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On the Semi-Fly a change of plans: Now, to Kings Canyon

As I left you last time, I gave a bit of a preview of what was to come; namely, a change in plans, sparked by concerns about the wildfires to the east of Yosemite National Park. Curious, however, I didn't completely decide how to handle that issue until the late afternoon on Wednesday (July 18), although I did decide to go to Kings Canyon first, and then possibly still stay in Yosemite that night. This, bear in mind, was just a few days after the Ferguson Fire began, and news of what was going on there was spotty.

Yosemite National Park, off Tioga Road, near Yosemite Valley, a few days later

In any case, I slept as fine as one can on an Amtrak California (hot) bus and (much better) train. I felt only slightly dazed the next morning. The only minor disappointment I had was a change in rental cars. I'd reserved a hybrid car, but the couple who rented it before forgot to turn the keys in. Whoopsie! A $600 error there.

The rental car person at the Fresno airport, where I was renting, was cute and friendly, in any case, and I had a good enough time joking with her, all bright and early, about a past rental car boo-boo, and boo-boos of other customers. And she left me with a less eco-friendly, but probably more mountains-suitable Nissan Rogue SUV. With that, I headed out--not to Yosemite, but Kings Canyon National Park, directly to Fresno's east. I had breakfast, bought water, and headed out.

Some three hours later, past many a fruit stand, and miles of gold foothills and ever-increasing elevation, I passed through the Kings Canyon entrance, and headed toward Zumwalt Meadow, pictured above. First, though, a few pics of the drive in between the western section of the park, and the aforementioned meadow, in the eastern section about an hour away. This was on the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, running through the Sequoia National Forest. You have to pass through this to get to that meadow, before the road ends at, well, "Road's End."

Taken with an Olympus E-5

In my wildly detailed journal entry about this day, I noted that the scenic byway area fit my image of Arizona more than California, thanks to media-inferred stereotypes, I guess. It was more orange, brown, and black-toned, with specks of green here and there.

Taken in one of the more barren sections with my Google Pixel.

Much of this area I would even describe as nearly barren. About halfway through, the Kings River is roaring westward, right beside you, for miles on end, and scenery gets greener. You keep hugging curves, however. That, that was consistent.

Whatever the case, it was up there on the list of the most beautiful stretches of road that I have ever seen, along with the Pacific Coast Highway between Carmel-by-the-sea and San Simeon-ish. I enjoyed the drive even more on my final drive back from it, a few days later, when it was less hazy out in the late afternoon, and I was thinking, TAKE A GOOD LOOK AT IT, IS LIKELY THE LAST TIME YOU'LL SEE IT. That sort of emotional thing, for a bit. (I started listening to a "Good Place" podcast by the time I was out, still.)

My mission the first time, by contrast, was less strewn with emotion. I was really not too certain what would be ahead, except for an eventual sign for Zumwalt Meadow. While still in Jackson, I had looked at Google Maps imagery on the road, but it didn't look like anything close to what I was seeing in person.

Eventually, the mountains started becoming less shrouded in haze, the surroundings greener (as shown above). I stopped by the first cafe for lunch, then took off down the road a bit. I made it to Zumwalt shortly afterward. Here's what that looked like--stunning, again. I did any easy two-mile or so hike around the meadow and environs, drove down to Road's End (a beginning spot for longer hikes out into the park).

Zumwalt Meadow (All with an Olympus E-5, except the top right, shot with my Google Pixel)

From here, it was an hour or so back to the western section of Kings Canyon, the park, and General Grant Grove, a big grove of giant sequoia trees. By this time, it was mid-afternoon.

First, however, I checked for news about Yosemite, and learned that Glacier Point Road had been closed to traffic, and so had all park operations at Glacier Point itself. I had planned on hiking to that area one of the next two mornings, preferably the first, but knew now that this would be impossible. So I called Yosemite Hospitality, and prepared to wait (as I had not, two or three times earlier) for help. Surprisingly, I quickly had a representative on the line. And he told me that I could still stay overnight, if I chose, but that, frankly, it would not be much fun, with all the smoke around. "I wouldn't advise it," he told me, while stating that I could get a refund.

I went to a hotel reservations site immediately afterward, and booked a room in Visalia CA, the closest sizable location to Sequoia National Park, which I planned to visit the next day.

Next stop: Grant Grove. I huffed and puffed in a few stops. Still, it was absolutely worth an extra hour, or maybe two. I lost count.

Taken, as with the shot below, with a wide-angle lens on my Olympus E-5

Again, worth it. From here, I headed back out toward Fresno, taking a left toward Visalia after a bit, and going turning right and left several times, via Google Maps directions. All I remember seeing were fruit orchards, farms and farms, the occasional house with palm trees all around it (funny, I thought, since the tall ones weren't native to California--was it just a Central-to-Southern-California symbol thing). I didn't take photos, because I didn't know how long I had, and then it was a totally new Circle of Hell out there. Dry heat, yeah, but it was still heat, as in 103 degrees hot (compared to 75 back in Grant Grove).

Otherwise, what I remember is that every other placed I turned was called an "avenue," even when way out in the boonies. In Mississippi, these are called county roads. I made a funny little map of this later, seen below. Otherwise, I stayed in a standard, modern roadside hotel. It worked. I had burrito and a big strawberry margarita nearby, then sleep.

Next: A (briefer?) account of a visit to Sequoia National Park

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Ray Mikell
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2018. Ray Mikell

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