BLOG #24, SERIE…

BLOG #24, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #13

KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK

June 20, 2012

 

 

 

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We left the Southwest National Park series on April 25, with Sequoia National Park.  You may remember that Sequoia and Kings Canyon are administered as one entity, albeit with two separate management teams.  Without question, Kings Canyon is the lesser known of the two, perhaps because of its relatively late entry into the park system.  When you look at the map, things get confusing, what with the Sequoia National Forest (southern and northern branches), Giant Sequoia National Monument (southern and northern branches), and Sequoia National Park.

 

In 1891, the massive (sixteen feet in diameter) Mark Twain tree was cut down, then cut up into a dozen pieces (since it weighed nine tons), then shipped to the New York Museum of Natural History.  Two years later, the equally massive General Noble tree was cut down at the government’s orders, and shipped to Chicago for its Columbian World Fair exhibition; there it was turned into a two-story structure, then moved to the Smithsonian where it stood until the 1930s.

 

Image 

Stephen Mather, John Muir, the Sierra Club, and others all stepped in to save sections of this Sierra Nevada corridor before it was too late, but commercial interests kept the Kings Canyon section from national park status until 1940.  It was a close call since Los Angeles coveted the Kings River watershed and came within the proverbial inch of damming it up.  Had they done so, the Kings Canyon’s wilderness would have been lost forever.  In 1978 Congress added the Mineral King area to the park.  Altogether, today, over 450,000 acres of Kings Canyon wilderness (mostly roadless) is preserved for those who wish to escape roads and backpack in—some 80,000 a year do just that.  Altogether 1,500,000 people a year love Kings Canyon/Sequoia to death with their traffic—all on only 120 miles of roads.

 

Providentially a great rampart of high mountains (the backbone of the Sierra Nevadas) barred east/west roadways from being constructed long enough to preserve this area in perpetuity for the American people.

 

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OUR VISIT TO THE PARK

 

Bob and Lucy Earp, Connie and I, after a delicious breakfast at Wuksachi Lodge, headed out into the cold grey skies that gradually dissipated as we moved out of Sequoia National Park into Kings Canyon.  We stopped at both the Sequoia and Kings Canyon visitor centers, making a point to see both films.  We have found that travelers who don’t do so severely shortchange their visits.  We can all be grateful to the park rangers who serve us so well in facilities across the nation.

 

By the time we reached the rim of Kings Canyon—I hadn’t seen it in over forty years—the sun had come out.  It turned out to be one of those all too rare absolutely perfect blue sky days.  Way down below was the still undammed Kings River (Spanish explorers named it El Rio de los Santos Reyes), which translates to River of the Holy Kings (the Magi).  The river grew ever larger and louder as we zigzagged our way down the canyon wall.  Just as had been true with the snowmelt-swollen Kern River, the Kings River was torrential!  With a half-century high snowpack to stoke it, what a time to have picked in which to re-experience the canyon!  Since tourist season hadn’t yet begun, the day proved to be a serene one.  Everywhere we looked tributary streams and waterfalls fed into the gorge.  At the east end, where the road ends in the Zumwalt Meadows, we took advantage of the opportunity to explore the area.  We discovered that the park not only includes one of the greatest stands of Sequoias in the world, it also includes magnificent stands of sugar pine, ponderosa pine, white fir, red fir, and incense cedar.

 

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Afterwards, regretting we couldn’t remain longer in the park, we drove back down the canyon, up over the canyon wall, back into Sequoia, down into the San Joaquin Valley, and then up through California’s legendary gold-mining towns such as Angels Camp (made famous by Mark Twain’s “The Jumping Frog of Calavaras County”), back into the cooler temperatures of the Sierras, a quick stop at one of our oldest national park lodges, Wawona, then on to that  famous tunnel that opens onto one of the grandest vistas our world has to offer: “Yosemite National Park, with its iconic peaks, waterfalls, and river.  Tourists seeing the vista for the first time are awe-struck.

 Image

 Even those native Californians like Connie and me are moved almost to tears by being privileged to set eyes on it once again in this all too brief journey we call “life.”

 

 

SOURCES USED

 

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopfk, 2009).

 

Palmer, John J., Sequoia and Kings Canyon (Wickenburg, Arizona: K. C. Publications, 2009).

 

BLOG #24, SERIE…

BLOG #24, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #13

KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK

June 13, 2012

 

Image

We left the Southwest National Park series on April 25, with Sequoia National Park.  You may remember that Sequoia and Kings Canyon are administered as one entity, albeit with two separate management teams.  Without question, Kings Canyon is the lesser known of the two, perhaps because of its relatively late entry into the park system.  When you look at the map, things get confusing, what with the Sequoia National Forest (southern and northern branches), Giant Sequoia National Monument (southern and northern branches), and Sequoia National Park.

