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Sequoia and Kings Canyon
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Kaweah Kam


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In the News - Friday, SEPTEMBER 7, 2007

Lake take

  THE CURRENT STORAGE at Lake Kaweah is 13,550 acre feet (as of Thursday, Sept. 6), and it is planned that the water level will be eventually reduced to approximately 10,000 acre feet. The basin received a paltry total of 9.13 inches of rainfall for the 2006-2007 season. Volunteers are needed for Public Lands Day, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 29, held each fall at Lake Kaweah. Call 597-2301 to register.

Business review:

Summer season

sizzles in Three Rivers

   They came from nearly every state, dozens of countries, and every nook and cranny of California. That’s how some local business operators described this year’s August onslaught of tourists.
   August is traditionally the busiest month of the year, and despite a ballyhooed downward trend in the national economy, some operators did record-setting business.
Efrain Ponce, the new owner of the Sequoia Cider Mill Restaurant, said his eatery had an unbelievable month of August. On several consecutive days, he said, the restaurant set new records for customers served and gross receipts.
   There were similar glowing reports at all the area’s eateries and several consecutive nights of “no vacancy” at the local lodgings.

  “We know it’s going to slow down now that the kids are back in school,” Ponce said. “But that will give us some time to complete all the upgrades to our property.”
   Ponce, a Woodlake developer, is steadily transforming the venerable Cider Mill, formerly owned by Hector and Juliet Delcon. After recently digging a well, next on the agenda is a new roof and some decking that will add more outdoor seating.

  “I could walk away right now and retire quite comfortably if I wanted to,” Ponce said. “But having a really nice place in Three Rivers is something that I’ve always dreamed of doing.”
   Ponce knows his establishment benefited from the sudden closing of the Hummingbird Café, formerly Main Fork Bistro, formerly Noisy Water Cafe. The revival of the historic eatery didn’t last long; closing its doors in August after just a 10-month run.
   The most recent operators — Jerrie Contreras and Joe Vasquez — had some untimely health issues and have filed for bankruptcy protection. The owners of the property are looking for another operator who could restore some of the nostalgic appeal to one of the best riverfront locations in Three Rivers.
   Since the closure in the 1990s of several park attractions in the Giant Forest, Three Rivers has been slow to develop the destination amenities that many local business owners hoped would fill the void and attract even more tourists. One such attraction — Discoveries West Gallery and Archives — is being readied to open in late October and is destined to fill some of that destination void.
   The showplace gallery and research center is the brainchild of John McWilliams and his partner, Jim Brucker. Both are collectors of Americana and will exhibit the items from their unique holdings.
   The premiere exhibit entitled “Treasures of Tulare County History” will include rare documents, photos, and artifacts never before accessible to the public.
   According to McWilliams, the changing historical exhibits will attract collectors and history buffs from “the world over” and put Three Rivers on the map for discriminating visitors and serious academics.
   There are also plans to publish at least one book annually. In addition, the completely remodeled digs that formerly housed the offices of Dr. Molina in the Pizza Factory complex will also contain a research library and one of the finest collections documenting the history of photography to be found anywhere.
   Also coming soon is the relocation of 3 Rivers Cyber Café to the Avant Real Estate building in the office next to the Commonwealth.
   The reorganized business will offer free wireless Internet and, in partnership, with the local newspaper, plans to become a definitive source for visitor information.
   Farther up the canyon, The Cabin coffee emporium that recently operated as Nectar and Java Juice is all set to reopen under the auspices of a formerly successful Visalia restaurant couple who recently have operated a bed and breakfast in Three Rivers. That property is in escrow but sources close to the deal expect negotiations to be completed soon.



Windows on the world

By Sarah Elliott

   The webcam that offers an unparalleled view of Timber Gap in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park is facing extinction within the next week or so. Apparently, the webcam operator and the National Park Service are at an impasse when it comes to accessing the cam’s location.
   For the past year, the webcam — online at — has offered a glimpse into this remote alpine valley during all four seasons. Professionally, I have used the cam extensively to assist with weather forecasts; personally, I check in with the cam nearly everyday and especially enjoyed the rare opportunity to experience the winter scenes of Mineral King, a time when the valley is virtually inaccessible.
   The webcam is located at the Mineral King Pack Station, which itself ceased operation four years ago. The pack station is less than a half-mile from the Mineral King Road via a dirt road, but closed to vehicular traffic except for Park Service use.
   The webcam operator, Gordon Wood, has a cabin at Mineral King. His first webcam project was accomplished at his cabin and offers a view of the forest.
   After reaching an agreement with the Park Service, he installed the second cam in the upper valley that has a much more captivating panorama.
   The cams are maintained by Gordon at absolutely no cost to NPS and the American taxpayers. Since electricity has yet to find its way into Mineral King, the cams are operable with solar panels, batteries, phone lines, and dial-up modem; quite a feat of technological genius.
   The reason the cam is going offline is because the Park Service has a locked chain across the beginning of the pack station road and won’t allow Gordon to drive on the road to provide maintenance to the cam unless accompanied by an authorized escort.
   That creates a dilemma during the spring, fall, and winter seasons when there is no Park Service personnel regularly in the area. And since Gordon lives 250 miles away, he would like to eliminate this logistical requirement so he may access the cam when his schedule permits instead of when an “escort” is available.
   At times, he could just walk the road to provide routine maintenance, which he has been doing this summer.

