and the rock sculptures at the Kings Canyon Overlook on Generals
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.
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
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
Canyon National Park.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
a few big sequoia
trees, and some fallen logs, particularly at an
old mill site.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
made our way down to the rock field, I instructed Colton not to move
any rocks or knock them over, and he walked among
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.
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.
he converted the cones to another project - a pine cone
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
route to this location from the Fresno area is east on State Highway 180 into
Kings Canyon 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
is a road through Grant Grove Village that eventually goes up a
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
top of Buena Vista is covered with large boulders, some of which
are suitable for climbing and which have been used for the Ramblers
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
companions, one of which was licking the neighboring picnic
table where something tasty had obviously been spilled.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
on the rock formation, I didn't see the squirrel till I looked at
the photo back home
moderately gnarly blue oak
spot nearly always shimmers from a breeze
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,
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 trail 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
was also nice to see a couple of tiny patches of green
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
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
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.
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.
2015 we had our family
thanksgiving at the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management
Area, which many people still think of as Squaw Leap. It was
November 27th, and the high temperature was about 48 degrees, so we enjoyed a
fire right from the start. Several of us also kept warm by hiking a
short distance on the San Joaquin River Trail.
year the only date that worked for everyone was November 11, and
that proved to be a good choice, since the weather was sunny and
just over 60 degrees. Attending this year were my daughters Teri and
Jennifer, grandson Johnny, his wife Brittany, and their sons Colton
and Jack; Teri and Jen's mom Jackie, and me, Dick Estel. Teri's
husband Tim, son Mikie and girlfriend Lizzie had to work, and
Jennifer's husband Rod had to meet a repairman at their house.
Jackie and Jennifer had not been with us the previous time.
day was warm, but late in the day a campfire felt good (click here
first visit to the Bridge at the San Joaquin River Gorge
more fun than climbing and swinging on a gate?
previous gathering had been a one-day only event, but this time I
decided to take my motor home and stay for two nights. Great
grandson Colton would also stay. I got an early start, leaving home at
8:25 and arriving at the group camp at 9:20. I got the motor home
set up, then took a walk around the perimeter of the camp, with
Jennifer arriving just as I came back to the motor home, about
others were not expected until between 11 and noon, so Jennifer and I
walked the Nature Trail that starts behind the Equestrian Camp,
about 100 yards from where we were camped. This is a short, double loop route
that goes up and down a small creek drainage. There are signs
describing various trees, bushes and plants, with the common name,
scientific name, and native American name. After I first walked this
trail a few years ago, I created a photo
album with pictures of the signs and of each item described.
have had no significant rain this season, and the foothills are dry,
so some of the plants were not present yet, and others were in a
leafless or dormant state. However, it was an enjoyable hike, about
eight tenths of a mile. As we returned to camp, we heard voices, and
found that Teri and Jackie had arrived. We set up our chairs next to
the motor home and had a nice visit. The weather was right on the
border of "just right." In the shade, when a breeze came
up, some of us added another layer, while others tried to sit on the
line between sun and shade. Of course, that line moves frequently.
long we saw the Upshaw's new red Toyota Tacoma turn into the
campground, with a barbecue sticking up from the bed. We helped
unload and greeted everyone, then got ready for a hike. Teri was not
feeling well, so stayed in camp, but the rest of us set out to walk
Joaquin River Trail for a short
distance. On our last Thanksgiving outing we had gone as far as the
place where there is a blue oak with a huge burl, and this was our
destination again. Jennifer and the Upshaw's had never been on this
trail, so it was fun to show them the various points of interest
along the way. Near the tree are a few bedrock mortars where the
original inhabitants of the area ground acorns. There is also a
long-dead fallen oak that makes a perfect resting spot.
returned on this 1.4 mile round-trip adventure, Jennifer, Jackie and
I, who were lagging behind, saw a tarantula. It's common to see them
on roads and trails at this time of year, as the males go out in
search of mates.