In 1891, the massive (sixteen feet in diameter) Mark Twain tree was cut down, then cut up into a dozen pieces (since it weighed nine tons), then shipped to the New York Museum of Natural History.  Two years later, the equally massive General Noble tree was cut down at the government’s orders, and shipped to Chicago for its Columbian World Fair exhibition; there it was turned into a two-story structure, then moved to the Smithsonian where it stood until the 1930s.

Image

Stephen Mather, John Muir, the Sierra Club, and others all stepped in to save sections of this Sierra Nevada corridor before it was too late, but commercial interests kept the Kings Canyon section from national park status until 1940.  It was a close call since Los Angeles coveted the Kings River watershed and came within the proverbial inch of damming it up.  Had they done so, the Kings Canyon’s wilderness would have been lost forever.  In 1978 Congress added the Mineral King area to the park.  Altogether, today, over 450,000 acres of Kings Canyon wilderness (mostly roadless) is preserved for those who wish to escape roads and backpack in—some 80,000 a year do just that.  Altogether 1,500,000 people a year love Kings Canyon/Sequoia to death with their traffic—all on only 120 miles of roads.

Providentially a great rampart of high mountains (the backbone of the Sierra Nevadas) barred east/west roadways from being constructed long enough to preserve this area in perpetuity for the American people.

Image

OUR VISIT TO THE PARK

Bob and Lucy Earp, Connie and I, after a delicious breakfast at Wuksachi Lodge, headed out into the cold grey skies that gradually dissipated as we moved out of Sequoia National Park into Kings Canyon.  We stopped at both the Sequoia and Kings Canyon visitor centers, making a point to see both films.  We have found that travelers who don’t do so severely shortchange their visits.  We can all be grateful to the park rangers who serve us so well in facilities across the nation.

By the time we reached the rim of Kings Canyon—I hadn’t seen it in over forty years—the sun had come out.  It turned out to be one of those all too rare absolutely perfect blue sky days.  Way down below was the still undammed Kings River (Spanish explorers named it El Rio de los Santos Reyes), which translates to River of the Holy Kings (the Magi).  The river grew ever larger and louder as we zigzagged our way down the canyon wall.  Just as had been true with the snowmelt-swollen Kern River, the Kings River was torrential!  With a half-century high snowpack to stoke it, what a time to have picked in which to re-experience the canyon!  Since tourist season hadn’t yet begun, the day proved to be a serene one.  Everywhere we looked tributary streams and waterfalls fed into the gorge.  At the east end, where the road ends in the Zumwalt Meadows, we took advantage of the opportunity to explore the area.  We discovered that the park not only includes one of the greatest stands of Sequoias in the world, it also includes magnificent stands of sugar pine, ponderosa pine, white fir, red fir, and incense cedar.

Image

Afterwards, regretting we couldn’t remain longer in the park, we drove back down the canyon, up over the canyon wall, back into Sequoia, down into the San Joaquin Valley, and then up through California’s legendary gold-mining towns such as Angels Camp (made famous by Mark Twain’s “The Jumping Frog of Calavaras County”), back into the cooler temperatures of the Sierras, a quick stop at one of our oldest national park lodges, Wawona, then on to that  famous tunnel that opens onto one of the grandest vistas our world has to offer: “Yosemite National Park, with its iconic peaks, waterfalls, and river.  Tourists seeing the vista for the first time are awe-struck.

Image

Even those native Californians like Connie and me are moved almost to tears by being privileged to set eyes on it once again in this all too brief journey we call “life.”

SOURCES USED

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopfk, 2009).

Palmer, John J., Sequoia and Kings Canyon (Wickenburg, Arizona: K. C. Publications, 2009).

NORTH CASCADE LOOP

            Reluctantly, we checked out of Crescent Lake Lodge—but not before procrastinating all we could by taking forever to eat our breakfast in that sunny dining room.  Finally, I—Lucy calls me “the tour guide from hell”—got everyone rounded up, and we were on our way again.

