Sequoia National Park: On the Edge of the Giant Forest

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Moro Rock

At a little after 1pm on July 3, Sean and I reached the southern edge of the plateau on which Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest sits. We were at the junction of Trail of the Sequoias and High Sierra Trail. In front of us to the south was the gorge of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River, some 3,700 feet below. Beyond were the ridges and peaks of the southern Sierra Nevada.

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Western Wallflower

A dad and his two little boys were walking east up the High Sierra Trail toward Eagle View. We decided to follow them, but only after we’d given them a little distance. Instead we stood and gazed both at the view and at the wildflowers covering the southern-facing slope.

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Western Tiger Swallowtail on Western Wallflower

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Castle Rocks and Paradise Peak

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Golden Yarrow

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Golden Yarrow

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Mountain Blue Penstemon

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Then we turned and began to make our way up the trail. It began easily enough with a very gentle grade and steep, shrubby slopes on either side.

A couple with trekking poles passed us, descending into the Giant Forest. They were total assholes with music playing from one of their packs. As in playing out loud music from their packs. (This is a thing recently among cyclists in Chicago too. What is wrong with people?)

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Greenleaf Manzanita

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Moro Rock

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Red-Tailed Hawk

High Sierra Trail extends “from the giant trees to the giant mountain,” some sixty-two miles to the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest in the contiguous United States.

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We ended up doing just the tiniest fraction of the trail because of this blind left turn. It was breezy. I didn’t have my trekking poles. Nor apparently did I have my sea legs. I sat down with my back against the cliff.

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Sean patiently came back and sat down opposite me.

“I don’t think I can keep going,” I said. My palms were sweaty and I could feel the panic coming on.

Sean was encouraging, but even his sitting with his back to the drop-off made me feel queasy. This was not the first time my fear of heights kicked in unexpectedly on a blind curve in a breeze, but at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where it had notably happened, we were on a loop hike and I had to keep going to get back to camp. Here we were just going the barely quarter mile to Eagle View.

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So we turned back.

I think that if I’d had my trekking poles, I’d have been able to get my bearings and continue on to see the view.

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Moro Rock

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Orange peel litter on the trail

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American Robin

Back in the forest, we continued on the High Sierra Trail down to Crescent Meadow about half a mile from the junction.

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Crescent Meadow

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Crescent Meadow

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Crescent Meadow

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Crimson Columbine

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From Crescent Meadow, we took the less-used Sugar Pine Trail to Bobcat Point on our way to Moro Rock.

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Mountain Coyote Mint

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Pygmy Rose

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The trail skirted the edge of the Giant Forest’s plateau, but didn’t have the sheer drops of High Sierra Trail.

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Sierra False Bindweed

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Bobcat Point

At Bobcat Point, it was possible to clearly see how the forest ends at the edge of the plateau, and then the world falls away into the Middle Kaweah gorge.

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Bobcat Point

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Moro Rock

All the while, Moro Rock beckoned us on.

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Castle Rocks

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Castle Rocks and Paradise Peak

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Canyon Liveforever

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Moro Rock

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The trail led back into the forest as it descended from Bobcat Point.

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Sugar Pine

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Hydaspe Fritillary on Mountain Coyote Mint

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Crescent Creek

Shortly, we heard the babbling of water. It was our old friend Crescent Creek, which we crossed for the second time just above where it began its drop from the plateau down toward the Kaweah.

 

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Kelley’s Lily along Crescent Creek

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Crescent Creek

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Kelley’s Lily along Crescent Creek

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Crescent Creek

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Silvery Blue Butterflies

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Pumice Alpinegold, Mustang Clover, and Tiling’s Monkeyflower

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Snowbrush Ceanothus

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We kept going, now climbing toward the Moro Rock parking area. We did not encounter any other hikers on the entire 1.5 mile length of Sugar Pine Trail.

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Miniature Miner’s Lettuce

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Giant Sequoia

We began to see the occasional Giant Sequoia again.

