Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stories from the Road -- Kings Canyon National Park

My most pleasant surprise of the trip to California last year was the relatively unknown Kings Canyon National Park. Somewhat overshadowed by Sequoia National Park to its south and Yosemite National Park to its north, Kings Canyon is a joy just waiting to be discovered.

Most national parks require a particular type of exploring. For example, Hot Springs National Park requires a stroll down a street in town. Rocky Mountain National Park requires hiking. Yosemite National Park is enhanced by a picnic-like activity. Everglades National Park promotes recreation.

Kings Canyon is no different. Kings Canyon requires driving. Essentially, a trip to Kings Canyon involves going in and going out via a winding, gorgeously scenic drive into a deep canyon with raging water. My kind of place.

I visited Kings Canyon in 2009 with my mother, and this was after a long two days at Yosemite. Our first day at Yosemite was glorious, with a beautiful mountain drive through the Sierras and Tioga Pass. Our second day was a stunning but extremely stressful day in Yosemite Valley -- on its busiest day of the year (the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend). Both days required driving after dark out of the park, which is thoroughly exhausting work. Needless to say, our emotions were "on edge". Unfortunately, Ma and I had two major blowouts during the day. Our first was near Grizzly Falls, after Mom complained one too many times about the speed of my driving. Not sure why a couple (literally, 2) miles per hour above the speed limit was so problematic for her, except that both of us were slightly edgy from the exhausting "Chad-cation" of the previous two days.

Nevertheless, nothing cures a fight like nature. And Grizzly Falls was masterful at mending fences. Waterfalls are of various types: the horsetail, the cascade, the stair-step, the trickle, etc. Grizzly could be described as the "falling film" type, with a thin layer of water seeping down the slope in a hypnotically continuous motion. Mom would finally allow me to take pictures near her, and soon we were sighing in agreement.

If Grizzly is the falling film, Roaring River Falls is the gusher. The water furiously boils at the base of this instant classic, and the color of the water only magnifies the experience. The setting of the waterfall could not be more perfect. Well within the canyon, the mountains soar above with water seeping down the gorges in furious splendor. All that can be heard is the roar of colliding water. All that can be smelled is the stubborn plant life surviving in this harsh climate. Only the bravest of life live in this place, and nature tends to provide the best gifts at these places.

Kings River and Roaring River are living postcards. Trees tower at their sides, and sliding rocks peer over the snakelike streams in morbid fascination. The plants are brown, and the rivers are green. Nature's Bizarro World, I guess. Whatever the case, it works.

There are hiking trails here. Many of them -- and they go farther than Road's End. Sadly, I had no time to partake in these adventures on this trip. And yet my curiosity had no problem imagining what I would find. Stubborn nature, surviving and somehow thriving in such a harshly beautiful place. The sound of water soon segueing into the whir of the Bernoulli'd wind. The cumulus clouds puffing up above the mountains, devilishly watching the plants and animals opening their mouths in dire desire. And the emptiness -- the void of people. The canyon walls metaphorically portraying a walk into a mysterious and unwelcoming place.

On the way in, I noticed a long dead tree sitting alone atop a lookout into the canyon. It foretold of this harshly beautiful place. We stopped here again on the way out. Check-out time. One last glimpse of a place that time and people forgot. Nature works best this way.