Dick's Adventures of 2017 - Part 6


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2017 Part 1          2017 Part 2          2017 Part 3          2017 Part 4          2017 Part 5


Grant Grove with Colton          Cedar Grove Campout          Back to Grant Grove          San Joaquin River Trail West


Grant Grove with Colton

Colton taking a break Sequoias at Grant Grove parking area Colton and the rock sculptures at the Kings Canyon Overlook on Generals Highway 

I've been looking forward to this trip since December 12, 2012, the day my first great grandson, Colton James Upshaw, was born. On the last day of our trip he was four years and nine months old. When his dad, Johnny, was that age, I was 49. When my second grandson, Mikie, was four, I was 62. Now I am 78, so a few weeks ago I started asking two questions: Is Colton ready to go camping by himself with his great grandfather? Is his great grandfather ready? He and brother Jack have been with me on other trips, but my daughter Teri and/or their parents were also there. I knew without thinking about it very much that it could only be with one boy, and of course, it would naturally be the older. It takes a minimum of two adults to keep track of two lively young boys when they're away from home.

Next I asked my daughter, Colton's grandma, for her opinion. She basically asked what I thought. I asked Colton, and he said "yes," but it was obvious he did not give it any thought. So finally I asked the final arbiters of such an event, his parents. After a few days of thought, they said yes. This set off a series of emails between us about what equipment he has, what he likes to eat, and similar matters.

Finally everything was arranged, and around noon on September 10 I arrived at the Upshaw residence. Johnny installed the car seat in the back seat of my pickup, we loaded up Colton and his stuff, and set out for the 60 mile drive to Grant Grove in Kings Canon National Park.

Although there are still lots of visitors, the National Park Service had closed all but one campground in the area. However, there were plenty of spaces and we were able to set up where we had no close neighbors. What we did have were a lot of logs, since drought and beetles have killed thousands of trees in the Sierra, and those in danger of falling are being cut down. The advantage of this was a big stump in our camp site which proved useful as an auxiliary table. As I unloaded stuff, I set Colton's little folding chair on the stump, planning to get it down when it was needed. A short time later I looked over and saw him sitting in the chair, on the stump, looking like King of the Camp.

Once we got organized, we did our first hike. The campground is close to the visitor center at Grant Grove Village, and close to the General Grant Tree in the opposite direction. I had thought we might do both hikes, but it was late enough that I decided to go to the Grant Tree first and then decide whether to do more. The trail that runs from the village to the grove was just down the hill from our campsite, so we made our way down, then followed the trail. Colton's hiking includes poking his pole or a stick into the ground, into trees and into fences, so his pace is just about right for me. After crossing the road, the trail offered a couple of points of interest for Colton. First was a fallen log with one end up on a stump, creating kind of tunnel. A family with four boys was coming up the trail, and all the boys went through the tunnel, and of course Colton did the same. A little farther on was a log across a creek, just off the trail, and he walked across the log and back (and repeated these actions when we returned).

The trail goes past a huge sequoia that fell in 1933 , and arrives at the General Grant a short distance beyond. We took a number of photos along this section, most of which involved Colton being a kid rather than looking at trees. The trail passes a number of large sequoias, but of greatest interest is one which is on the ground and hollow from roots to the top, creating a tunnel that anyone can walk through. This was his favorite part of the hike.

The trail comes out to the parking lot, then goes into the woods toward the fallen log, so we made our way back to camp. We had eaten a snack when we arrived, but it was now time for a more formal meal. I had brought fire wood and hot dogs, and stopped down in the foothills to cut a roasting stick from a live oak tree. We soon had the fire going, waited about a half hour for it to burn down, then cooked the dogs and had our supper.

Colton brought his bike, which worked out very well. The camp roads are paved, and we were right next to a spot where the road went down into a dip and back up. He could ride hard down hill and get momentum to ride quite a ways up the other side. He was also very helpful, taking stuff across the road to the recycle bin, and getting water from the faucet a ways away. I gave him a three-gallon bucket and asked him to get as much as he could carry. This turned out to be only two inches, but that was enough; in fact, the fire burned itself out and I did not have to put water on it after all.

The back seat of my truck folds down in two sections, divided into one third and two thirds the width, and the wider section was just about right for his "sleeping nest." I was trying out my new folding foam mattress for the first time, and it proved to be significantly better than the air mattress I've used on other truck camping trips.

The next day we established a regular morning routine, starting with tea for me and a snack for Colton to keep him until "official" breakfast was ready. All food and "smelly" items have to be stored in the bear box provided, and Colton quickly learned to open it. Shortly after he got up he went to the box and got out our waste basket and brought it over by the table.

I fixed sausage, English muffins and cocoa for our breakfast the first day. I had purchased a camping toaster that sits on a stove burner, and it worked very well. I had introduced both boys to cocoa with whipped cream when they had breakfast at my house a couple of months ago, and Colton immediately asked if I had whipped cream, which of course I did.

Since Colton was missing two days of pre-school, I told him that he was going to learn some things, and discussed parent, grandparent and great grandparent relationships. Although he has a number of grandparents, he did not really understand that I was his dad's grandpa. We also looked at a map of the USA, which he recognized. He could not pick out California, but I showed him which it was. Two days later at home, with no further review, he picked it out immediately.

For  our activities the second day I had decided we would hike the Big Stump Trail first, then play it by ear for the rest of the day. This trail, which Teri and I hiked last year, starts at a large parking lot/rest stop just past the park entrance. It goes through an area that was heavily logged in the early part of the 20th century, so there are 15 or 20 large stumps, a few big sequoia trees, and some fallen logs, particularly at an old mill site.

Of course, any stump is an invitation to climb for an active young boy, but most of them are too tall to get up on. We finally came to one 20 feet off the trail that was just right, and Colton was soon wandering around the top of it. A young couple came along, and it was obvious the man also wanted to climb the stump, so I encouraged him, and up he went.