time the stragglers got back, Johnny had the barbecue going, and we
were soon enjoying our Thanksgiving burgers and hot dogs, with lots
of side dishes and pies from Marie Callender's. As the sun got low
in the sky, it cooled off quite a bit, and Johnny got a fire
started. The rest of the day passed quickly, and soon Jennifer, Teri
and Jackie left. The Upshaw's stayed till well after dark, but soon
Johnny, Brittany and Jack packed up and got ready to leave. Colton and I would
be staying for two nights,
with an ambitious hike planned for the next day.
boys did a lot of bike riding around the parking lot. Jack has a
scooter bike, and the lot had just enough slope to give him a nice
ride coasting down to the entrance.
is a fairly large section of dirt and grass between the parking lot
and the picnic tables, with two good-sized blue
oaks. At least one
of these was having its big production year, and the ground was
covered so thickly with acorns that you could not walk across this
area without crunching them underfoot. This led Colton to give this
outing the name of "Acorn Camp." We also walked through
several areas along the trail that were covered with the seeds.
was some overcast and a slight breeze during the night, so the low
was only 46 degrees, still cool enough that Colton and I were happy
to get into our sleeping bags by 8:30 or so. Actually Colton prefers
to cover up with a favorite blanket, but after he fell asleep I put
the sleeping bag over him as well. He regularly sleeps through the
night, but I have to get up several times. Of course, I checked on
him each time, but he stayed covered and slept at least 11 hours.
brought pre-mixed cocoa powder and sugar to make real cocoa, one of
his favorites. Our breakfast also included bacon and English
muffins, although he declined the latter and asked for a piece of
plain buttered bread. While breakfast was cooking I made our usual
hiking snack, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for him, and plain
peanut butter for me. I cut his into quarters and wrap each piece
individually, so that he can have a snack on the trail at any time
the need arises.
destination was the bridge over the San Joaquin River, about a mile
hike each way. Colton had never been there, but is a big fan of
bridges, especially foot bridges, and I knew he would enjoy being
there. As we went down the trail I pointed out and named
various trees and bushes. His favorite at this elevation is
buckeyes. He first noticed them in the spring when they were in
bloom. They are thick along some foothill roads, and they produce
showy white blooms, which caught his eye. As we've gone through
summer and fall, I've called his attention to the changes that
buckeyes go through. The blossoms become a round seed, close to golf
ball size, with a leathery covering. As the seeds form in the early
spring, they are not that noticeable, but in summer the gray of the
seed pods stands out, with most bushes showing 20 or more seeds. In
late fall they drop from the tree, the outer covering splits, and the red-brown "buckeye" is revealed. On a future trip, he
will see what they look like when the seeds germinate while still on
the surface of the land.
also looked for oak trees with lots of acorns, and saw a few. The
lesson also covered pines, manzanita and wild grape. There is a
section where the grape vines have climbed high into the tops of
blue oaks and other trees, so we named this area Grapevine
are several seasonal creeks that cross the trail, some of which did
not run during the recent drought. There's one that's bigger than
the rest and always runs during the rainy season. This year it still
had a little trickle running, a good sign of how much rain we had
We also enjoyed seeing
animal life. On the way down, Colton walked past a tarantula
without seeing it, but I stopped him and we got a good look and a good
picture. Later at the bridge Colton was first to spot our second
tarantula of the day. This one made its way up the trail and into
some rocks, but never posed for a really good photo.
way down we were passed by two riders on horseback, to Colton's
great delight. He has been interested in horses since he was very
small, but had never seen people riding up close and in person. We
had more horse entertainment later, which I'll get to at the
bridge we had our official
snack and took pictures of the boy and the
bridge. We went past the bridge to where the trail splits, and I
asked Colton to pose by the trail
signs. They were off the path in the dry grass, and at first he
was hesitant. However, he realized the could jump
from one rock to another, and made several circuits around the
walked back to camp I asked Colton if he'd like to do another short
hike later. His answer at that time was NO. In fact, about three
quarters of the way back he sat down in the trail and announced that
he was out of energy. Another quarter of PNB sandwich worked to get
him going again.