  “But often I need to take in an extension ladder to get to the solar panels on the roof and the webcam enclosure that is more than 10 feet above the ground,” explained Gordon. “Lens cleaning is also a recurring task that requires the ladder. I also need my full toolbox, which weighs about 80 pounds, to perform repairs, soldering, etc. And sometimes I need to bring in a replacement battery that’s larger than a car battery and weighs nearly 100 pounds. For these items, I need to drive in with my truck.”
   Currently, Gordon said, he needs to replace two failed solar panels. Also, there are electronic components in the control unit that need heaters installed to survive harsh winter.
   This is quite an investment of time, money, equipment, and expertise, again at no cost to the Park Service and no financial gain for the webcam operator, but with tremendous benefit for the public.
   I implore of the Park Service to consider Gordon Wood a valid park partner and allow this webcam to continue.
   Not everybody has the wherewithal to travel to Mineral King or, perhaps, any national park. But everyone, everywhere, can enjoy this valuable resource by just logging on to their computer.
   It’s the next best thing to being there.

Lost wallet returned

by good Samaritan

   It’s one of those feel-good stories that fortunately is not all that unusual in the close-knit community of Three Rivers. This one began when Danny Kiefer, who grew up at the Catfish Farm, was here from Mississippi visiting his parents for the past two weeks.
   On Labor Day afternoon, he drove from his parent’s house on Kaweah River Drive to Three Rivers School to shoot some hoops. Danny played varsity basketball when he attended Woodlake High so playing at Three Rivers School rekindled some fond memories.
   On his return to his parents’ house, he’s still not quite sure how it happened, but evidently his wallet fell onto Kaweah River Drive. Kim Peterson, a customer service representative at the local Bank of Sierra and resident of Three Rivers, was driving behind Kiefer’s car and noticed something hit the pavement. She said she couldn’t tell what it was, but stopped to check it out.
   Kim was amazed to find that it was a man’s wallet containing a wad of bills, driver’s license, and checkbook in a typical looking wallet. But there was one small problem.
   By the time Kim was back in her car and driving near the old Catfish Farm, Kiefer’s vehicle was nowhere to be seen. That’s when Kim took an educated guess that somehow the local Kiefers might know the whereabouts of this Kiefer, the driver of the car with out-of-state plates.

  “When Kim showed up with the wallet, we were as surprised as Danny was that somehow he had lost his wallet,” said Carol Kiefer, Danny’s mother. “I told Kim she was truly an angel for returning it.”
   Carol said it was extremely good fortune that Kim found the wallet because it contained $450 in cash, most of which Danny needed to pay his travel expenses on his return trip home to Mississippi.

  “We offered Kim a reward but she said that ‘thank you’ was rewarding enough,” Carol said.

WHS home opener

kicks off football season

   For three quarters last Friday night (August 31), the rejuvenated Woodlake Tigers (0-1) pushed around the powerful Exeter Monarchs (1-0), and with a break or two, oh, what might have been. When the gun sounded, the Tigers were on the short end of a 27-20 score, and the visiting Monarchs were very relieved to escape Leo Robinson Field with yet another year to hold onto the cherished Valencia Classic trophy.
   The trophy is awarded to the winner of the annual grudge match between neighborhood rivals who met on the gridiron Friday for the 87th time. Woodlake has not won the game since 2002 but came away with the moral victory and a huge boost to hopes for a winning season.

  “The Exeter game last year was so embarrassing,” recalled Coach Rick Ruiz, now in his second season at the helm of the Tigers. “As a coach, I took a direct hit to my ego.”
   But in fairness to Coach Ruiz, a Woodlake walk-on with strong ties to Exeter, last season he was hired to guide a program that was strong on tradition but lacked focus and had become way too comfortable with losing. It was surprising to most fans that the team even won three games in 2006.
   But that was then, and now the players have had time to buy into a system that suddenly is striking fear into the hearts of formidable Division IV opponents like Exeter. If not for a turnover in the opening quarter, Woodlake would have that coveted Valencia trophy.
   Due to the day’s temperature that eclipsed the century mark, the CIF-Central Section — which oversees school sports in Central California — recommended delaying all game times last Friday by one hour so players could compete in relatively cooler conditions.
   After a futile opening series, Woodlake was forced to punt from deep in their own territory. Jeff Beck of Three Rivers, a Tiger assistant coach, said the guys just failed to cover the kick headed out of bounds and an alert Exeter player scooped up the ball and returned it to the Tiger five-yard line.

