In the News - Friday, april 2, 2004
JAZZAFFAIR: How great thou art
TKC unveils Kaweah Kam
FINDING FLOWERS: Where the
blooming is booming
March meltdown: Snowpack on its way down the mountain
HIKING THE PARKS: DUE NORTH: Mineral King to Kings Canyon
Shopping in Visalia will soon cost more
JAZZAFFAIR: How great thou art
by John Elliott
31st annual festival highlights a new generation of jazz torchbearers
In 2000, when the Sierra Traditional Jazz Club met to ponder the fate
of Jazzaffair, it was obvious to the board that for a festival to survive
in Three Rivers a musical transfusion would be needed. The challenge
for the small-venue festival was to find some new blood immediately —attract
new members to the club, branch out musically, and infuse some sponsorship
The priority of the club remained — to continue to support traditional
jazz and get together as often as possible to enjoy the revitalized High
Sierra Jazz Band, who, interestingly were undergoing some important changes
of their own.
Rusty Crain, assistant Jazzaffair director, who has been
a part of the local jazz scene since it officially began in the 1970s,
recalled the recent dissension
within the ranks of the club.
“What it came down to was whether we would book
groups like Gator Beat, a Cajun zydeco outfit that we heard at several
other festivals, to play at Jazzaffair,” Rusty
According to the so-called trad jazz purists, it would
not be advisable to mix Dixieland jazz with other forms of jazz, let
alone Cajun music. In retrospect,
that bold booking in 2001 turned out to be a wise move. Gator Beat has returned
again this year to Three Rivers and with these ragin’ Cajuns, a legion
of followers who are younger, more energized and ever-increasing in numbers
at each appearance.
But ironically, it is the next wave of traditional jazz
musicians, like Blue Street and Titan Hot Seven — torchbearers of trad jazz — who are
working tirelessly to ensure that festivals like Jazzaffair will thrive for
many years to come.
Blue Street, founded in 1983 in Fresno, is a remarkable
story in itself. Their incomparable leader, Dave Ruffner, is a living
link between the older, established
bands like High Sierra and the Night Blooming Jazzmen.
Ruffner’s day job is as band director and beloved teacher at Fresno High
School. The Raisin Babies, who perform Sunday at Lions Arena, are Ruffner’s
current small-format jazz band, one of a succession of youthful performing
groups that go out into the professional world and spread the jazz gospel according
One of many Jazzaffair highlights this year will occur
Sunday morning when Blue Street brings yet another more meaningful gospel
to the 11 a.m. worship
service at the Three Rivers Community Presbyterian Church. In 2002, Ruffner,
a seminarian in his own right, recorded his personal gospel testimony “How
Great Thou Art,” a spiritually moving CD, the 17th in the Blue Street
“Gospel music has always been an important part
of my life since I first sang ‘Jesus
Loves Me’ in Sunday school,” Ruffner wrote in the liner notes
of the CD. “Over the years, it has been my great joy to share my love
for gospel music with the Blue Street Jazz Band.”
According to Bill Tidwell, who belongs to both the jazz
club and the Presbyterian Church, that heartfelt joy is evident in Ruffner’s music and his religious
“Blue Street won’t just be playing the music
at Sunday’s service,” Tidwell
said. “The pastor will be stepping aside for Dave [Ruffner] and his
mates, who will be conducting the worship service.”
Jeff Barnhart of Titan Hot Seven, who will be making
their third appearance at Jazzaffair, also has emerged as one of the
torchbearers of traditional jazz
music. He is an extremely gifted, 30-something piano player from Mystic,
Conn., who lends a commanding stage presence to any room, small or large.
This year, in addition to his zany role as a Titan, Barnhart
will open the 31st Jazzaffair in a piano and flute duo with his talented
wife, Anne. The
3 p.m. Friday set on the Memorial Building stage, dubbed appropriately “Ivory
and Gold” (a second set will be Saturday, 8:30 a.m.), is one of 10 different “special
sets” being offered this year to allow the audience more opportunities
to experience the musicians up close and personal.
“There is truly something for everyone and every
musical taste at this year’s
Jazzaffair,” said Sue Mills, longtime festival director. “If
this lineup doesn’t get your ticker running and toes tapping, then
you simply aren’t breathing.”