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Violet Draperia and Scarlet Paintbrush

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We emerged from Sugar Pine Trail into the tumult of the Moro Rock parking area. Because it was a busy afternoon, private vehicles were not allowed, but the shuttle terminal was packed with all sorts of people emerging from shuttles, waiting for shuttles, and creating a steady stream going up and down the staircase of 400 steps to the top of Moro Rock.

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Yellow-Faced Bumblebee on Bush Beardtongue

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The way up begins by hugging the east side of the rock. Almost immediately huge views of the Great Western Divide in the High Sierra opened up. I imagine this was basically equivalent to what we’d missed at Eagle View.

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Great Western Divide: (from left) Triple Divide Peak, Lion Rock, Mt. Stewart, Lawson Peak, Kaweah Queen, and Black Kaweah; and (foreground) Little Blue Dome (left) and Sugarbowl Dome (right)

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Alta Peak

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Middle Kaweah Gorge

To the west, the gorge fell away to the distant San Joaquin Valley.

And that’s as far as I was able to go. My acrophobia kicked in for the second time in as many hours. It was perhaps worse on Moro Rock than it had been on High Sierra Trail. All the people going back and forth definitely exacerbated it on the rock.

I told Sean that I couldn’t go any further, but that my turning back shouldn’t stop him from continuing on to the top. We agreed, and he took my big camera with him up the rock while I descended and found a corner of a stump to sit on and wait for his return.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Great Western Divide. Image: Sean M. Santos

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Castle Rocks. Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

Moro Rock is a granite monolith exactly like Yosemite’s Half Dome and El Capitan. It would have formed beneath the earth and been exposed after the uplift that created the Sierra Nevada caused the softer rock around it to erode away. It emerges from the south side of the plateau that holds the Giant Forest.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Great Western Divide. Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Down below, I sat quietly and people-watched. The dynamic of families as they emerged from the shuttles was interesting. Often some members would practically run toward the staircase while others would hold back. I was not the only person who chose to wait below for loved ones.

A woman from Austin, Texas was waiting for the shuttle and chatting with a family from Beijing, China. This sort of personal interaction is another important aspect of the National Parks. I had expected to be slightly irritated by the crowds at a famous Park over the Fourth of July. But in truth, I really liked seeing all the different people enjoying and appreciating the Park. The vast majority of visitors, young and old, were very respectful of the Park and were clearly enjoying themselves.

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I had a good view through binoculars of a portion of the staircase, so I began to watch for Sean Santos to descend. Sure enough, I spotted him and was able to capture an image using Sean’s classic move of shooting with an iPhone through a pair of binoculars.

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Mt. Eisen

From the parking area of Moro Rock we actually had a little trouble finding the hiking trail back to Giant Forest Museum. It turned out that we had to cross the parking area and start up an embankment, which was counterintuitive since the trail would eventually skirt the western edge of the plateau. After a series of quick switchbacks, we came to a fork. One way was the Moro Rock Trail to the museum. The other led to the Roosevelt Tree. So of course we had to go see the Roosevelt Tree.

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Roosevelt Tree

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Roosevelt Tree

Teddy’s tree (the tallest known Giant Sequoia) is in Sequoia National Forest’s Redwood Grove (near Kings Canyon National Park). So this must be Franklin’s tree. Or perhaps Eleanor’s?

At the time we assumed it was Teddy’s.

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Roosevelt Tree

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After visiting the Roosevelt Tree, we dropped back down to the Moro Rock Trail, which would lead us back to the museum.

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California Ground Squirrel

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We descended to the road and crossed it.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Giant Sequoia

Across the road we took a short spur trail to Hanging Rock out on the western edge of the plateau.

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Hanging Rock

Beyond Hanging Rock, the ridges rolled like waves to the west under the hazy sky toward the great central valley.

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Hanging Rock

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Hanging Rock

I was resigned to my acrophobia in this Park, but Sean was his brave self and went over to the rock to have a look at the drop off the plateau.

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Hanging Rock

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Moro Rock

On the way back down the spur trail from Moro Rock, we joined a fresh-faced family at a good spot for regarding Moro Rock from the west.

