more than 760,000 years ago.  Because it has no outlet to the seas, high levels of salts have accumulated, resulting in waters that are 2.5 times saltier and 1000 times more alkaline than the oceans.  With such alkaline waters you would not expect a thriving ecosystem but you would be wrong.  Interestingly enough, brine shrimp and alkali flies are prolific here, and the flies seem happy to live both above and under the water, feasting on the algae that grows in large number here.  The alkali fly larvae were a source of nutrition for the native peoples long ago and continue to be the food choice for the two million annual migratory birds that grace these shores.

Sunrise warming the mountains overlooking Mono Lake

So, what the heck is tufa you ask?  Here at Mono Lake these strange rock formations, which have grown since the existence of this lake, are basically  limestone (calcium carbonate).  The lake water and the calcium in the underwater springs combine to create a chemical reaction, that over centuries lays down layers of limestone to create these bizarre towers.  Had it not been for the water level of the lake dropping precipitously over the past 70+ years, photographers from around the world would not have the pleasure of capturing these odd yet beautiful spires, some reaching heights of over 30 feet.

Tufas awaiting sunrise

Tufas grow many places around the world but Mono Lake has the most active formations and some of what we were viewing in the early morning light have been around since the last Ice Age, when Mono Lake was five times her present size.

Although it was rather brisk at 6:00 am, I cannot tell you the excitement I felt as the sun breached the mountain peaks.  Her fingers first tickled the lake, casting stunning colors and reflections, only to have her reach out minutes later to cast a golden glow on the tufa.  Wow, what a sight!

Almost there!
The sun finally reaches the tufas ~ gorgeous!

After many, many photos, we headed back to the warmth of our vehicle and straight to Silver Lake Cafe for a yummy breakfast and a chance once again to marvel at what we had just witnessed.

Lundy Canyon Overlook
The whole gang at the Lundy Canyon Overlook

From here a quick 3-mile hike up the Lundy Canyon Trail, to a striking overlook showcasing golden aspens and a cascading waterfall, rounded out our day.  Oh yeah, life is good. 🙂

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Oft Forgotten Sister ~ Kings Canyon National Park

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. ~ John Muir

Rushing, roaring, majestic Kings River

One day and a kick-back (rest day) before we head north to yet another national landmark so time to see the oft forgotten sister, Kings Canyon National Park.  Even the volunteers at the visitor center recognize that this National Park seems to take “back seat” to its southern sister, Sequoia, but are proud of the fact that it boasts one of the deepest canyons in North America (maximum depth 8200 feet), at places deeper than the Grand Canyon, although lacking in spectacular topography.  John Muir first visited in 1873 and the canyon began to receive attention.  His theory that the valley was carved from massive glaciers during the last Ice Age proved to be correct.

deepest point in Kings Canyon

I am currently reading Angels in the Wilderness, by Amy Racina, which takes place in Kings Canyon.  A most compelling true story, Ms. Racina takes us along on her solo-backpacking journey into the rugged, very lightly traveled section of this canyon known as Tehipite Valley, when tragedy strikes.  Her survival against all odds and the spiritual journey she takes us on is truly moving.  This is a read I would highly recommend.

winding roads of Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon National Park consists of two distinct sections.  The much smaller Grant Grove section, lying to the west, was named General Grant National Park in 1890 but was incorporated into the remaining eastern 90% of Kings Canyon on March 4, 1940 to protect the large grove of giant sequoia there.  The eastern section of the park forms the headwaters of the south and middle forks of the Kings River and the south fork of the San Joaquin River.  Covering roughly 462,000 acres, ~84% of the park’s wilderness is accessible only on foot or by horseback.

In Grant Grove Village stands General Grant Tree, a living memorial to the men and women of the armed services.  As your gaze travels towards the skies, you realize how difficult it is to capture the true size of these giants in a photo.

General Grant Tree

General Grant Tree is the third largest of the giant sequoia, standing over 267 feet tall, 40 feet across its base, and over 107 feet around.  The average estimate of its age is between 1500-2000 years.  It was designated the Nation’s Christmas tree by then President Calvin Coolidge on April 28, 1926.  Still today the marking of Christmas is held here under General Grant’s snow-laden branches.

On our way out to the Cedar Grove area, a quick stop at the Roaring River Falls was a must.  This thundering waterfall descends from the south wall of the canyon, flowing into the Kings River.  A sort paved walk from the parking lot leads to it.

Roaring River Falls
lunch view

Cedar Grove, one of the flattest sections of the park and pretty darn near road’s end, is where we decided to lunch and the views could not be beat!  The waters of the Kings River were sparkling clear in the foreground of soaring granite cliffs.

As we were looking forward to our short hike into Zumwalt Meadow and enjoying our final bites, look who slithered in to join our dining experience!

tiny but deadly rattlesnake
Terry on suspension bridge at Zumwalt Meadow

Zumwalt Meadow is one of the loveliest 1.5 miles in the park and is purported to be one of the finest meadows in all the national parks.  Formed by glaciers, it features deep-green meadows lined with trees, wildflowers, ferns, views of the Kings River, and the granite cliffs of Grand Sentinel in the distance.  Walk gingerly along the path as small slithering creatures could be awaiting you!  Of course, it is always good to practice caution when hiking in the wilderness.