I knew that we would eventually come to the stump that anyone can climb - it has a stairway. But first, we came to another feature that was probably Colton's favorite. It is a broken off sequoia with many jagged spires reaching up as high as 30 feet, leading him to name it The Castle. It is hollowed out in the middle, and has openings on two sides that permit easy climbing, and he was soon going up and out through upper "windows," exploring one of the lower spires that was easy to climb, and just generally having a fantastic time.

All too soon I got him back on the trail to what is for most people the highlight of this walk, the Mark Twain Stump. This huge sequoia was cut down in 1891 so that sections of its 16-foot diameter trunk could be displayed in New York and London, partly to prove that such huge trees did in fact exist. A photographer captured the felling of the tree, and the photo is displayed on a plaque near the stump.

We climbed the stairs and enjoyed a light snack while we sat there and thought about what the area might look like had there been no logging. (It would have looked like a Sequoia forest.) The Mark Twain is on a spur trail that runs out from the main loop, just past the Castle. When we started back and came to the continuation of the loop, Colton wanted to go back to the Castle, so we made a 50 yard backtrack for a little more climbing.

After this point, the trail only goes by one special feature, the Shattered Giant. This is a big sequoia that broke into pieces when it fell, making it useless for lumber, not an unusual occurrence. In pre-national park days some shingles were cut out of the fallen giant, but most of it is still there, and to Colton's delight, the trail goes up through the pieces of log.

Not far from here we finished the loop and were on the trail back to the parking lot. Here we had the first of a number of light sprinkles and a little thunder, but it never rained hard enough to get us wet. We took our lunch over to a covered picnic table beside the parking lot and restored our energy for the next adventure.

From the Big Stump parking area we went back toward our camp, but turned right at the junction. The road to the left goes to Grant Grove and on to Cedar Grove in the Kings River Canyon. The right fork leads to Sequoia National Park and eventually out to the valley via a narrow, winding road through the foothills. Our destination was only a few miles - the Kings Canyon Overlook, although we stopped briefly at another vista point where you can look down into Redwood Canyon and across at Redwood Mountain. At the Overlook we had a good view of the high peaks above the Kings River, lit dramatically by the sun peaking through clouds. However, Colton was much more impressed by the two hundred or so rock piles or sculptures or whatever you want to call them that people have built just below the overlook. In addition to rocks, they also include sticks, moss and pine cones. These were not present when Wes and I stopped here in May, so we saw them for the first time when we hiked the Buena Vista Peak Trail on August 30.

As we made our way down to the rock field, I instructed Colton not to move any rocks or knock them over, and he walked among them, as sure-footed as a mountain goat, without touching them. Of course, he wanted to build his own, and this I encouraged. He made one, mostly of rocks, and one of sticks.

Next we drove about 200 feet to the Buena Vista Trailhead, and parked there. Earlier I had thought we might go to the top, but I knew by this time that I did not feel like that much additional hiking, and I was pretty sure Colton would not be up for it either. Instead we hiked up about a quarter mile to a place where there were some big rock formations that Colton could climb on safely. There were several large piles of Jeffrey pine cones in this area, and I suggested that he make a row of cones along the trail. He liked this idea, although he kept building the line out into the trail, and I kept explaining that someone would come along and just kick them out of the way.

Then he converted the cones to another project - a pine cone human. It actually had some resemblance to the type of stylized figures some Native American cultures create. When he placed the final cone he explained that it was a wiener, because it was a boy human. Thinking back to the alien creatures his dad drew on a sandy beach in Oregon at age 15, this seemed a normal progression of the Upshaw family artistic genes.

When we got back to the truck, we made one final stop, at Grant Grove Village. We went into the Visitor Center, where Colton literally ran through all the rooms in about 30 seconds. He said this allowed him to find the best room, which was one where animal sounds were being played. We only spent about five minutes more there, because national park visitor centers have changed, and at least in Kings Canyon and Sequoia, don't have much to offer.

Colton had been disappointed that I did not bring buns for our hot dogs the first night so we went to the store to get some. We also got a snack - a large ice cream cookie for him, and and Snickers ice cream bar for me, which we ate at a table on the porch.

One more adventure awaited us when we got back to camp. We were not ready for supper, so he rode his bike, I did some reading, and we just puttered around camp. About 7:30 we both needed to visit the bathroom, so we decided to walk the nearly half mile to the nearest facility. Just like our earlier walks, a few drops of rain fell on us as we made our way up and down the hilly road. Unlike previous walks, it began to rain harder and harder, with thunder and lightning, and we got very wet by the time we got back to camp. I had left the tailgate down and the camper door up, and a two foot section of my bed was damp. We climbed in, leaving our muddy shoes outside, and huddled in our little "cave" until the rain slacked off. I got out, got dry clothes for both of us (pajamas actually), as well as some food - veggies, salami, cheese, and crackers. By this time there was no possibility of cooking hot dogs or anything else, so this was our supper. We had a few more sprinkles, and finally I got Colton moved into his nest in the back of the cab, and I closed the camper door, put towels over the damp area, and went to bed at about 9 o'clock.

The clouds cleared away during the night, but the next morning there was mud and water on the stuff that head been left out in the rain. Most of the things were unharmed, although the cardboard box my lantern goes in was quite wet. I had a rag and towels, and was able to get everything in shape for breakfast and packing up. I ended up with a large plastic bag containing my jeans and several towels, all very wet. On the other hand, the world overall was fresh and clean.

Breakfast was Honey Bunches of Oats, which Colton had not had before. He is usually good about trying new things, but not this time. His mom had sent Froot Loops and other stuff he likes, so I substituted those. I put raisins in my cereal and Colton likes them, so I suggested he try it with the Froot Loops  First he put one raisin on a spoonful, then added a handful. To finish off, he added extra raisins to his raisin muffin.