We had made plans to reward ourselves
with chocolate ice cream sundaes after the hike, and that gave him
enough energy to walk some more. We went to the Nature Trail and
walked around the loops there, discovering another blue oak with a
large burl that I had not noticed on previous hikes. We finished
this outing with a visit to the cattle guard on the main road a
short distance above the turnoff to the group camp. On the east side
of the camp area there is a mowed path which turns west along a
fence and goes up to the road. From here it's about 30 feet to the
cattle guard. Colton has always been fascinated by these artifacts,
and likes to walk across them. The rails are far enough apart that he
could slip through, so he walks on the frame, stepping carefully between
we were back at camp, two other riders went by on horses. They
had a fairly short ride, and returned before dark. We walked down by
the road into the Equestrian Camp, and Colton enjoyed watching the
horses being loaded into their trailer.
our dinner we had my go-to kids' meal, hot dogs. I didn't want to
build a fire, and we had electricity available via the generator, so
I brought along my hot dog
cooker. If you've never seen one of
these, it's like a toaster, with a place for both dogs and buns.
It's kind of a weird product; probably belongs on Dave Barry's Christmas
Gift List. It works fairly well, but you have to put the dogs
through two cycles. As usual after a good hike, Colton was quite
hungry. In addition to the hot dog, he ate five slices of salami,
chips and crackers.
picked up some second hand children's books for when the boys are
around, so we finished out the evening with some reading, and got to
bed before nine. The sky was clear all night, and the morning low
was ten degrees cooler, down to 36.
morning we got everything ready to go, and took one final cattle
guard walk. Nearly all cattle guards have a gate next to them in
case cows need to be driven through from one side of the fence to
another, and we discovered that the gate was not locked. Colton had
fun unfastening the chain, climbing
over the gate, and swinging on it, before we returned to camp
and started for home.
our previous campout at Grant Grove Colton has wanted to take
pictures, so I hand him the camera every once in a while. So far his
enthusiasm exceeds his skill, but about one out of five of his
photos turn out pretty
April 2017 I had my first cat-sitting
assignment for my daughter Jennifer, while she and Rod enjoyed a
well-earned vacation. A teacher, she had the week of Thanksgiving
off, and wanted to do their annual trip to Tahoe. Once again I got
the call to stay at their house in the mountains above Oakhurst and
feed the cats. This duty takes very little time, so the obvious
thing for me to do is take advantage of being an hour closer to the
mountains and do some hiking or other outdoor activity. I walked
around the property, hiked at a campground above Bass Lake, and went
oak at County Road 620 and Old Yosemite Road
on Willow Creek near the junction with Chilkoot Creek
Dome from Glacier Point
left Monday morning, November 20, and I drove up in the afternoon,
arriving about 3 p.m. I was immediately greeted by Miss Bojangles
(usually called Bo), their newest and friendliest cat. Unlike
Pebbles and Bam Bam, Bo allowed me to pet her and pick her up during
the first minute. The other two rarely even let me get a glimpse of
them, although this time they were willing to eat as long as I
stayed at least ten feet away. Hombre,
who is now Senior Cat, lives outside and sleeps in the garage. He
will allow me to pet him if he feels like it and if he happens to
stop by for a bite of "indoor food."
I got my stuff brought in and put away, greeted Bo, and checked the
level of cat food and water, I hiked the Neely Trail. This is a
short path down through the drainage from the level spot where the
house sits, up a hill through oak, pine and various small bushes,
and back along a route a little farther up the slope. From the
mid-point you can also walk up to a paved road that leads to their
street, Old Yosemite Road, and from there out to County Road 620.
was the route I followed, enjoying the changing leaves of the black
oak, the evergreen of bay
and live oak, and the drying
seeds of various annual plants. I crossed Road 620 and walked up
a short path to where there is a plaque commemorating Bissett
Station, a stage stop on the old road to Yosemite. This walk
added up to a little over 9/10 of a mile.