            We had hoped to cross on a ferry to Whidbey Island from Port Townsend—but it was booked solid.  So we drove down the peninsula on hwy 101 to Kingston, and took the ferry across there.  It was a stunningly beautiful day, and Puget Sound flaunted its blue for us.  Next, we tried to get a ferry across to Whidbey Island from Mukilteo, only to strike out again—everyone, it seemed, was deserting Seattle for the holiday weekend.  Finally, we gave up, and grudgingly drove up I-5 to Burlington, where we checked in at a Hampton’s.  Bad news from the back seat: Connie had generously gifted her bug to Lucy.  Lucy’s case was to prove considerably worse than Connie’s—I got a baleful eye when I jocularly attributed the difference to Lucy’s inexplicable reluctance to chomp down on a couple tablespoons worth of garlic.  With both backseaters out of commission, Bob and I crossed over onto Whidbey Island on hwy 20.  An absolutely spectacular vista awaited us at the high bridge that connected the mainland to Whidbey.  Whidbey Island surprised us: we expected it to be much more built up and heavily populated than it is.  Back in Burlington, it proved to be a quiet evening.

Mt. Baker

           Next morning, we finally had the opportunity to see two iconic snowcapped mountains in the North Cascades.  We drove hwy 20 to hwy 9 north, then hwy 542 east.  We passed what shyly bore the #33, and had to go back.  It was a humble little narrow windy road that had much to be humble about.  Finally, we reached the Cougar Ridge vista point that wasn’t. 10,778 foot Mount Baker was taking the holiday off.  Regretfully, we unwound ourselves back down to hwy 542 and continued east all the way to the Mount Baker Ski Area—but 9,127-foot-high Mount Shuskan was taking the 4th off too.  Sadly, we turned around and headed back to Burlington. As Longfellow put it in “Rainy Day,” “Some days must be dark and dreary.”

            The next day, Lucy was worse, but we had to move on anyway.  Again, we picked up hwy 20 and headed east.  At Concrete, we turned north on hwy 11, following the shoreline of Baker Lake.  But both Baker and Shuskan had foggy hangovers from the holidays and refused to come out.  So it was that we had to leave Washington without seeing those two majestic mountains we’d seen in so many photographs through the years and had salivated for so long.  None of us could bring ourselves to say, “Two blessings for another time.” We could only sigh at the lost opportunity.

A WORLD OF ICE, ROCK, AND SNOW

            There are few untrampled wilderness areas left in the world
            North Cascades National Park is one of them.

                               —(North Cascades), 18

            The North Cascades National Park consists of 505,000 acres of rugged unspoiled beauty.  With peaks in excess of 9,000 feet, the park offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the nation; its average elevation is nearly 7,000 feet.  It is anchored by two young volcanoes both towering over 10,000 feet: Mt. Baker to the north and Glacier Peak to the south.  Even though these mountains may seem low compared to the 14,000-foot giants in the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas, their vertical relief is as great or greater than any other range.

            So why do these mountains carry so much snow and ice?  It is because, running parallel to the coast and only thirty miles from the Puget Sound, “North Cascades intercept the storms that sweep in from the Pacific.  As the warm, moisture-laden air is pushed up against the mountains, it rises, cools, and drops its moisture as rain and snow.  Average annual precipitation on the west side is 110 inches.  The winter season may deposit as much as 46 feet of snow.” (North Cascades, 15).  Indeed, so much snow falls here that Highway 20 is closed through the mountains from November to April—no traffic gets through

            In actuality, the Cascades are much larger than the park itself.  When you factor in adjoining land across the Canadian border and more than 2,000,000 acres of federally designated wilderness, the ecosystem encompasses over 3,000,000 acres of protected public land.  Very few roads bisect this vast wilderness.  Its creeks would be called rivers anywhere else; these creeks eventually merge into four mighty rivers draining into the Pacific: Chilliwack, Baker, Skagit, and Nooksack.  Since the eastern side attracts much less rain, the rivers are much smaller: the Methrow and Pasayten.  Its two greatest bodies of water are Lake Chelan and 12,000 acre 25-mile-long Ross Lake.

            We can thank Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson for preserving the Cascades for us.  Concerns about the pace of population growth, especially in the West, caused Udall to warn, “What we save now may be all we’ll save.”  Besides helping to save roadless North Cascades with its 318 glaciers (almost a third of all those left in the lower 48), Udall also joined forces with the Sierra Club to save what was left of the California redwoods (which live several thousand years and grow 300 feet high).  By Udall’s time, loggers had wiped out 85% of this old growth; Redwood National Park saved only half of them.  First Lady Lady Bird Johnson was also a great champion of these parks.  North Cascades National Park was created in 1968, so it’s only 42 years old.   Highway 20 wasn’t constructed until 1972.

* * * * *

Ancient Douglas Fir

            We next stopped at Rockport State Park with its stand of magnificent old growth Douglas fir, towering to 300 feet high.  Bob and I walked through one of the loops—the park is currently closed to auto traffic because of habitat destruction.  It would be our last view of old growth trees.  We could only imagine what it must have been like a century ago before the West was all but denuded of these great trees.  What a debt of gratitude we owe Park Manager Al Nickerson and all those other thousands of conscientious guardians of our fragile park heritage.  Without them, we’d lose everything.

