Published: November 30th 2006November 29th 2006
Staircase to Heaven?
Moro Rock- 6725 ft (2050 meters)
Great Western Divide- 12,150 ft (3700 meters)
Once again, my Evite for an overnight trip to see a Meteor shower fell on deaf ears. With not one person interested or able to make it, there was only one option- go alone and experience nature in its purest form- free from social distractions!
Sequoia National Park was created by Congress in 1890, becoming the Second National Park in the United States- established even before Yosemite. Only Yellowstone National Park, created in 1872, is older. When logging of the Giant Sequoia's began in the late 1800's, locals from Visalia and Fresno championed efforts to save these ancient sentinels of the forest who could not defend themselves against the saw. In the mid 19th century, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks were expanded and effectively managed as one park.
One could argue that Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park (SEKI) is the most diverse National Park in the system. Truly a place of superlatives, SEKI is home to North America's deepest canyon, the worlds largest living thing and the highest mountain in the lower 48 States. Climates range from dry Mediterranean where only Yucca grow to Alpine, where most of the glaciers of Sierra Nevada are at home. In
fact the largest glacier in California, The Palisades, straddles the Northeastern Boundry of Kings Canyon National Park. Kings Canyon National Park not only has North America's deepest Canyon (8000 feet (2500 meters) when measured from Spanish Mountain to the Kings River), but also a very remote area of alpine lakes called Evolution Basin. Entirely existing above treeline at 11,000 feet (3400 meters), a trip to this enchanting landscape of countless sapphire and emerald lakes is the high point in any backpackers career.
Sequoia National Park itself protects not even half of the Sequoia Groves that remain. Exisiting only in isolated and sometimes remote groves between Lake Tahoe and Lake Isabella, the endemic conifer is not only the earth's largest tree, it's also the largest living thing. We can thank Bill Clinton for protecting most of the remaining groves of Sequoia's- before he left office in 1999 he signed into law the creation of Sequoia National Monument. While Sequoia trees are protected from logging, the surrounding forest it is a part of was not- and Sequoia National Monument now protects forever the rest of the defenseless Giants.
Moro Rock is just one small outcrop of Sierra Nevada granite. The
Sierra Nevada contains a long formation of granite called a batholith. Covering nearly 16,000 square miles (40,000 sq. km.), the Sierra batholith is one of the largest in North America. Domes of granite like Half Dome and Moro Rock were created millions of years ago beneath the earth's surface as molten rock. Imagine it- molten rock moving up and down like the fluid in a lava lamp. When the Sierra Nevada were uplifted by the collision of the North American and Pacific tectonic plates, the molten granite froze in place- a bubble like form reaching for the surface. As the layers of rock above it were slowly eroded away, pressure on the domes was released- causing the layers of the rock to exfoliate, just like skin! It was just a matter of circumstance that the dome called Moro Rock sits at the edge of two fantastic things- a dense forest of Giant Sequoia's and the Kaweah River Canyon.
The Kaweah River canyon is hard to describe. You can use analogies, like saying it is "deeper than the Grand Canyon" (which it is), but its uniqueness deserves better than that. The headwaters of the Kaweah river begin at 12,000 feet,
then it travels 10,000 vertical feet down in only 20 miles, a vertical journey that takes the Colorado River over 600 miles to complete. This is due to the steep rise of the Sequoia front range, The Great Western Divide.
The Great Western Divide is an imposing display of Sierra Nevada strength- a company of peaks all over 11,500 feet(3500 meters) that divide the water drainages of the Kings, Kern and Kaweah Rivers. And rain falling on the east side of this massive wall of granite flow south and become the Kern River, flowing over 100 miles to the south and exiting near Bakersfield. Any water falling on the west side becomes the Kaweah River, and both rivers meet a sad fate- completely used up by agriculture, they never continue on their original courses.
Historically before Dam projects diverted the water for Agriculture, all three mighty rivers- the Kings, the Kaweah and the Kern, flowed into great depressions in the great San Joaquin Valley and formed seasonal lakes. Tualre lake was formed by the Kings and Kaweah, while Buena Vista Lake was formed by the Kern River. Both lakes were very large during the summer runoff- Tulare Lake
was at least twice as large as Lake Tahoe! Historical accounts enchant the mind with stories of migratory birds flocking to the lakes blacking out the sky, and Native Americans who would paddle canoes from the foothills down the rivers to the great lakes to gather reeds and trade with other groups. Today, the lake beds are now indistinguishable from the surrounding farmland. Irrigation eventually diverts 100% of the water in the Kings, Kaweah and Kern Rivers, and a hint at the glory the lakes used to be is only seen during very wet el Nino years. Now, the lake beds are nothing but cotton, cotton, cotton. Well, I guess that some of the reason why California's agricultural economy is the strongest in the world....
Yes, nature in its original and untouched state is a rare and precious thing, and thankfully Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and Giant Sequoia National Monument protects 1.2 million acres (5000 km²) of the most diverse, magical and unique landscapes inside the borders of this great Nation.
There are more photos below