Obviously, I had heard about Sequoia trees, but I didn’t know much about the National Park that bears their name. And I certainly didn’t know anything about Kings Canyon and why it was always lumped together with Sequoia National park. So, is it one park or two? Of course, I had to look it up, and here’s what I found:
“Sequoia National Park was established on September 25, 1890, making it our country’s second national park. Fifty years later, on March 4, 1940, Congress established Kings Canyon National Park, which is adjacent to the north boundary of Sequoia. Since World War II, these neighboring parks have been administered jointly.” –Dept. of Interior website
And why is there a National Forest, a National Monument, and a National Park that all bear the name “Sequoia”? I just became more confused every time I saw a different sign, so of course, I had to look into that also. The following information is courtesy of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Justice.
National Forests are managed under a “multiple use” concept (a combination of utilization of timber, range, fish and wildlife, recreation, and minerals) that may or may not involve the use of vehicles.
National Monuments can be managed by any of three different agencies (US Forest Service, National Park Service, or Bureau of Land Management) and are created by presidential proclamation to protect specific natural or cultural features.
National Parks are managed by the Department of the Interior, through the National Park Service, and strive to keep landscapes unimpaired for future generations by protecting natural and historic features, while offering light on-the-land recreation.
Each type of place has its own set of rules based on its goals and mission, which makes sense when it comes to camping, vehicles, fishing, fires, cutting wood, pets, etc. Sometimes, the boundaries can be adjacent to each other, so it’s important to stop-in at the Ranger or check-in station to consult a map and applicable notices.
Now that we have all that out of the way, let me tell you about my visit to Kings Canyon and Sequoia Forest, Monument, and Park! I staged out of Fresno, CA for the days I visited. Yes, it’s a long way away, but I needed access to reliable wifi (which isn’t a guarantee in the smaller towns/hotels closer to National Parks), plus, it allowed me to ride the beautifully twisty, climbing CA-180 route that runs through Sequoia National Forest and Monument multiple times! In fact, the 50-mile stretch of the road from Dunlap to “the end of the road” past Cedar Grove is known as the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.
After passing through the Kings Canyon National Park entrance station near Big Stump Grove, I stopped by the Visitors Center to take in the video and talk to the Rangers about the ominous clouds off in the distance. I was advised to catch the movie on the way back and to bee-line it straight out to the bottom of the Canyon before the predicted rain in the afternoon. That way I could stop at the overlooks on the return ride as the weather permitted and catch the video at the end. The roads had just been cleared of mudslides from rains a couple of days ago, so I heeded their advice and rolled out. Kings Canyon National Park is actually split into two sections, separated by Sequoia National Forest, but the scenic byway runs through, and connects, both sections.
After completing my visit to Kings Canyon, and nearly getting backed into by an inattentive driver in the visitors center parking lot, I retraced my route on CA-180 to Fresno and back over the next couple of days for my visit to Sequoia National Park. Generals Highway connects Kings Canyon National Park to Sequoia National Park, via Sequoia National Forest and Monument. This twisty road, that continues through Sequoia National Park, had just been cleared of mudslides a couple of days before I rode it, so I couldn’t really lean into turns since I had to watch out for the remaining debris and work crews. It was a good thing that my riding was more conservative than usual, because I came around a blind corner to see two cows making their way up the steep embankment on the side of the road. I was on the lookout for wildlife, but I thought it would be deer or bear I’d see in the roadway, I certainly wasn’t expecting cows! But I guess that’s what comes with “multiple use” public lands 🙂
Living in North Carolina, and near a military base that has won national awards for its longleaf pine forestry program, I am used to prescribed burns and the importance of fire for the health of some types of forests. So I was curious to learn more about the effects of increasingly frequent fires on these groves of giants. According to educational placards throughout the park, Sequoias grow in fire-adapted ecosystems. Periodic fires reduce fuel buildup, preventing destructive, high-severity blazes. After over a century of well-intentioned, though ill-informed fire suppression practices, many groves have become choked with dead wood and small trees, shading out young sequoias and creating dangerous fire conditions. Additionally, rising temperatures and earlier snowmelt lead to longer fire seasons. Warmer and drier conditions are also linked to higher-severity fire. Scientists studying these trends have found that climate change is a significant force behind the rise in fire we are seeing today. They estimate that the 2020-2021 fires alone likely killed 13-19% of the world’s large giant sequoias. I felt an uneasy sense of gratitude for being able to see these stoic giants now, since the future is promised to no one.
As I left Moro Rock, the road on which I traveled, as well as a large part of Generals Highway, was originally forged by COL Charles Young and ninety-six Buffalo Soldiers (all-Black enlisted men of Troops I and M of the 9th Cavalry). COL Young went from being born into slavery to a West Point graduate (only the third Black man to do so) and serving as a Captain in the all-Black infantry before becoming the military superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant National Parks (predecessor of Sequoia and Kings Canyon) in 1903. He, and the Buffalo Soldiers under his command, were responsible for the prevention of wildlife poaching, illegal logging, and sheep grazing, along with road building and infrastructure improvement. You can read more about the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers during their time in National Parks from 1866-1951 ranging from the “wild Alaskan wilderness, to the lava-flowing fields of Hawaii, to the giant Sequoias of northern California” HERE.
I pulled into the parking lot of Crescent Meadow, just a short ride from Moro Rock, parked the bike, and immediately heeded the multiple bear-warning signs by verifying that there was no food, or food wrappers, anywhere in the trunk or tank bag of my motorcycle. After reading the sticker on the bear box, I returned to my bike to take out my bug repellent and chapstick!
About a mile into the Crescent Meadow hike, I met up with two guys taking a break at Tharp’s Log who had just hiked further up the High Sierra Trail. They told me about a momma bear and her cub they saw just a short distance from here. My hip and feet had already decided that this would be my turn-around point anyway, so their info solidified my decision to head back towards the trailhead. There were hardly any folks on the trail, but I was comforted with the knowledge that they would be just a few minutes behind me and that I had spied a couple on the path just a few minutes ahead of me.
About 200 yards from the parking lot, I spotted the couple stopped on the trail ahead of me; the woman was taking photos with her phone of something in the bushes in the creek alongside the trail and the guy was motioning for me to be quiet.
“What’s going on?” I whispered to him.
“There’s a momma bear and her cub right there eating in the bushes! We’re getting some great pics of them!”
I can see the bushes moving and flashes of brown fur about 4 feet from where I’m standing. I could literally reach down and touch the bears from the wooden boardwalk on which we are standing. The half dozen signs in the parking lot advising hikers to never approach a bear, especially if there is a cub nearby, flash through my head.
“Um, this doesn’t seem like a good idea to me…I’m gonna keep going.” I murmur in a hushed tone as I move past them.
I very quickly, yet quietly, creep my way past the moving bushes and brown fur and move with purpose towards the parking lot. As I’m putting on my jacket and helmet and preparing to depart, the two guys that I had met at Tharp’s Log emerged from the trail and into the parking lot.
“Did you y’all see the bears?” I called out to them.
Their response: “Yeah, are those people stupid or what?!”
We didn’t hang around to see how the couple’s story ended. I rolled out of the parking lot and back onto Generals Highway for the twisty, scenic ride down to the park exit.
It was a fabulous few days in these two National Parks and corresponding forests and monuments. Not only did I stand in awe at the base of giant Sequoias and stunning scenery, I learned so much about forestry techniques and the history associated with the people and geography of this area.
Next up. . . Joshua Tree!