Diablo Lake

            Next we stopped for huckleberry ice cream at a roadside hutch—but they were sold out of it.  Then, perversely—when it was too late to go back—the sun came out.  We all walked out to see the spectacular Gorge Creek Falls cascading hundreds of feet down the mountain, then rushing under the 900-foot-high bridge.  One more stop: the dramatic Diablo lake overlook—its jade-green water is so beautiful you almost wonder if it was computer-enhanced.

Western Town of Winthrop with Wooden Sidewalks

            Late afternoon found us dropping down out of that pristine wilderness into the gold-mining town of Winthrop.  True it was once Old West but little of it was left when, in 1972, borrowing a leaf from Leavenworth, Winthrop reinvented itself, complete with old West facades, wooden sidewalks, and old-fashioned streetlights.  Town leaders at least had justification for Owen Wister describes some of the town’s original sites and citizens in his novel, The Virginian.  Wister and his bride had earlier honeymooned here.  We stayed on the Chewuch River in a River’s Edge Motel cabin.  The river lulled us to sleep.

NEXT STOP: We’ll be visiting the Grand Coulee Dam.

SOURCES

Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2002).

The Most Scenic Drives in America (Pleasantville, New York: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1997). [Very helpful].

North Cascades National Park (Las Vegas, NV: K.C. Publications, 2008). [Most informative!].

Oregon & Washington Tour Book (Heathrow, Florida: AAA Publishing, 2010).

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2009).  [Most informative!].

PARADISE INN

            There were swarms of skiers getting ready to hit the slopes, to greet us as we walked down the steps of Timberline Lodge—one girl crying because her boots were too tight.  The view was so breathtaking we had to just stare, downloading it to our memory disks.  Then it was down the mountain.

            At Sandy, we stopped for breakfast at the Tollgate Inn Restaurant, well known for its old-timey appearance, great breakfasts, and (in its bakery), the best pecan sticky buns any of us could ever remember eating.  Connie almost cried when she gobbled up the last bite.  Then we moved on through the town of Boring.  I’d waited all my life to tell the story (affirmed to be true) of a certain Pastor Dull of a Boring church—how they’d finally had to move him.  Then it was back on boring (pardon the pun) I-5 again.

            Once past the bridge over the great Columbia River, we were in Washington at last.  None of us were very familiar with the state; in fact, that had been another reason for making the trip: Washington is so far north (like Maine in that respect) that you have to make a special effort to get there.  We could hardly wait to explore it more fully.

            Finally, we escaped I-5 and turned east on Hwy 12; turning north on hwy 7, and east again on hwy 706.  We stopped at the pioneer village of Longmire, famously homesteaded by James Longmire in 1887-8.  Longmire was one of the first to bring tourists up to Paradise Valley.  When his daughter-in-law first saw its king’s ransom worth of wildflowers (due to the 250 feet of rich volcanic soil), she exclaimed, “This must be what Paradise is like!”  It has been called “Paradise Valley” ever since.  John Muir later declared it to be “the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld.”  It was also one of the favorite spots on earth for Stephen Tyng Mather, founding father of our national parks.  Mather first climbed Mt. Rainier in 1905; he returned in 1915 to oversee the first road into Paradise Valley (Duncan and Burns, 240).

Mount Rainier

            Ernest, the protagonist in Hawthorne’s “The Great Stone Face,” lived so long in the shadow of that great rock outcropping that his own face came to mirror it.  Just so, Washington’s highest mountain (14,441 feet); so vast that it makes its own weather, is so dominating that its image is indelibly etched into the subconsciousness of all those who live within sight of its great white mass shouldering its way into Washington’s sky, reminiscent of Mount Shasta’s dominance of northern California.  The sixth recorded person to climb it was John Muir (in 1888).  As Muir viewed the wholesale annihilation of Washington’s old growth forests by the voracious logging barons, he felt the Glory of the Northwest was certain to be ravaged as well.  He marshaled the forces of the newly formed Sierra Club, the National Geographic Society, and Northern Pacific Railroad tycoon Louis Hill.  It paid off: in 1893, President Benjamin Harrison made the mountain the centerpiece of the newly created Mount Rainier Forest Reserve; in 1897, Congress expanded it into the Mount Rainier Forest Reserve; in 1899, with President William McKinley’s backing, it became our fifth national park.