After breakfast we slowly gathered up everything and got it loaded into the truck for our return home. Just before we left we took a final walk for me and bike ride for Colton around the campground loop road nearest our camp. Despite the rain the temperatures had been relatively warm, around 55 at night and 75 in the daytime, so it was not surprising to see the thermometer reading above 90 at home. Once again Colton was very helpful, carrying things into the house, and more importantly, climbing into the back of the truck to hand things out to me.

It would be a few hours before his parents got off work, so we had already made plans for swimming, and once we had everything unloaded, we were ready to cool off at the pool. Finally, we had our hot dog dinner complete with buns, cooked in a frying pan rather then over a campfire. When his mom arrived with little brother Jack, they played with their favorite toys at my house, two dump trucks and two loaders and a few dozen marbles, while I showed Brittany the photos from our trip.

Commenting on a Facebook video of Colton's first birthday party, family friend Cheri Nelson Putler wrote: " He will embrace every part of his life and enjoy it all." On this camping trip, he fulfilled that prophecy in every way. As for me, while I enjoyed the hiking and being outdoors, spending some quality time with my first great grandson brought joy beyond all description.

--Dick Estel, September 2017

Grant Grove Photos


Cedar Grove Campout

Cliffs above Kings River near Convict Flat Looking up Kings Canyon at Zumwalt Meadow View up Kings Canyon from Don Cecil Trail

My daughter Teri has a special ability to control the weather. She organizes a big group hike or campout, and immediately severe weather heads for that area. The latest example was this trip, which was originally scheduled for Courtright Reservoir at 8,000 feet. When the forecast was for a chance of rain and snow, highs of 45 and lows of 25, we set our sights lower - to Cedar Grove at 5,000 feet.

The route to this location from the Fresno area is east on State Highway 180 into Kings Canon National Park, north through Grant Grove, and out of the park into the Sequoia National Forest. After going over 6,800 feet elevation, the road drops down into the Kings River Canyon, and follows the river upstream and back into the park at Cedar Grove, where there are campgrounds, a ranger station, visitor center, and stores. The total distance from home is around 90 miles. Teri and I camped here early last year, and we were both here separately in the spring of 2017.

The trip provides a wide variety of scenery - giant sequoias, sugar pine and Jeffrey pine at the high elevations through the Grant Grove area; and foothill trees and brush at the lowest spots. Built by convict labor in the 1930s, the road descends to the river via a series of switchbacks, doubling back on itself in several places. Along the way there is a striking view of the confluence of the Middle and South Forks of the Kings River, as well as the rocky cliffs above. The road goes up the South Fork; the Middle is accessible only by trail.

Teri drove up in her motor home on Thursday, September 21, got set up, and explored the campground. She said that the next morning there was a hint of frost in places, but the daytime temperatures were pleasant.

The next day Teri's friend Sandy came to my house, and we drove up in my pickup, arriving about 11:30 after a stop at Grizzly Falls, just outside the park. Sandy set up her tent, and I arranged the truck for sleeping in the camper. Teri's mother Jackie arrived shortly before us, and would sleep in the motor home. We had hoped my grandson and family (Upshaw's) would be able to come up for the day, but business matters got in the way, and I know they were not enthused about a 180 mile round trip in one day.

After visiting a while, we enjoyed an excellent chile relleno dinner that Sandy had brought. We all agreed that she should go around to all Mexican restaurants in Fresno and explain to them how to make superior chile relleno.

We then set out in Jackie's car, with Teri driving, to tour the area, with major hiking planned for the next day. The valley here is somewhat like Yosemite, in that it was carved out by glaciers, and has a major river running through it. However, the rock seems to be much more fractured, so that there are fewer sheer, solid granite walls. Instead the canyon sides are marked by smaller rock cliffs, lots of vegetation, and small canyons through which creeks descend without going over waterfalls. The floor of the valley is much more uneven than Yosemite's, which was formed by the filling in of a lake that backed up behind the debris left when the glacier melted. Being farther south, it is also dryer, and the difference in vegetation is quite noticeable. There are many large cedars, ponderosa and sugar pine trees, lots of shrubs, and one small but impressive waterfall.

We stopped at several points of interest, where walking was minimal. These included Knapp's Cabin, built in the 1920s as a storage shed for fishing and camping expeditions conducted by George Knapp, a wealthy Santa Barbara businessman. It's the oldest building in the canyon, and still in good shape after over 90 years.

Zumwalt Meadow, close to the upper end of the canyon, is a moister area, and thus greener and more "scenic" than the rest of the valley floor. We planned to do the loop hike around the meadow the next day, but at this time we just walked down by the river, noticing how much lower it is than when we were here during the spring.

Automobile access ends at Road's End, location of a ranger kiosk where back country permits are issued. Teri led us on a short trail to the river where we went out on Muir Rock, a large granite boulder right at the water's edge where John Muir is said to have delivered talks back in the day. Although I have been to Road's End a dozen times or more, I had not heard of this feature, and it was my first visit.

Finally, on our return trip, we stopped at Canyon View, one of the few places where you can get a good look up the canyon and see some of the more vertical cliffs looming over the river.

By the time we got back to camp it was time to start a fire. During the day the ladies had discovered a large pile of dry, small branches up the hill and across the road from the campground, and we had carried down a good pile. I brought boxed commercial firewood, but as it turned out, we did not need it. As we so often do when camping, everyone went to bed fairly early. I managed to stay up till about 9:15, then got into the camper, with the temperature at 44 degrees. It would drop to 33 during the night.