TKC unveils Kaweah Kam
Newspaper website offers live web cam
Note to website visitors: Just as the following story introducing Kaweah
Kam seems obvious because you are at the address that contains the web
cam, just as obvious for readers of the April 2 print edition was the
addition, for the first time ever in the history of a Three Rivers newspaper,
of full color to the pages of The Kaweah Commonwealth.
On Wednesday, March 31, The Kaweah Commonwealth Online unveiled the
first-ever live, always-on image of the Kaweah canyon and the nearby
Dubbed “Kaweah Kam,” publishers John and Sarah Elliott are
currently adjusting exposure levels daily to capture the optimal lighting
as the sun climbs skyward over Kaweah Country. In the first several weeks
that the Internet camera has been operating, some of the best images
have been captured just prior to sunrise at 5:30 a.m. and in late afternoon
when canyon light is softer.
“Now that we are learning what the camera is capable
of doing, we will be making more adjustments to produce the highest quality
is currently available,” said John Elliott. “Once you visit
the site and experience one of those typically gorgeous Three Rivers
days, you are hooked.”
The camera, which was built by StarDot Technologies of
Orange County, now becomes the masthead of the website of The Kaweah
weekly newspaper for Three Rivers, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National
Parks, Lemon Cove, and Woodlake.
The idea to install a local web cam came from seeing
similar cameras that are operated at Old Faithful in Yellowstone National
Park and in
Yosemite National Park. From the right vantage point and in optimal lighting,
looking up the Kaweah canyon from Three Rivers to Sequoia’s Great
Western Divide with Moro Rock and Alta Peak are equally as spectacular
as any of these other famous vistas.
Now residents, business owners, and those planning to
visit Kaweah Country someday can log on during daylight hours to see
weather-wise, watch a sunrise or sunset, or just view the latest scenery
in any season at any time of day. Currently, the image is set to refresh
every 90 seconds.
At present, the image has only limited utility at night
except on moonlit nights or during episodic lightning storms. The potential
of how the
daytime images may be used is limitless.
“It was always our wish to share our unique view of the Kaweah canyon as
we see it from Barton Mountain,” said Sarah Elliott, whose family first
came to Three Rivers in 1878. “This is our way of giving a little something
back while at the same time showing off Three Rivers and all it has to offer
to the world.
When to view Kaweah Kam: The web cam updates every two minutes, so “refresh” often
to experience the changing light. Different exposures and lenses are
still being tested to optimize the viewing. The best images occur early
in the morning prior to sunrise, then again in mid to late afternoon
as the sun moves behind the camera location and shines directly on the
mountains. Currently, from mid-morning to early afternoon, the sun’s
rays reflect on the moisture and particles in the air, which, at times,
causes the mountains to retreat into a haze. Check often as the view
is ever-changing and the camera image is a work in progress.
FINDING FLOWERS: Where the
blooming is booming
Spring is a miraculous time of year. The resurgence of new growth lifts
the spirit and sprinkles the landscape with colors that are sheer inspiration.
Even those who have been dwellers in the foothills for
a lifetime can’t
help but be amazed and awestruck at the birth of the season. A visitor
journeying to Kaweah Country for the first time is greeted on the Valley
floor by the scent of orange blossoms and the sight of deciduous fruit
The hues become more diverse as the ranchlands turn to
rolling green hills that are sprinkled with dozens of species of wildflowers.
Beginning with the yellow-orange stalks of fiddleneck
in late February, bushes of blue-lavender lupine and fields of snowy
white popcorn flower
soon compete. Not to be outdone, the manzanita and western redbud bushes,
which at maturity more closely look like trees, soon burst forth with
shades of pink from a pale blush to blinding magenta.
Blooms may be easily found by taking a windshield tour
along the backroads of Three Rivers as North Fork and South Fork drives,
Mineral King Road,
and Generals Highway provide access to landscapes beyond development
so the wildflowers may be seen in their natural setting. Walkers can
view the seasonal growth up close with relatively little traffic on
upper North Fork and South Fork drives and Mineral King Road.
Part of the magic of spring is that these colorful flowers,
shrubs, and trees know no boundaries and might appear anywhere at anytime
the season, although there are general areas where they may be found.