Tuesday I drove to Bass Lake, then turned on the Beasore Road and
stopped at Chilkoot
Campground, about four miles in.
I've camped there a number of times; as far as I can tell the most
recent was in August
of 2011. There was an area along the road where logging was
underway, probably dead tree removal. The road was littered with
bark and other similar trash for a half mile. I spoke briefly with
the flag man, who said mine was the third car to go up the road that
There is an old logging road that runs from the camp
down to Chilkoot Creek, a walk of about a half mile, with a little
bit of a scramble the last 50 feet or so. If you can cross the
creek, it's a short walk over a ridge to Willow Creek and a nice
waterfall. Although the creeks were running good, I managed to
get across, and spent some time enjoying the waterfall, and looking
area where the creeks come
returning to the campground, I drove up the road a short distance to
where Chilkoot Creek crosses. There is a rough path along the creek
and not far up is a small
waterfall, about eight feet in height. Near this area someone
had built a crude
shelter. There was a dead fir tree leaning out from the
hillside, and pole-like branches had been leaned against it. Fir
branches, the needles now brown, completed the project.
drove back down Beasore Road to the Bass Lake Road, and parked where
a dirt road left the pavement just inside the national forest
border. I walked on this road a short distance, to where a network
of 4-wheel drive paths went off in both directions and circled
around again to the road I was on.
I don't want or expect anything for my services, Rod and Jennifer
always leave a couple of restaurant gift cards, so I went into
Oakhurst and had a great calzone at DiCicco's Italian Restaurant. I
visited an antique shop, buying a book for the great grandsons and a
Yosemite magnet, then went to a grocery store for ice cream.
home I hiked the Neely Trail again and walked the route of Old
Yosemite Road that runs south on their property. This road comes up
on internet maps, but it does not actually go through anymore,
ending at the property line.
Bo was a perfect cat, coming in the house before dark each night.
The other cats stayed outside, but had access to food in the garage.
They all came in for a few bites once or twice during my stay.
the day ended I sat out on the patio and watched the sunset, taking photos
every so often. There was a nice sequence of color
changes through the final half hour of daylight.
had previously checked and found that the Glacier Point Road in Yosemite
National Park was open with no
restrictions, so I decided to go there my final day, the Wednesday
before Thanksgiving. My last November visit to this 7,200 foot
destination was years ago with future son-in-law Tim. We were
bundled up in heavy coats and had a few flakes of snow before we
left. This time I was wearing a t-shirt and flannel shirt, but many
visitors were in shorts
and t-shirts, and it was an absolutely fantastic day. The air
was crystal clear, giving a great view of the valley, the nearby
features like Half
Clark, and Mt. Starr-King, and the high
Sierra peaks with a light layer of snow. There had been one
storm that brought a little snow to the highest elevations, and it
looked as if there was none lower than 9,000 feet. It also appeared
that snow was heavier to the north. Mt.
Hoffman, situated beyond the Tioga Pass Road on the north side
of the park and 10,850 feet in elevation, had snow well down the
sides, while 11,522 foot Mt.
Clark, much farther south, looked to have a thinner layer.
first stopped at Washburn
Point, about a half mile before
Glacier. A lot of the views of the domes
here are the same as from Glacier Point; however, you don't have a
view into Yosemite Valley. One notable difference is the profile
view of Half Dome, while at Glacier you see some of the face of
this iconic feature. Most visitors drive right by Washburn, but I
highly recommend making a stop there.
you had not been to Glacier Point in the summertime, you would have
thought there were a lot of people there, but the difference was
dramatic in the parking lot. In the summer you sometimes have to
circle through the two levels of the lot two or three times to find
a parking space. This time there was almost no one parked on the
upper level, and I found a spot within the first 100 feet or so.