Our morning routine at camp is to get up when we feel like it, have coffee or tea, and ease into the day, fixing breakfast when we get around to it. After that, it's non-stop action till....OK, maybe we stop a little, but we do try to hike every day. On Saturday Teri's friend Monica arrived in time for breakfast. She could not stay overnight, so got up early and made it in time for the day's activities. Teri, Monica, Sandy and I drove up to the Zumwalt Meadow trailhead, while Jackie elected to stay in camp and do some low key walkabouts.

This trail is mostly level, with a section that goes through the rocks at the base of the southern side of the canyon. There is some uphill hiking in this part, but it's probably not more than a quarter mile total, and what goes up must come down, including this trail. After the "hard" part is over, the trail goes beside and around Zumwalt Meadow, a beautiful spot that may rival Crescent Meadow in Sequoia Park, which John Muir named "the jewel of the Sierra." Zumwalt is right next the river, and the last part of the trail runs by the stream, then back toward its starting point on a boardwalk. Last spring the water was up over the boardwalk, to the extent that I did not venture on to it, although some people crossed it, getting water up over their toes. Looking at the water level beside the boardwalk, we estimated that the river had been about six vertical feet deeper in the spring.

Driving back, we were getting ready to stop at the Canyon View parking area when someone spotted a deer. Teri and Sandy walked back to try to see it, but I was pretty sure it would be long gone, so Monica and I checked out the view. This was a mistake - when the others got back to the car they reported they had seen three young bucks not far from the road, and were able to watch them for half a minute.

Most of the rest of the day involved the usual "around camp" activities - eating, resting, reading and gathering more wood. Also we said goodbye to Monica who left around 4:30. The rest of us drove over to the village nearby, and walked down by the river for a while. We went into the store, where Sandy treated us to ice cream as a thank you for the ride and the camping. We then drove past the other facilities, including the laundry and shower building, then out on North Side Drive to the main road and back to camp.

The next day we had decided to hike up the Don Cecil Trail to Sheep Creek Falls, a round trip of about three and a quarter miles. Both Jackie and Sandy stayed in camp. Like nearly every trail starting from the canyon, this one goes UP for some distance before reaching a leveling off point. However, it is built into the side of the slope and has only one or two fairly steep sections. Eventually it enters the canyon of Sheep Creek and reaches the creek just above a short but very attractive waterfall. We had seen it during spring run-off in 2016, and I thought it might be fairly unimpressive in this late season, but there was a good flow of water going over the rocks.

As we ascended the Don Cecil Trail, we had a good view across the valley at the rocky peaks above it, and eventually, higher mountains beyond. This terrain is part of the Monarch Divide, a long, high network of peaks and plateaus that separate the South Fork from the Middle Fork of the Kings. The latter runs through the glacier-carved Tehpite Valley, which offers even more dramatic rock formations than the south fork valley, and several waterfalls.

When Teri and I got back to camp, Jackie and Sandy had decided to head home after dinner. Teri and I had already decided to spend just one more night instead of the scheduled two, since that would allow her to work Wednesday and have Saturday off. We had a delicious meal, then said our goodbyes, leaving just Teri and I in camp. There was one place that was on our list that we had not yet visited, so we took my truck and drove to Roaring River Falls, a small but very scenic falls on the south side of the canyon. The river pours down through a rock channel then drops about 15 feet into a large pool. There are trails from the road to vista points on both sides of the river, each offering unique views, so we hiked both of them.

We had a campfire, finishing up most of the wood we had gathered, but never having to open the commercial box I had brought, leaving it for another time. Thanks to Sandy we discovered the best form of kindling available in the area, sugar pine cones. These were thick under the trees near camp, and covered in pitch. A very small amount of paper and two or three cones was all it took to get a good fire going.

In the morning we did our usual leisurely job of breaking camp, and started down the road. We both stopped at Grizzly Falls, which Teri had bypassed on her way in. The rest of the trip home was uneventful except for a control burn in progress near the park entrance. Fire trucks were parked in the Big Stump lot, and it was closed to visitors. There was quite a bit of smoke along the road, and firefighters were on duty keeping an eye on the burn.

A few miles out of the park I pulled off where there is a wide dirt area next to the road and took a short nap, since I had worked hard and missed all my naps for the three days of our campout. This was enough to keep me alert the rest of the way home, and on the way I was mentally planning a return to Grant Grove with my great grandson.

--Dick Estel, October 2017

Cedar Grove Photos


Back to Grant Grove

Green and gold along the Panoramic Point Trail Colton on the rock Colton and Dick on top of Buena Vista Peak

I had such a great time on my camping trip with Colton in mid-September that I knew I could not wait till next year for another one. So we did our second trip just a few weeks later, on October 1, 2 and 3. It was most heart-warming that Colton was also eager to go again. He and brother Jack spent Saturday night at Grandma Teri's, and she brought him over about 9 a.m. Sunday. We made the drive up to Kings Canyon National Park that I've done at least six times this year, and drove into Azalea Campground, hoping to get the same spot we had before. This was not to be, but we set up two spaces away, a site that proved to be better in several respects.

We had even less privacy this time than before - there were at least twice as many people in the campground than before, perhaps getting in one last campout before winter. We got things set up and had a lunch of crackers, cheese and salami plus vegetables and grapes, all stuff Colton likes. Since we had left earlier than the previous time, we had time for a good hike, although it was not really a long one.

There is a road through Grant Grove Village that eventually goes up a narrow, scenic, two mile road with constant switchbacks, leading the the Panoramic Point Trail. This is a very short walk, about a half mile round trip, but it leads to one of the more spectacular views you can get to by car. Below in the foreground is Hume Lake, once a lumber mill pond and now the location of a Christian camp, hiking trails, and other recreational facilities.

To the north is Spanish Mountain, a 10,000 foot ridge that drops down to the river 8,000 feet below, making it the deepest canyon in North America, and in the distance are the high Sierra peaks of the national park back country, in a vista that spans at least 120 degrees of the circle. Colton had a great time here, climbing around on the rocks and asking questions about the informational signs that show the layout of the peaks. He also became a photographer, first using two sticks as his "camera," and then taking several photos with my camera. I've observed that kids will have new and unexpected perspectives on things when you hand them a camera, and he did a fairly good job.