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Moro Rock

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Castle Rocks

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Moro Rock

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Moro Rock

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Castle Rocks

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Moro Rock

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Moro Rock

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Moro Rock

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Sawtooth Peak

We turned from the view and returned to the main trail.

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Giant Sequoias

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Giant Sequoia

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Miniature Miner’s Lettuce

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Yarrow

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Western Sagebrush Lizard

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Giant Sequoia

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Now as the trail skirted the edge of the plateau our views were west/northwest to the ridges and foothills outside the Park’s boundaries.

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Frys Point (left) and Ash Peaks (right)

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Common Checkered Clerid on Mariposa Lily

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Giant Sequoia

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Giant Sequoia

Then suddenly, almost abruptly, we were back in the parking area that the shuttle from Three Rivers had dropped us in that morning. It was now 4:30pm. In our six hours of wandering in and around the Giant Forest, we’d hiked 9.2 miles of rolling, but not too steep, terrain.

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The shuttle would leave at 6:30pm to return us to Three Rivers, so we had a little time. We visited the Giant Forest Museum and were greeted by a ranger with an impressive face of makeup. Sean remarked that she must get up an hour early every morning to apply her face.

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And we were happy to see some fellow gays enjoying the Park.

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The Sentinel

We still had time, so we hopped on a shuttle to Lodgepole to grab a snack and a Teddy Roosevelt t-shirt I’d been eying that morning. The shuttle to Lodgepole was packed, and Sean was sitting next to a woman holding a baby boy who kept staring at him. His mother explained that he loved people and even though his extended family kept trying to show him trees out the window, he kept staring at Sean. Across the aisle, a little girl in a junior ranger outfit had quickly fallen fast asleep. She was wiped out from her day’s adventures.

Even on this single shuttle, there was tremendous diversity in age, outdoor skill, and race (none of the people I just described were white), all enjoying their National Park.

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We didn’t dally at Lodgepole and soon were on a (completely empty) shuttle to back to Giant Forest Museum. The shuttle system closed down at 6pm, so drivers were making sure that people were getting back to their cars.

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Back at the Museum, we watched them close up for the night while we waited for our shuttle.

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The Sentinel

Groups of people gathered in front of The Sentinel for photos, including a huge group of Latinx teenagers who then sang “Happy Birthday Dear Carly…cha cha cha.”

A fellow asked me to take a photo of him and his lady friend. And then he returned the favor for us.

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The Sentinel

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Giant Sequoias

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Giant Sequoia

At 6:30pm, we were the only people left in the shuttle waiting area. The dispatcher, a jovial African-American fellow, and I talked camera equipment while we waited for the shuttle to arrive. Apparently we were the only riders booked for the 6:30 return trip, so we were able to stretch out for our return down the occasionally hair-raising road.

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At the blind turn, I just closed my eyes even though I knew in my head that it didn’t drop very far.

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Moro Rock

Back down in the foothills, we spotted a Coyote going along going along above the road. At the visitor center, our driver asked if we needed to stop and use the restroom, but we declined.

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As we entered Three Rivers, we could see our little cabin across the river. Soon we were back at the Historical Museum, where our vehicle was waiting. We thanked the driver, and he continued on his way to Visalia.

Sean had had a touch of cell signal on the top of Moro Rock, and he had a bit of service in town, so we exchanged some texts with my parents and Andy about their arrivals in San Diego for the third part of the trip. Andy and Terry also proposed a sea kayaking and snorkeling excursion off La Jolla for Saturday afternoon. We said we’d let them know for sure when we had better service.

Back at the cabin, we had Greyhounds while we showered then prepared our supper of soft tacos made with leftover chicken. Then we prepped our packs for the following day’s adventures and spent the rest of the evening reading and relaxing before bed.

Although it was far too short a visit to Sequoia, it was a grand, classic day in a National Park.

 

5 thoughts on “Sequoia National Park: On the Edge of the Giant Forest

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