Exactly when the wildflower season occurs, and how lush
it is, depends on the weather and varies from year to year. The wildflower
starts in February at the base of the foothills and works its way upward
in elevation, reaching 10,000 feet and above in August.
Currently at elevations from 800 to 1,000 feet above
sea level, flower-watchers will find the fiddleneck, several varieties
of lupine, popcorn flower,
brodiaea, Ithuriel’s spear, California poppies, redbud, miner’s
lettuce, and California Indian pink, to name a few.
At elevations of about 1,200 to 2,000 feet, brilliant
displays of satin bells, Chinese houses, fiesta flower, madia, Western
wall flower, owl’s
clover, phlox, columbine, Mariposa lily, the rock-dwelling Live Forever,
and more join in the show.
On the hillsides at about 1,000 feet (in Three Rivers
proper) the California buckeye tree, which has been dormant since summer,
is about to burst
forth with its creamy, scented stalks of flowers. Within a month, the
yucca, which also has been nondescript for three seasons, will grow
a stalk of blooms that can attain a height of more than 15 feet.
Farther up in the mountains, the Pacific dogwood tree
will soon boast its white blooms amidst the giant sequoias, creating
a garden setting
in the groves that is made more spectacular due to the backdrop of
the massive cinnamon-colored trunks of the largest trees in the world.
Native Americans found many uses for several types of
wildflowers. Whether preparing tubers for food; leaves, stems, and bark
for medicinal purposes;
or constructing tools, utensils, or baskets; the plants, trees, grasses,
flower blooms, fruit, and more provided by nature offered a comfortable
livelihood for these earliest inhabitants of Kaweah Country.
These days, wildflowers are best left alone. They perish
quickly when picked; most fields in Three Rivers are on private property;
are illegal to gather in the national parks.
In general, around these parts, it’s best to know what is being
touched or, actually, not to touch at all. That’s because one of
the most attractive of bushes in the spring, albeit sans blooms, is poison
oak. Anyone who intends to explore off-road in Three Rivers should be
aware of what this plant looks like as its description varies from season
The shrub can grow up to eight feet tall, but a single
stalk is enough to cause a rash, blisters, and intense itching for two
weeks or more.
At a lack for a better description, just remember “leaves of three,
let it be.”
And the flower that, although spectacular, is the most
unwelcome in the foothills is Farewell to Spring. It is the last of the
season to bloom,
meaning that it’s time to bid… well… farewell to spring.
March meltdown: Snowpack on its way down the mountain
An early season heatwave with only one March storm has the Sierra snowpack
in early retreat throughout the 400-mile-long mountain range. Water-watchers
estimate that the snowpack that fuels the Kaweah drainage is currently
about 75 percent of normal.
But state hydrologists don’t seem to be concerned because the pre-March
snow totals were above normal and most reservoirs were able to store a
significant amount of the runoff.
At Lake Kaweah, where storage levels are approaching
90,000 acre feet, about two-thirds of the water flowing into the basin
is being released
“In April, we want the lake to rise, but not too fast,” said Phil
Deffenbaugh, park manager at Lake Kaweah. “We are hoping to approach the
old spillway level [145,000 acre-feet] sometime later this month.”
Deffenbaugh said it is still likely that the newly enlarged
basin will fill to its capacity of 183,000 acre-feet. If it does, he
said, it will occur
sometime around Memorial Day and most of the ongoing construction in the
In Three Rivers, the early warming trend means that the
whitewater rafting season will run a little ahead of schedule.
“The river is expected to run pretty well throughout
the month of April,” said
Frank Root, owner and operator of Kaweah Whitewater Adventures. “The
current flow levels are about a month ahead of a normal season.”
What the current flows of nearly 1,000 cubic feet per
second (cfs) in Middle Fork mean is that the upper river (Gateway to
Slicky) is ideal
for three-quarter day trips with some challenging Class 3 and 4 paddling.