We returned to the trailhead and drove down the road a short distance where we stopped to gather wood. Colton is always willing to help with this project, and will hold out his arms to be loaded up with sticks. Learning from my experience in Cedar Grove, we made sure to include some pitch-covered sugar pine cones in our firewood stash.

Back at camp we did some bike riding. Since our earlier trip the training wheels had been removed from Colton's bike. He had no trouble riding, but had been having some trouble learning to use the pedal brake. I gave him some lessons, riding with him down a gentle slope, then telling him when to start braking and finally stop. He's a quick learner and soon had the idea down pretty well. Of course, stopping is not particularly fun, especially when there is a hill where you can get going fast and feel the wind against your face, then ride up the opposite side a fair distance. After a few lessons I let him switch to that spot.

I kept an eye on him as I got the fire going, and eventually we repeated our dinner from the previous trip, with two exceptions. In place of the live oak sticks used previously, I had bought a marshmallow roaster with ten prongs, and it proved equally useful for hot dogs. His dad had said he liked hot dogs with or without a bun,  but Colton had other ideas, and was disappointed about the lack of buns in September, so we had them this time.

At camp, Colton is usually ready for bed around 8 when it is getting completely dark, so I got him settled into his "nest" in the back seat of the truck, and sat by the fire reading for a while. I usually go to bed earlier than usual, so I was tucked in by 9 p.m.

I had a more ambitious hike planned for the next day, one I knew Colton was capable of and would enjoy. But first there was breakfast and snack preparation. I got up by 7:30 or so, despite the 32 degree temperature, and made tea. I sat and read, and wandered around camp a little. Since it did not appear that Colton would be up any time soon, I fixed our peanut butter sandwiches for the hike, his with jelly and mine plain. I cut his into quarters and wrapped each piece separately so I could hand them out as needed.

Around nine I opened the front door of the truck to get something, and saw the kid peeking out from his sleeping bag, after at least 13 hours of sleep. At least he would be well-rested for the day's activities. I fixed bacon, hot cocoa and raisin muffins, all of which he had enjoyed last time. This time the muffins were "yuck," but cocoa and bacon are favorites and probably always will be.

By the time we ate, cleaned up and put things away in the bear box, it was close to noon when we left for our hike. We drove to the Buena Vista Trailhead, where we had walked up a quarter mile on our previous outing, and where he had constructed the pine cone human. We were both anxious to see how it had held up during the intervening three weeks. All the pine cones were still there, but had been moved around enough to lose any resemblance to his artwork. Squirrels? Other hikers? Or what? A hint would come later on.

The Buena Vista trail is a little over a mile each way, mostly uphill, but nothing strenuous. Colton led the way nearly all the time, both up and down. At one point he got mad at me and started crying (it turned out I was "mean" to him, and his dad was too). This lasted much too long, although eventually the crying was more just a matter of making a noise to make sure I knew he was still mad. We went through a section where some buck brush, a low, thorny chaparral bush, brushed against our legs. At this point his anger turned toward the plant word, and he began whacking nearly every bush with his hiking pole, often with a powerful, two-handed blow. Of course, this eventually turned into fun, and soon all was well.

Near the final approach to the top, a snack was needed, and we sat on some rocks under a big sugar pine. I didn't eat anything, but Colton was happy to get the first quarter of his PBJ sandwich. I mentioned that I also had raisins, and he said "Be sure to save some for Jack. Jack LOVES raisins." (They also fight like brothers, but overall, Colton is a very good big brother.)

A short distance below the top, the trail comes up into a saddle where you can see across to the other side, including distant, hazy views far to the south and west, and Colton immediately noticed this and wanted to walk over toward the edge and check it out. After a few minutes we made the final climb up to the top of the peak. At one point the trail becomes several well worn paths, and it's easy to get on the wrong one, although also easy to get back on track. As part of his continued education, I showed him how to look for a distinctive tree or other landmark to help us find the right path when we came back down.

The 7,500 foot top of Buena Vista offers a 360 degree view, with the Kings Canyon high country in the distance, various other rocky peaks nearby, sequoia trees on Redwood Mountain, and the long stretch of foothills to the west. His favorite feature was Buck Rock, a thumb of rock that sticks up from the mountains directly east, and has a fire lookout on top. We had seen a close-up photo of it at Panoramic Point, and it becomes visible a short distance up the trail, and at many places thereafter, and he was always on the lookout for it. It's one of the few fire lookouts in the Sierra that is still staffed, and Colton wants to go there someday, a trip that will require someone else to be with him, given that the final approach is via 172 steps suspended from the side of the rock.

The top of Buena Vista is covered with large boulders, some of which are suitable for climbing and which have been used for the Ramblers famous "Wes on the Rock" photos at least twice. Of course, there was no question that it was now time for a younger generation, and Colton was only too happy to climb up and pose for the first ever "Colton on the Rock" picture. He also insisted on taking a picture of me, and only part of it was covered by his thumb.

We found a flat rock to sit on while we had our lunch, Colton finishing off the rest of his PBJ. There was a strong breeze, and soon he was down in a little protected spot with a rock blocking the wind. After a half hour or so on top, we started back down, with a stop at the saddle where he constructed a rock and stick structure. On our previous visit, across from the trailhead at the Kings Canyon Overlook there were a hundred or more rock "sculptures," some with sticks, pine cones and moss. He had made a couple of his own the previous time, and was reluctant to leave when it was time, so I had promised we could spend at least a half hour there so he could build some more.