Zumwalt Meadow

If quiet, solitude and space are your thing, they are easy to come by in this  oft forgotten sister, Kings Canyon National Park, another American treasure.

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John Muir’s Grand Valley ~ Sequoia National Park (Part 1)

“In the vast Sierra wilderness far to the southward of the famous Yosemite Valley, there is a yet grander valley of the same kind.”  ~  John Muir (1891)

John Muir, famous naturalist, wrote this about the ground we trod on today, Sequoia National Park.  Second only to Yellowstone National Park, relative to age, Sequoia was established on September 25, 1890. This grand valley spans 404,063 acres and is one of California’s more special and least visited treasures, most likely because it is a wee bit off the beaten path. That seems to be the only logical explanation because with what it has to offer, no one should miss this gem.

Surrounded by a valley laden with fruit orchards, olive groves, and small farms, we are getting our fill of fresh fruits and vegetables and by the end of our stay, we’ll be saying the same about hiking.  What a beautiful setting to get out into nature and the weather is darn near perfect, especially when you head up about 7000 feet into the park.

Some fun facts about Sequoia National Park:

  1. It has the largest tree in the world within its boundaries – General Sherman Tree.
  2. On the eastern border of the park rises the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states – Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet.
  3. It has the second largest “road-free” wilderness area in the U.S. (84% of the park can only be accessed on foot or by horseback).
  4. It is home to over 240 known caves, including California’s longest at over 20 miles.
If you are heading up to Sequoia be advised that there is a huge construction project underway which impacts the road leading into the park, so timing is everything.  They seem to have their act together tho so visitors can time their arrival to the construction site and pretty much know how long the wait will be.  This is a 27-year project which is about half-finished and it is going to be beautiful when complete.  Progress moves along at about 3 miles per year.  Wish Yellowstone could get this kind of project approved.
Beautiful stone walls are part of the project.
We entered the park at about 900 feet above sea level and arrived at the Lodgepole Visitor Center at ~7000 feet elevation.  We decided to hike out the Tokopah Valley Trail, a 3.5 mile round-trip out to Tokopah Falls, a grand cascading sheet of water.  The hike out was through a pine forest, which occasionally opened up to reveal craggy granite peaks.
tokopah falls
Tokopah Falls
Today was a day of sightseeing as well and  here are a few of what we consider “must see”:
General Sherman Tree
general sherman tree
General Sherman Tree
Considered the largest tree on Earth, it tops out at 275 feet tall; its trunk weighs 1385 tons; and its circumference at the ground is nearly 103 feet! With arms outstretched, it would take 21 of me to give it a big bear hug!  Each year it adds another 60 feet to its girth and the largest branch on this stately giant is almost 7 feet in diameter.  It is estimated to be between 2300 – 2700 years old, the granddaddy of all living sequoia.  The oldest known sequoia lived more than 3200 years.
Sequoia are very hardy trees, resistant to most insects and fungi, due to tannins in the bark and leaves, and the thickness of that hard outer shell –  nearly two feet.  Their main cause of death is due to toppling, as they have a shallow root system and no tap root.  They are very particular where they lay down roots, growing naturally only on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada, most often between 5000 – 7000 feet.
As gigantic as they are, mature female cones on a sequoia are only about the size of a chicken egg, each holding about 200 seeds.  Trees are best propagated by way of fire (not unlike the lodgepole pine) when the heat causes the cone to pop open, spreading its oat flake-sized seeds.  They heal very quickly from fire and we learned that all sequoia within the Giant Forest have been through several fires.
Moro Rock
Counting the steps up Moro Rock

Follow the signs to the parking lot and take the 350ish stairs to the top of this granite dome, which tops out at 6725 feet.  It’s the ‘ish‘ that could be a problem for those who don’t like heights or a steady uphill climb.  The first 350 steps are a breeze!

Made it to the top!

Giant Forest

Take a walk through this mystical land of stately giants, where General Sherman tree resides and a host of sentinels stand guard over him.  Five of the ten largest sequoia live in the Giant Forest.  Washington Tree, second largest of these magnificent specimen, also lives here.

Tunnel Log

Drive your vehicle through this fallen sequoia for a little perspective.  This sequoia fell on December 4, 1937.  The diameter of its base was 21 feet and it was the height of General Sherman Tree, 275 feet.  The tunnel that can be driven through is 8 feet high and 17 feet across.

tunnel log
Traveling through Tunnel Log

Crescent Meadow

Take a stroll through this pristine meadow on your way to Tharp’s Log.  We were hoping for a bear in the meadow but all we got were two deer (not in this photo).

crescent meadow
Crescent Meadow

Tharp’s Log

Hale Tharp, pioneer resident of Three Rivers, first visited Giant Forest (which is where Tharp’s Log was built) in 1858.  He built this rustic cabin at the end of a giant sequoia and lived here from 1861 until the National Park was established in 1890.  He used Crescent Meadows for his livestock.

tharp's log
Tharp’s Log

Giant, cinnamon-colored sequoia, granite domes rising from the valley floor, roaring rivers and waterfalls, alpine meadows, and 800 miles of hiking trails in this grand valley are certainly enough to tantalize any nature lover.  We look forward to hiking some of her trails in the upcoming days.

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