Glacier Point you can see Yosemite
Falls down the valley, and both points have a view of Vernal
falls on the Merced River to the east. I was happy to see that the
falls were all flowing fairly well, much more than the last few
years at this time of year. There's also a great view up the Tenaya
Canyon which runs northeast past the "front side" of
far from the end of the road is a trailhead that leads to Sentinel
Dome and Taft
Point, both places the Ramblers have visited in the last few
years. When I drove up, there were about four parking spaces open at
the trailhead. When I came back out, they were all full and five or
six cars were parked along the road in each direction. Obviously
quite a few others beside myself had decided to take advantage of a
golden opportunity to visit Yosemite during the late fall.
few miles from the southern park boundary on Highway 41 is Wawona,
which I've written about several times in the last few years, most
October. Part of the meadow was converted to a golf course
decades ago, and this day I saw a half dozen deer grazing there.
This used to be a common sight, but I had not seen deer on the golf
course for 20 years or more. The sun was in the wrong place to get a
good photo, but at least I got a bad
returning to Oakhurst I had dinner at El Cid, an excellent Mexican
restaurant, then returned to the house for my final evening. I did
some reading, TV watching, and cat wrangling, and enjoyed a good
night's rest. In the morning I moved at my usual leisurely pace,
eating breakfast, loading the car, and making sure the cats were fed
and safe for their owners return that evening.
weather was all one could ask for. It was mostly cloudy the first
day, and not all that cold. However, Rod had laid wood and kindling
in the stove, so I had a fire that night. On Wednesday the forecast
was for 80 at Oakhurst. Rod and Jen's place is about a thousand feet
higher, and I don't think it was quite that warm, but it was
certainly Indian summer weather.
taken my older great grandson Colton camping three
times this fall, so I wanted to do something with his younger
brother Jack. At age three, Jack is not ready for one-on-one camping
with me, and is not a hiker, so I decided on a walk along the canal
bank near my house.
just being his cute self
great discovery - a live millipede
great being a great grandpa
picked him up around 9:30 the morning of November 26 and we drove to
where the Dry Creek Canal crosses Villa Avenue. From here I normally
walk southwest along the canal bank, then go west on the Helm Canal
to where it disappears under the freeway, and back along the
opposite side of both canals, a total hike of about 1.7 miles. Of
course, walking with Jack is not an exercise walk, and I knew we
would not cover that much distance.
soon as we got on the bank he saw water and rocks, and if you know
anything about kids you know that throwing
rocks into water is an important part of developing their motor
skills. So it was five minutes before we moved past that point. He
quickly found a fine
stick which he carried all the way home, using it as a drawing
tool on the canal bank. He was quite interested in the stuff people
throw in the canal, which I discussed near the beginning of my Canal
Walk page. We saw a wooden kitchen chair, a tire, and that
post-Halloween favorite, a pumpkin. Of course there was plenty of
uninteresting trash - bottles, cans, food wrappers, and chunks of
in our walk he saw a dead millipede and he asked what it was. To our
great good fortune, a few minutes later we saw a live
one, the first one I've ever seen on the Clovis trails or
canals. He was fascinated with the creature and watched
it for several minutes as it made its way to the dry grass at
the edge of the canal bank. I had seen about 30 ducks in the canal a
few weeks earlier, so we were hoping they would still be there, but
the water was very low in the Dry Creek and non-existent in the
Helm, so the birds had apparently moved on. The millipede and some
doves were the only wildlife we saw.
the east side, the canal runs beside Letterman
for several hundred yards, and as soon as Jack spotted the
playground equipment, that became our ultimate destination. We first
continued on to where the
goes through a pipe under the Dry Creek Canal. Objects of interest
here included a complex of several tanks, valve and switches
surrounded by a metal cage. I mentioned that I was not sure what it
was for, so Jack explained "the water goes through that pipe
into the tank then through this pipe into this other tank."