Root also said during the month of April his outfit will
be offering late-afternoon Class 3 trips that will start at Slicky (near
discounted trips last a couple of hours and end at the Slick Rock Recreation
“The shorter, less expensive trips are an excellent way
to enjoy the river, especially for families and beginners,” Root
But other than slightly above-normal temperatures for
the rest of spring, weather forecasters aren’t making any definitive predictions as
to what might be in store for Kaweah Country. It is uncertain when the
Kaweah River flows will
peak, but it usually takes some extended triple-digit temperatures to
make it happen.
HIKING THE PARKS
DUE NORTH: Mineral King to Kings Canyon
This is the fifth installment in a continuing series
about a family backpacking trip in the Sierra during July 2003. For
see “Hiking” on this site.
— DAY THREE —
Monday, July 21, 5.5 miles— If anyone thinks it’s impossible
to be hungry after a gourmet dinner like the one we had been served
the previous evening that is typical of the fare served at the Bearpaw
High Sierra Camp, then take a hike with teenagers. As we began settling
into our tent cabin for the night, two starving kids hiked back up
to the kitchen where Carolyn, the High Sierra’s angel of mercy,
saved their lives by preparing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for
We were up at 6 a.m. on Monday. The torrential downpour
of Saturday night seemed as if it was going to be the exception rather
norm, judging by the blue, cloudless sky that greeted us.
While awaiting the breakfast bell, we began loading our
packs. The mattresses, pillows, and chairs in our tent cabin, and the
breakfast we were about to have, would be luxuries we would not again
experience for the duration of the trip.
But that’s the point, really. To be left to our own devices with
just the sheer basics of survival — food, shelter, water.
Then again, if that’s all we had, why was my pack so hard to
lift off the ground? Why were we all out of breath just carrying our
gear from our sleeping quarters to the dining room porch?
Are we crazy? Once in a while we think so, but then we
experience a day such as the one the day before or the one that lay ahead
and we remember why we made the pact that we’ll always take an
annual backcountry trip together.
About mid-morning, we said our goodbyes to newfound friends
and old acquaintances at this High Sierra home away from home. Our goal
the day was to climb up and over Elizabeth Pass, which is five and
a half miles north of Bearpaw and a gain in elevation of about 3,500
feet, but because of our socializing, we were getting a later than
We began on the Tamarack Lake trail, climbing east then
north out of Bearpaw. There are two trail options in this area that go
in our direction.
Since we were carrying packs, we opted to take the steeper, yet maintained
trail to Tamarack Lake that climbs east then north out of Bearpaw,
staying high on the mountainside west of Lone Pine Creek before descending
slightly to arrive at our trail junction on the westernmost end of
Lone Pine Meadow.
The other choice was to take the High Sierra Trail to
Lone Pine Creek, then follow an unmaintained trail north along the eastside
of the creek
bank to where it meets with the Tamarack trail just south of its
junction with the trail to Elizabeth Pass.
As we reached Lone Pine Creek, we settled in for an extended
break at the water’s edge. It was sunny and humid, so the kids took
advantage of the opportunity to take a dip in the ice-cold creek.
Just beyond Lone Pine Creek, the trail turns east and
climbs through Lone Pine Meadow to Tamarack Lake. We instead turned due
immediately began ascending steep switchbacks up the ridge of the
The views became expansive as we climbed. To the south,
we could see our route of the last two days and the peaks and passes
of the Mineral
King cirque. We tested our knowledge of the names of peaks of the Great
Western Divide to the east — Triple Divide, Eagle Scout, Mount
Stewart, Lippincott Mountain — and the Kaweahs beyond.
In the vicinity of Lone Pine Meadow, we could see signs
of a trail crew camp. Soon we passed some shovels and other hand tools
the trail, but since it was past the noon hour, the workers were
off-trail toward the stream for their lunch break.
As we switchbacked higher and higher, we soon could see
the maintenance crew back at work on the trail below. Also on this steep,
we met three backpackers who were heading down, the only people we
would see face-to-face for a couple more days.
After a nearly 1,000-foot climb, the trail levels off
slightly and traverses a sidehill that was in peak bloom with wildflowers.
a spectacular sight with fields of blooming lavender lupine highlighted
by shooting stars, columbine, and more. The trail turns east slightly
to cross a rather substantial creek that is the outlet of Lonely
Lake, unseen in its bowl high up on the divide.