Paradise Inn

            But Mather wanted a hotel in Paradise Valley worthy of its mountain.  In 1916’s short summer season, that long-desired hotel was rushed into being.  Great Alaska cedar logs were hauled in from an 1885 burn-site.  The exterior was shingled with cedar. Two massive stone fireplaces anchor the 50 X 112 foot two-and-a-half-story great hall; later, a wrap-around second-story mezzanine would be added for structural support.  The 51 X 105 foot one-and-a-half-story dining hall is almost as grand as the great hall.   A fifty-foot stone fireplace fills its north wall.  The most enduring furniture was crafted by German-born Hans Fraenke, a local contractor; every year for seven years, found him the first to arrive in the spring and the last to leave in the fall.  He hand-crafted (with an adze) the furniture to last—and it has: such things as a 1,500 pound table made of Alaska cedar, two larger than life throne chairs, a fourteen-foot-high grandfather clock, a mailbox made out of a large stump, and perhaps the piece de résistance, a standard piano transformed into an impressive work of art.  Architect Laurian Huffman submits that it is this combination of soaring roof line and oversized furniture that makes you feel like one of the Seven Dwarfs entering Fantasyland because you become so small in relation to them. (Barnes, 56).

Hand-carved Grandfather Clock

            Barnes notes that, “Over the years, alterations and decorative painting have changed some of the details of the great hall, but it retains the grandeur of its early days.  Light streams in from the dormer windows high above the mezzanine, highlighting the repetitive structural framework with posts, beams and trusses that mark the architectural structure of the great hall.  Iron rings grip the cedar poles, added to reinforce the splitting timbers, and a system of cables and metal bracing helps support the building against the onslaught of heavy snow.  During the 1920s, additional cedar beams were added to create a permanent brace against the snow.  The snow!  It is one of the snowiest spots on earth: 640 inches the average (sometimes, up to 900 inches!).  It has been a constant war every year with Mother Nature to save the lodge from crushing levels of the white stuff.  Not coincidentally, units of the 10th Mountain Division in World War II were taught here how to survive winter combat.

THE REALITY

            A million people find their way into this valley every summer; many of them were in the parking lot; fortunately, we had lodge reservations, otherwise we would have had a tough time finding a parking space.  Even though it was almost July, the snow was so deep it was impossible to explore those famed fields of wild flowers still imprisoned in their seeds.  Many visitors sat on the outside deck, drinking in Mount Rainier to the north and the also snowcapped jagged Tatoosh Range to the south.

Custom Piano

            Inside, we entered an island in time.  Around us on chairs and couches were people from all over the world.  Just across from us was an intergenerational family I shamelessly watched: three adorable little girls who clearly had their doting grandfather totally under their little thumbs; their lovely young mother lovingly running fingers through her husband’s hair—a seraphic look of utter bliss on his face; the grandmother alternating between reading, looking fondly at her granddaughters, and staring at the crackling fire in the great stone fireplace on that end of the great hall.  Other tableaus could be found everywhere in the long room.  A pianist plunked away on the monster piano—almost always someone was either taking his picture or speaking to him—he played for hours (songs old and new), applause and baksheesh keeping him rooted to his chair.  Quite simply, it was America as it used to be.

            Later, in the dining room, we lucked out with a window table and stared up at the mountain.  Each waiter sported a badge identifying her/him by state or country of origin.  Later on, I’ll dedicate an entire blog to them—how they are rising above the recession to see and experience the world.  Dinner took a long time for no one—anywhere—was in a hurry to leave that enchanted room.

            Afterwards we listened to a ranger speaking about wildlife in the park, we ascended the stairs, found a table, played a game, and devoured the huckleberry pie and ice cream a dimple-cheeked beauty from Eastern Europe brought to us—she got plenty of exercise serving all of us on the four sides of the long mezzanine.

            The icing on the cake was a serendipity.  Hearing there would be a total eclipse of the moon that night, I took a long walk.  On the way back, perhaps the brightest golden moon I’ve ever seen gradually rose above the eastern hills—its radiance was almost unearthly!  Photographers were already bringing out their cameras to set up for the 2 a.m. eclipse.  I cravenly opted to return to the lodge and sleep instead.

SOURCES:

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Park I (Bend, Oregon: W. W. West, Inc., 2002).  [Her entry for Paradise Inn is a must-read].

Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2009. [There is much about Mt. Rainier in the book].

“Mount Rainier,” National Park Service brochure.

Scott, Dand L. and Kay W., The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

“The Tahoma News,” May-June 2010.  National Park Service handout.

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2009). [Features a most informative section on Mt. Rainier].

SPECIAL NOTE

            Next Wednesday, we move on to Stehekin and Lake Chelan.