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Kaweah Kam

  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
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 dollars.

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 recalled.

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 to Ruffner.

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 catalog.

“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 faith.

“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 High Sierra.

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 image that 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 Commonwealth, the 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 what’s happening 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 trees.

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 during 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 season generally 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; and they 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 to 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 to downstream users.

“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 basin would be completed.

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 right now 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 the Chevron station). The discounted trips last a couple of hours and end at the Slick Rock Recreation Area at Lake Kaweah.

“The shorter, less expensive trips are an excellent way to enjoy the river, especially for families and beginners,” Root said.

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.





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 previous installments, see “Hiking” on this site.



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 them.

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 than the 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 hot, home-cooked 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 of us, 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 for 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 usual start.

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 north and immediately began ascending steep switchbacks up the ridge of the Kings-Kaweah Divide.

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 alongside 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, rocky stretch, 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. It was 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 head 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 and rested 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 three tiny 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, ourselves, 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 trail with 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 saddle 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 the 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 rather 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 to stop 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 rock 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 place name.

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, we realized 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 the cloudless 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 showers 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 initiative was 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.





THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
OFFICE: 41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, California
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
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