There are also some
valves right at the canal crossing that he could touch, though
of course they are locked to prevent them from being turned by
spent quite a bit of time at the playground where he went up and
down ladders and slides, then walked to the nearby skate park and
watched kids riding scooters for a while. I asked one kid how old he
was, mainly to gauge how long Jack has to wait till he can do that
sort of thing. The kid was nine, but informed me, “You can do it
at any age.” I didn’t bother to explain the need to develop the
skill, motor control, and recognition of potential danger that he
had clearly acquired without realizing it, and which Jack has yet to
we got back to the car, we went to Colorado Grill where Jack ate my
French fries and ignored his hot dog. Back at home we had ice cream
and rode bikes around the complex, and he played with trains, trucks
and marbles until his dad arrived to pick him up.
we're expecting a week of cool, clear, crisp days, I'm tempted to
get up early and take off for a hike in the hills. Sometimes I just
roll over and go back to sleep till the temptation goes away. But on
December 5 I packed a snack and drove the 35 miles to the San
Joaquin River Gorge to hike the Bridge Trail.
iconic bridge at the San Joaquin Gorge
rocks provided table and chair for my snack break
bull pines glisten in the afternoon sun
I was just there in early November,
and have written about it many
times, I'll try to keep this short. When I arrived I went first
to the Group Camp area to photograph acorns (doesn't everyone?) We
had named our November campout Acorn Camp because there was a thick
carpet of the seeds on the ground between the parking area and
picnic tables. Then it occurred to me that I should have taken a
photo. I was able to get a pretty good shot of the trees and the huge
crop of acorns they produced this year, and they have been added to
the Acorn Camp photo
weather was quite cool (see temperature info below), but I was
comfortable in a long sleeve t-shirt and sweat shirt. There was a
strong breeze in a few places, but for the most part the hills
protected me. When I was ready to start my hike back up the hill, I
found it necessary to remove the sweat shirt.
were two things that had changed noticeably since my earlier trip.
Most of the leaves on the wild grape vines along the trail had
dropped to the ground. And the river was running quite
a bit higher, thanks to a couple of short storms that went
through our area in late November.
original plan was to go past the bridge and walk a half mile or so
on the Ridge Trail, but I decided instead to do some cross-country
exploring. I have been off the trail in a lot places at the gorge,
and can find my way back with no trouble. The only drawback to this
kind of hiking is that there is inevitably some steep uphill terrain
to get through.
crossing the bridge I scrambled over some rocks to the south to get
a low level view of the
bridge. Then I left the main trail where there is a cow path and
where others (including myself) have walked in the past I went
up a ridge then down into a little creek that comes down the steep
slope to the river. The creek had a fairly good flow of water. Years
ago with some friends we heated water in my backpacking stove here
and had a lunch of Cup o' Noodles, so I named it Cookpot Creek.
made my way up out of the drainage and connected with the River
Trail near where it starts down to a couple of creek crossings. I
then turned toward the bridge and walked back down, stopping to eat
my snack at a spot with rocks that provided both table
took me 35 minutes to walk from the parking lot down to the bridge,
and 50 to go back up. Of course, I spent a lot of time just looking
pictures, going off the trail for very short distances to look
stuff, and resting. During my hike I saw only four other people
on the trail. There was a couple leaving the parking lot as I
arrived, and another couple camping overnight there. In other words,
just the right number of people.
I left Clovis a little after 8:30 it was 42 degrees, warming up to
47 at Auberry, the high point on the road. Down at the gorge, it was
back to 42 (cooler air sinks, remember?) When I got back to the car
from my hike at 1 p.m. it was close to 60 degrees, but was 55 up at
stopped at one of my favorite foothill restaurants, Velasco's
in Prather, and enjoyed an enchilada and taco, then drove the rest
of the way home, getting back around 3:30.