After the creek crossing, the trail gets serious about
conquering the next 2,200 feet to Elizabeth Pass and tackles the mountainside
on and straight up. The scenery was captivating, however, which offers
a constant excuse to stop and rest.
Without having a map in hand, we began trying to pick
out Elizabeth Pass along the ridge. We couldn’t pinpoint where we would cross
these mountains until the trail turned from north to east.
Then, almost straight ahead of us, looking deceivingly
close, yet still more than 1,000 feet above, was Elizabeth Pass. We stopped
on a large, flat boulder near the trail.
In analyzing the final push to the pass, we were concerned
with the thunderheads gathering along the ridgeline. We also noticed
figures way in the distance, working their way toward the pass.
They were moving slowly toward this destination, stopping
often. We made note of their location, then began timing them, so we,
would know how long it would take to reach the pass.
We then observed that our rest stop would make a comfortable
campsite. It was a large, flat granite bench on the north side of the
a creek about 200 yards south and an endless view down the Kaweah’s
Middle Fork canyon to Castle Rocks and beyond.
It was about 4 p.m. We stopped for the day.
It took the party ahead of us just over a half hour before
they went up and over the pass; we estimated our time in reaching the
would be about 45 minutes from where we now were settled. But we
knew if there was a decent campsite immediately on the other side of
mountain, they would be in it.
We were glad we would be putting some space between us
and them. In addition, we have learned that we like to be on passes earlier
than later in the day for a couple of reasons. One, if there is an
afternoon buildup of clouds, it is unwise to spend much time on these
exposed ridges and, two, we like to stay as long as possible on high.
After all, we work so hard to get there, and there is
so much to see, explore, and photograph. We were satisfied with our decision
short of our goal of being up and over the pass on this day.
We settled in with camp chores — setting up tents, filtering
water, preparing dinner. With the western exposure of our camp, the
sun didn’t set until 8 p.m.
We were absolutely awestruck by the alpenglow on the
granite peaks that surrounded us on three sides, especially on the artistic
formations looming directly over our campsite. Recalling that pre-1905,
Elizabeth Pass had been known as Turtle Pass due to the shape of
a rock there, we named a distinctive outcrop here in honor of this historic
The clouds had magically disappeared, and the sunset
was an unforgettable sight as the mountains became bathed in various
hues of pink then orange
until the shadows of night gained hold.
The only sign of humanity was the overflights of military
aircraft just before nightfall. A few years ago, we considered this bothersome;
since 9/11, we realize it’s necessary.
As the sun set, the wind picked up, streaming downslope
from Elizabeth Pass. Although we had erected our two tents side by side,
that one would have to be relocated to where it could be better anchored.
We carried it to where the occupants would have a bird’s-eye
view from the very edge of our granite perch. There was enough decomposed
granite here that it could be properly staked.
Remembering the torrential rain of two nights before,
the kids asked if it was going to rain during the night. I looked at
sky and assured everyone that it wouldn’t.
I proceeded to explain the pattern of the afternoon buildup
of clouds that occurs during summer Sierra summers that cause intermittent
in the latter part of the day but then dissipates quickly.
In the morning, after a rainstorm that began at 2 a.m.
and continued until dawn, and then became the norm every night for the
rest of our
trip, it became evident that I would be reminded of my failed attempt
to second-guess Mother Nature for a long time to come. To be continued...
Shopping in Visalia will soon cost more
Passing by a mere 19 votes, Measure T, which was on the March 2 ballot,
was passed by Visalia voters. This means by the fall of this year, consumers
will be paying 7.5 percent sales tax in that city, up from 7.25 percent.
The measure, which needed 66.67 percent of the vote to
pass, squeaked by with 66.76 percent.
Citing budget difficulties due to the State of California
siphoning money from its municipal and county governments, the sales-tax
the first of its kind to be passed by a city. The margin of approval
was so close that Tulare County elections officials weren’t able
to provide the results of the voting until March 18, more than two weeks
after the actual election.
The new tax is estimated to raise an additional $4.5
million annually. The money will be used for public safety, being split
60-40 between police
and fire services — 28 new police officers, 18 new firefighters,
two new fire stations, two new police precincts, and a state-of-the-art
911 dispatch center.