We hiked down the trail and drove the hundred feet or so to the Overlook parking area, only to see that most of the rock piles had been scattered. I suspect it was done by park staff, since these were not "natural." There were only about ten good ones still in existence, so Colton went to work on some new ones. At one point I made a small circle of rocks with a rock in the middle, and he immediately declared it was a fire ring. He then proceeded to create an entire camp site, complete with my motor home, his dad's and mom's cars, and Grandma Teri's car. There were also a picnic table, bear box, and other structures, all made of rocks and sticks, and best described as "abstract."

We had decided to have dinner at the Grant Grove Restaurant, but it was only 4:30 and I was not hungry. Colton also was not ready to eat and wanted do some bike riding before we ate,  so he finished up his artwork and we drove the few miles back to camp. I rode with him a little, then started doing chores around camp while he continued his ride. While I was working I heard a crash followed by crying. He was riding uphill but when he turned into our camp, instead of staying on the pavement, he cut across and apparently skidded in the loose dirt. He had a bad scrape on his arm, and re-opened and expanded the scrape on his knee from a crash at home. He would not let me put first aid cream on the wounds, but I managed to get a wash cloth on the knee and soak up the blood.

It took a long time for the crying to end, but eventually the incentive of going out to eat and making a phone call to mom and dad seemed to do the trick, and we drove to the village. He had macaroni and cheese, while I had veggie tacos with chicken added. I knew the mac and cheese would be quite different from the boxed product he is used to, but he loved it and shoveled it down. It didn't hurt that it was topped with bacon. My choice was less enjoyable; they were nothing like what I consider a "normal" Mexican taco, and I would not order it again. However, I ate there with Wes in September, and there are plenty of items I DO like.

After dinner we went to the store for an ice cream dessert, just as we had done on the previous trip. It was dark and too cold to sit out on the porch to eat ice cream, so we sat in the truck with the heater going, then drove back to camp. Not surprisingly, he was ready for bed, so I got him tucked in and sat up reading for a while. With no fire, there was a limit to how long I could do that, and soon I was also tucked in.

The weather had been predicted to be cold and very windy. It was definitely colder this second night, down to 32 by 12:30 a.m. When I got up it was 30 degrees and there was ice in a water jug I had left out on the table. It was not frozen solid; I could still pour the water I needed for tea. Other than on top of Buena Vista, there was never more than a light breeze.

When I first woke up, I looked out the back of the camper and spotted a deer next to our camp. I got up, got dressed, then walked toward the direction he had gone to see if he was still in sight. He was, along with two companions, one of which was licking the neighboring picnic table where something tasty had obviously been spilled.

We did our usual slow but steady departure routine, starting with Lucky Charms for Colton and berries for me. We got everything loaded up and started for home. I had planned to stop at Cat Haven, an animal park sanctuary for the preservation of wild cats along Highway 180 near Dunlap. Unfortunately, winter hours were in effect, and it was not open on Tuesdays. Someday I will return with both great grandsons.


Because he is skipping pre-school on our trips, I try to have a few short educational sessions. With some topics he's immediately intrigued and we have a good talk; with others he loses interest after a sentence or two and we move on to something else. At one point he was answering "yes" or "no" questions with hand gestures that I did not necessarily understand.  I asked if he was using sign language, then explained what it was. We went on to something else, then he said "teach me." Teach what? "Sign language." I had to tell him that I didn't actually know even one sign.

My phone has an altimeter app, and I try to check the elevation at the low and high points of our hikes. I explained the concept of sea level and altitude, and this subject caught his interest. He later asked several times how high a place we were in was.


Back home, after we unloaded the truck, we rode our bikes around the roads through my condo complex a couple of times. Colton wanted to ride more, so I sat in my folding chair in the door of the garage and kept watch on him.

One of the things we discussed at camp was the concept of ice cream sundaes, so after he finished riding, we went in and had chocolate ice cream with whipped cream. Not long after that his dad arrived to pick him up, ending another delightful outing with my older great grandson.


--Dick Estel, October 2017

Grant Grove Photos II


San Joaquin River Trail West

Concentrating on the rock formation, I didn't see the squirrel till I looked at the photo back home A nice, moderately gnarly blue oak This spot nearly always shimmers from a breeze

With the weather cooling off, and having missed a lot of days of walking, I decided to do a slightly more ambitious hike on November 6, and drove the 25 miles to the Finegold Picnic Area by Millerton Lake, and the start of the San Joaquin River Trail. I've hiked and written about this trail many times, and there's not much new to say. I think I'm even taking the same photos over and over each time. Perhaps there is a tree down along the trail that was not there before, or an unfamiliar flower, or the level of the lake has changed. None of these earthshaking things happened on this hike, but I did get in a good two and a half miles of walking on a cool, sunny day.

Sometimes on this trail I try to go a little father than I've ever gone before, but as you can imagine, there comes a time when that just doesn't work. This time my plan was to go to the place I turned back the very first time, where the trial goes up over a saddle. To the west an unofficial trail leads up to a knoll two or three hundred feet higher, with an additional steep trail to the top of Pincushion Peak. I went there in February, 2016, with my daughters and Wes, and never have to do it again.

East of the saddle a trail goes up to a low hill about 30 feet or so higher, and since I went there the first time, I did so again. There are some good sitting rocks near the top with views of the lake in two directions. You can also see the very top of Pincushion and the people standing there (if any) and several segments of the trail that go past the saddle. Eventually this trail arrives at the San Joaquin River Gorge (formerly Squaw Leap), but I will not be making that 12-mile jaunt in my lifetime.

While sitting on my resting rock, I enjoyed an apple, then walked a little past the top to where I could see the section of the lake that goes through the very narrow canyon below the ridge, becoming slightly wider as it curves around what I think of as Horseshoe Bend and out of sight. Actually I'm not 100% sure of that place name; it might be something else. In any case, the lake winds around the ridge so that it surrounds three sides of my hill.