December 8 Teri, Jack, Coltonand I went to Grant Grove. Our plan was to hike a little on the
trails there, eat at the Grant Grove Village restaurant, and then
finish up at the Kings Canyon Overlook, where Colton had previously
enjoyed adding to the rock piles that other visitors had built
there. It was a nice, sunny day, with patches of snow here and there
starting at the park entrance.
emerges from a tree you can walk through
the log we were looking for, but Jack enjoyed it anyway
Jack and Colton at Kings Canyon Overlook
stopped first at the Azalea campground where Colton
and I stayed twice earlier this year (Grant
Grove with Colton and Back to Grant Grove). We walked down to a little
bridge so the boys could cross it several times, then had a snack at
the picnic table nearby. I had brought PBJ for Teri, Colton and
myself. Jack is allergic to nuts, so he had raisins, crackers,
cheese and grapes (the rest of us also helped with those).
then drove down to the Grant Tree parking lot and walked up the
trail that eventually goes to the visitor center. In September Colton
had fun on this trail, going through a tunnel formed by a tree
leaning against a rock, and walking across a log over a little
The creek was running this time, and the log formed a dam that
diverted the water around it and through the path to the log. There
was no way get on the log without wading, and it was not the right
weather for that. However, it WAS a good time to throw
sticks into the creek.
We walked back down the trial and took the fork that goes past the General
Grant Tree, where we took a number of photos.
The boys were also interested in the informational signs by the
tree, so Teri read some of the text for them.
The next point of interest on this trail is the
in 1872 by Israel Gamlin, who had a lumber and cattle operation in
the area. Colton
had seen it before, but it was Jack’s first visit to the area.
Teri asked Colton
if he had told Jack about the cabin, and his reply was that it would
be a surprise. He then covered
Jack’s eyes and led him the last 100 feet up to the cabin
door. We spent some time there, going in
and out several times. The boys informed us that we were going
inside to get out of the rain.
Beyond the cabin is a fallen
sequoia that you can walk
through lengthwise. Again Jack was required to to approach with
his eyes covered. I’m not sure he understood that he was inside a
tree, but it was also a tunnel, and both boys had a great time going
through it three times.
From the log it was a short walk back to the car, and a quick drive
to the Grant Grove restaurant, where Colton
and I had dinner during our early October camping trip. He again
ordered the mac and cheese; Jack and Teri had quesadillas (nothing
but cheese on Jack’s), and I had a cheeseburger.
When we finished our lunch we still had time to visit the Kings
Canyon Overlook, about five miles away on the General’s Highway.
This is where Colton
had a good time building rock piles, so we expected that would once
again be his focus.
There are two paths from the parking down to the semi-level
the vista point. After I helped Jack out of the car, I saw him
disappear into the bushes next to where we were parked. Colton
was not in sight, but when I followed Jack, they were both headed
down to the rock field. On our second visit in October, there were
only a few piles left of the nearly 100 that I had seen in the
spring. This time there were exactly TWO piles. One of them was a
thin obelisk nearly as tall as Colton
. After taking his
picture by it, I pointed out some loose rocks that he could use.
However, the thing that caught both boys’ interest was a narrow band
of snow at the base of the low cliff below the vista point. The
kids had a great time jumping and running in it, as well as climbing
up and down the
Meanwhile, we had one of the best views I’ve ever enjoyed from
this location. The late afternoon sun provided perfect lighting for
the snow dusted high
Sierra peaks in the Kings Canyon wilderness area.
the low sun, the temperature was dropping, and we decided it was
time to head home in hopes of arriving before dark. As we drove away
from the vista point, the boys began arguing and even punching each
other. Teri and I both admonished them, then she said “they’re
asleep.” Less than a minute from when we got into the car all
was peaceful, and they napped until we arrived at their house.
a number of years my younger daughter and her husband, Rod and
Jennifer Neely, have played host for a New Year's Eve family gathering
at their home above Oakhurst. In recent years it was sometimes just
me, plus usually a friend of Jennifer's who lives in nearby Bass
Lake. Last year and this my other daughter, Teri, and her grandsons
Colton and Jack came to the party. Since we stay overnight, we took
my truck to have room for bedding, luggage, etc. In fact, we had a
ridiculous amount of stuff for one night, but with young boys, more
is sometimes just enough.
inside the Covered Bridge
great climbing log
Colton & Miles - waiting for midnight
decided that we would first go to Wawona in Yosemite National Park,
and do some hiking. We left Clovis around 10:30, and got to our
destination about noon. As usual, the boys were ready for a snack when we arrived, so we
parked by the Pioneer History Center and had a snack at a picnic table there.
we walked across the Covered
Bridge which dates from the 1850s, with the boys having a good time
climbing a short distance up the slanted beams at the side.