There were a few other hikers, most of them apparently headed to or from Pincushion. At the bottom I chatted with a man carrying a kayak back to his car. He said the lake was smooth when he started out, but had become choppy later. This fit with the fact that I had a nice breeze during the final part of my downhill stretch.

I made the hike in jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt, getting a little warm during the last few hundred feet up hill, but otherwise enjoying a very comfortable day. Driving up Auberry Road just into the foothills, I was happy to see that Little Dry Creek is still running, after going dry in late spring the previous five years or so. 

It was also nice to see a couple of tiny patches of green grass, despite the fact that we've had only a small amount of rain so far. I'm looking forward to a green, flower-covered view at this location next spring.

Among the non-human animals, I saw two lizards and several squirrels. However, I DIDN'T see the one squirrel I took a photo of. He was sitting on a rock formation and I didn't know he was there till I looked at the photo at home. There were also ravens, quail, and assorted "little birds."

There are a few live oak trees along the trail. One characteristic used to identify which species you are looking at is whether the leaves are smooth-edged or prickly. However, some species can have both. I saw and got a fairly good photograph of two clusters of leaves, one smooth and one prickly, within three feet of each other on the same tree. Speaking of oak trees, there were some places on the trail where acorns were thick on the ground, meaning a good crop.

A few statistics for the number fans among you: Elevation at the start of the hike - 540; at the hill above the saddle - 1,175. The top of Pincushion is 1,519. Although I try to walk about 2.5 miles on the Clovis Trails several times a week, those are flat, easy miles and it takes me about 50 minutes. The same distance hike up the San Joaquin River Trail was about 100 minutes.

--Dick Estel, November 2017

San Joaquin River Trail Photos


Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window)


Grant Grove          Cedar Grove          Grant Grove II          San Joaquin River Trail


Grant Grove


The camp road offered just the right amount of up and down

King of the Campground Going through the "tunnel" beside the Grant Grove Trail
The General Grant Tree Colton and the General Coming out through the log tunnel
This big sequoia fell in 1933 One of the many attractions beside the trail Having a pre-breakfast snack
Our camp, Space 46 Ready to hike Colton and the big sequoia at the start of the trail
A low stump for easy climbing This is one of the tallest stumps in the basin "The Castle," a broken off sequoia
Colton explores The Castle
At the Mark Twain Stump There's lots of room to run around on top The trail goes right through the Shattered Giant

Clouds at Big Stump parking area after a brief thunder shower

View from the Kings Canyon Overlook High peaks in the northern part of\ the park
One of the more interesting rock sculptures Colton creates his own The finished project
Lining the trial with pine cones The line was converted to a pine cone human Following in Dad's footsteps to create interesting temporary art
This leaning cedar cries out to be climbed
High Sierra from Kings Canyon Overlook
High Sierra from Kings Canyon Overlook on the General's Highway
Cedar Grove
Sandy at Grizzly Falls (Compare June 2017) Upper Kings Canyon from Canyon View Jackie, Sandy and Teri on Muir Rock
Our camp One of our neighbors Cliff across the road from Zumwalt Meadow Trailhead
A "saguaro" cedar tree Teri in the rocky section of Zumwalt Meadow Trail Monica on the trail
Dick, Monica, Sandy and Teri by  huge boulder left by the glacier Zumwalt Meadow Wild rose hips
The river was over this boardwalk last spring The whole camping group: Jackie, Teri, Sandy, Monica, Dick View from Don Cecil Trail
Bark peeling from dead oak tree Sheep Creek Falls Leaves changing color for fall
Rock formation on north side of the canyon Roaring River Falls from the west side And from the east (Compare June 2017)
Cliff just east of the Roaring River canyon Canyon live oaks along the falls trail A breathtaking ride
Grant Grove II
Mt Goddard from Panoramic Point Colton having fun at Panoramic Point Exploring a huge boulder
Great grandpa, great grandson at Panoramic Point Colton was fascinated with the informational plaque Ready to hike the Buena Vista Trail
Hydrating with cocoa Buck Rock, Colton's favorite Bush whacking, literally
Dick on Buena Vista (photo by CJ Upshaw) Creating art with found objects The finished product
Rock work Something good was spilled on this picnic table The three deer that visited our camp
A Colton's eye view of the big sugar pine by our camp
San Joaquin River Gorge West
The first green grass of the season These two leaf clusters appear less than three feet apart on the same tree
Some jagged rocks above the trail I always have to photograph the Finegold Creek cove There's a good crop of acorns this year
Hiker heading for the top of Pincushion Peak One of several table mountains seen along the San Joaquin River
Related Links 
General Grant Tree Big Stump Trail Mark Twain Stump
Felling the Mark Twain Kings Canon National Park Sequoia Tree History
Panoramic View of the Rock Piles  Knapp's Cabin  Zumwalt Meadow
 Cedar Grove Muir Rock  Don Cecil Trail
Panoramic Point Trail Buena Vista Trailhead Cat Haven
Bush Whacking Video San Joaquin River Trail Finegold Picnic Area