Across the bridge are a number of cabins from pioneer days, which I
had never seen before. You can’t go inside them, but we looked at
and through the windows of most of them.
We then drove the two miles to
a trailhead and walked through pines and cedars to where a Swinging
Bridge crosses the South Fork of the Merced River. Along the way was a partly rotted log which proved
climbing. The bridge has no protective barriers other than a
cable to hold on each side, so we made sure each kid held the hand of an adult while crossing.
Although both boys were a little nervous, they made it across and
back and enjoyed the experience. On the opposite side it was necessary to go down
river, an easy climb down the bank. There
was some disappointment, as rocks for throwing were scarce, but we
managed to find a few.
On the way back we made two wonderful discoveries. The first was a
still section of water below the bridge that had
ice on it. We made our
way down and the boys threw rocks which slid across the top of the
surface. Larger rocks were found which proved more satisfactory as
they broke through. Teri then pulled out several large sheets of ice
which the boys smashed on the
rocks, to their great delight.
The next find was a fallen log which had been rolled up to stand on
four "legs," resembling an animal that could be ridden. All three
younger “kids” climbed aboard while I took pictures.
Now it was time to head down the hill to Jennifer’s. Not long
after we got there, Jen’s friend Mamie and her son Miles also
arrived. Although Miles looks to be around nine or ten, he is
actually only one year older than Colton. All three boys played well together throughout the day and
Their first activity was a
Stomp Rocket. This is a device with a
small bellows connected by a flexible tube to a vertical hard plastic
tube that accepts a toy rocket. Stomping or jumping on the bellows
launches the rocket high into the
air, or far across the land,
depending of course on one’s stomping ability. Not surprisingly
the older kids (including some of the over 50 kids) achieved greater
distance, but everyone had a good time. (There are numerous videos
of the toy in action on You Tube.)
A brief game of Frisbee was next, although for Rod, playing with
three six and under kids, it was more like “chase the Frisbee.”
We then gathered everyone together to walk the Neely Trail. Not long
after they moved in, Rod and Jennifer cleared out a short trail on
part of their property. When I walked it in
November, it had become
so overgrown that I would not have known where the trail was if I
had not walked it many times. Rod and Jennifer put in a few hours with a
chain saw and leaf
blower earlier in December, and had restored the trail to its original
glory. We all enjoyed walking past live oak, manzanita, bay
leaf, and rock formations. At the highest point on the trail it is
close to the road that goes on the west side of the Neely property,
and the boys demonstrated their hiking skills by making their way up
the steep bank to the
The weather at Wawona was warm enough to hike with just a light
sweatshirt, and at Neely’s, just above the 3,000 foot level, it
got up to 70 degrees.
Of course, a gathering like this always includes food, with snacks
set out shortly after we arrived, and a delicious bowl of chili
served for supper. As daylight faded, we were treated to a
spectacular sunset, looking down the Fresno
valley from the back patio.
In the dry foothills, no sensible person sets off fireworks for the
4th of July. However, wetter weather allows this type of
celebration on New Year’s, and Rod always gets a nice selection
when they are available in July. With darkness, we went outside for
the first of several trips to the back yard and the lighting of a
colorful fountain. Last year Colton
was entranced by his first experience with fireworks, but Jack did
not really enjoy them. This year Colton’s enthusiasm was even greater, and Jack also got into the spirit,
staying close to Grandma Teri, but showing no hesitation to watch
each time we went out.
Everyone but Jack managed to
stay up till , but we were all ready for bed soon after. All the visitors spent
the night, but got on the road home fairly early the next day, after
a delightful day and night in the mountains.