Travel Reports
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Before 2002
Early Trips Later Trips
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1961 Monterey Jazz Festival Bluegrass Odyssey
Multi-Year Compilations
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Journey of 2002 (Ohio & Back) Logandale & Utah Parks 2002
Arizona & Bluegrass on the River 2003 Grand Canyon & Logandale Bluegrass 2003
Parkfield & Huck Finn 2003 Early Frog Camps (2003-2005)
Paso Robles & Parkfield 2004 Road Trip 2004 (Ohio & Back)
Bullhead City Bluegrass, Mesa, Superstition Bluegrass 2004 Bluegrass in the Foothills 2004
Arizona-Southern California 2005 Huck Finn Bluegrass 2005
Morro Bay 2005 Stargazer Rock Camp 2005
Parkfield Bluegrass 2005    
Huck Finn Bluegrass 2006 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2006
Rock Creek Non-Camp Stargazer Rock Camp 2006
Parkfield Bluegrass 2006 Oregon 2006
Bluegrass in the Foothills 2006    
Bullhead City, Bakersfield, Joshua Tree 2007 Frog Camp 2007
Eastern Sierra Journey 2007 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2007
Stargazer Rock Camp 2007 Roundup #1
(Mother Lode; Kings Canyon, Yosemite)
Bluegrass in the Foothills 2007    
Nevada-Arizona Hockey & Bluegrass 2008 Parkfield Bluegrass 2008
Frog Camp 2008 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2008
Stargazer Rock Camp 2008 Bluegrass in the Foothills 2008
Hobbs Grove Festival 2008     
Roundup 2009
Las Vegas, Mariposa, Table Mountain, Orange County
Frog Camp 2009 Southern Journey 2009
Parkfield Bluegrass 2009 Stargazer Rock Camp 2009
Bluegrass Tour 2009
Brown Barn, Plymouth, Hobbs Grove   
Hensley Lake Camp
Mojave National Preserve & Havasu Bluegrass Roundup 2010
Hensley Reservoir, Mojave Preserve 2 & 3
Parkfield Bluegrass 2010 Lake Almanor & Mt. Lassen 2010
Las Vegas Expo Summergrass
    Brown Barn, Watsonville & Hobbs Grove
Roundup 2011
Mariposa, Hensley, Table Mountain
Frog Camp 2011
Parkfield Bluegrass 2011 Frank, Pat, Dick & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Northern Coast Journey 2011 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2011
Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival Chilkoot & Stargazer Rock Camp
Kings River & Brown Barn Bluegrass Festivals Hensley Camp 2011
Parkfield Bluegrass 2012 Four Squaw Leap Hikes
Northern Coast Journey 2012 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2012
Stargazer Rock Camp 2012 Bluegrass in the Foothills 2012
A 3-Event Weekend
Farmer's Market, Kings River Bluegrass, Antique Fair
2012 Las Vegas CAN AM Hockey Challenge
Fall Hikes
Finegold Trail; Bower Cave
Into Los Gatos Canyon
Silver Stick Tournament - Canada Sierra Foothills - Winter 2013
Finegold Trailhead, Hensley Lake, San Joaquin Gorge
Death Valley - Alabama Hills - Whitney Portal Sierra Foothills - Spring 2013
San Joaquin Gorge Hike, Big Creek Drive
Parkfield Bluegrass 2013 Shaver Crossing Station & Big Creek
Lake Almanor & Caribou Crossroads Mono Hot Springs
Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival A Wedding in Duluth
Sequoia Park Hiking Roundup 2013
Kings River Bluegrass, Buena Vista Peak Hike, Hensley Lake Camp, North Fork Mono Museum, White Rock Road, Hockey in Denver
2014 Winter Hikes
Millerton South Bay Trail, Clovis Trail, Hite's Cove Trail
San Joaquin Gorge Campout
Colorado Springs Hockey Tournament Lake Havasu Bluegrass
2014 Spring Hikes
Stockton Creek Preserve, San Joaquin River Trail, San Joaquin Gorge, Millerton Lake, Sycamore Creek, Buena Vista Peak Again
NORCAL Hockey Playoffs and Santa Cruz Visit
Greeley Hill Road Trip Parkfield Bluegrass 2014
Journey of 2014 Journey of 2014 Photos
Nelder Grove Hikes 2014 Sentinel Dome Hike
2014 Fall & Winter Hikes
San Joaquin River Trail South & North, Red Rock Canyon Nevada, San Joaquin South Again
California Flat Campout
Snow Day with the  Upshaw's   
Rambler Hikes 2015 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2015 Part 2
Adventures of 2015 - February to May
(Goofy Smith Flat, Coast Redwoods & Big Sur, Pine Flat, Finegold Trail, Edison Point Trail, Nelder Grove)
Adventures of 2015 - June to December
(Lewis Creek Trail, Kaiser Pass, Kaiser Pass Again, Taft Point, Kings River Bluegrass, Shaver Logging Road, San Joaquin River Trail, Lewis S Eaton Trail, San Joaquin River Gorge, Thanksgiving at the Gorge)
Lake Tahoe & Virginia City Parkfield Bluegrass 2015
Colorado Springs Cousin Convention 2015 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2015
Stargazer Rock Camp 2015 Grand Canyon & Arches National Parks
Adventures of 2016 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2016 Page 1
Adventures of 2016 Part 2 Rambler Hikes 2016 Page 2
Adventures of 2016 Part 3 Rambler Hikes 2016 Page 3
Adventures of 2016 Part 4 A Pennsylvania Adventure
Adventures of 2016 Part 5 Parkfield Bluegrass 2016
Adventures of 2016 Part 6 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2016
Adventures of 2016 Part 7 Stargazer Rock Camp 2016
Adventures of 2017 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2017 Page 1
Adventures of 2017 Part 2 Rambler Hikes 2017 Page 2
Adventures of 2017 Part 3 Rambler Hikes 2017 Page 3
Adventures of 2017 Part 4 Hiking and Hockey
Adventures of 2017 Part 5 Lake Almanor
Adventures of 2017 Part 6 Northern California Redwood Hike
Parkfield Bluegrass 2017 Stargazer Rock Camp 2017
Travel Blog 2017 (an experiment) Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks
Adventures of 2018 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2018 Page 1
Adventures of 2018 Part 2 Rambler Hikes 2018 Page 2
Parkfield Bluegrass 2018    
Fresno Area Canal Walks Clovis Trail Walks
Butch's Blog Walker Family Trips
Parkfield Earthquake Kim & Morgan Brown Trips & Photos
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Laurie Lewis' High Sierra Hikes Email

Updated November 9, 2017