  “The defense put on a heroic stand in front of their own goal line and from that moment on, they knew they could match up with Exeter,” Coach Beck said.
   After the Tigers took over on downs, Thomas Navarro, a senior but starting his first game at quarterback, was intercepted. That turnover quickly led to an Exeter score.
   That early score set the tone for the first half that ended with Exeter leading 13-6. The Tigers moved the ball well in the second half but fell victim to the heat and cramps with just too few players to rest those who were playing both ways.
   Eventually the depth of the Exeter bench prevailed. Woodlake only dressed 24 players while Exeter had twice as many. But Coach Ruiz wasn’t making excuses.

  “Our best 11 can match up with anyone,” Coach Ruiz said. “The Exeter game was a good stepping stone for us, and I was really impressed with our effort.”
   The novice Navarro finished with 102 yards rushing and a half a dozen completed passes.

  “We’re a running team and will show improvement with every game,” said Coach Beck. “We want to challenge our opponents to stop us, then we will go to other options we have in the skill positions.”
   The much improved JV team also came up short, 7-0, but played some great defense.


Rerouted in Sequoia’s backcountry:
A family’s journey into the wilderness and back

By Sarah Elliott

— DAY 1 —
Saturday, July 14
Mineral King to
Spring Lake
6 miles

   The plan was to be on the trail at 7 a.m., so it was typical that we began our trip at 8 that morning. We had arrived in Mineral King the previous afternoon so we could spend the night at altitude before heading off with heavy backpacks toward 11,100-foot Glacier Pass.
   A friend gave us a ride to the Sawtooth/Monarch Lakes trailhead (elevation 7,800 feet) so we didn’t have to take up a space at this busy parking lot and, more importantly, leave our vehicle at the mercy of the area’s relentless, antifreeze-addicted marmots. He also took the traditional family photo — mother and father with two children (now ages 18 and 17) — where we stand with fully-loaded backpacks looking both energetic and clean, an image that won’t again repeat itself during the upcoming nine days.
   The first section of the trail consists of ascending switchbacks on an exposed hillside — which is why an early start time is best — where the west slope of Empire Mountain meets the Mineral King valley floor. This is a popular departure point if heading to Timber Gap, Sawtooth Pass or Peak, Monarch Lakes, Crystal Lake, or cross-country to Glacier Pass.
   For this year’s trip into the backcountry, we selected to leave the valley via Glacier Pass. In their lifetimes of backpacking and hiking in the Mineral King area, this was the only pass our children had not been on or over.
   In under an hour, we reached Groundhog Flat (named for those carhopping marmots), which is the first of three hanging valleys we would encounter that would stair-step us toward the pass. We began the off-trail experience by taking the old Sawtooth Trail from here; the “new” trail crosses Monarch Creek, enters the forest, and approaches the Monarch Lakes basin from the south.
   We followed the unmaintained trail, which climbs above the Monarch Creek canyon. We were now on the southern side of 11,550-foot Empire Mountain, the site of much activity, development, and dreams of riches during the Mineral King mining heyday.
   Although route-finding is not difficult on this section of the trail, it is obvious why it was eventually abandoned. We were traversing boulders and rockslides that have exfoliated over the years from the steep, unstable pinnacles directly above us.
   Some of these talus blocks required some extra effort as we clambered up, over, or around with our heavy loads, and sections of the initial portion of trail are overgrown with vegetation. But we’ve always preferred this more direct way up the canyon to the Monarch Lakes basin and as a route to and from Sawtooth Pass, mostly because of its scenic values.
   The boulder-hopping and bushwhacking didn’t last long. The trail debouches into another wide, glaciated canyon as it meets back up with Monarch Creek at the top of a waterfall.
   The trail is easily followed up and over a low ridge and into the meadow. When it arrives at a creek that comes down from the mountain to the north (dry in late season), some attentive route-finding is required.
   Cross the creekbed and watch for the trail to veer right toward Monarch Creek, which is then paralleled until reaching the east end of the meadow.
   At the far side of this pleasant flat, there is a red rock ridge that juts down. Immediately after this outcrop, the trail turns left to begin its climb up the grassy, moist mountainside toward the lower lake basin. The trees that line another rust-colored, rocky slope above is where the trail is heading.
   The kids and I reached this area together, and it proved to be a good rest stop before we began the assault on the Sawtooth ridge. We took off our packs and sat down to wait for John, which was unusual because during past trips we all had maintained similar paces, but little did we know this would have important implications on some decisions made during the remainder of the trip.
   The day was sunny and warm with just a few clouds floating by in the sky. And Sawtooth Peak, which is within constant view, was no longer the single jutting point as seen from Mineral King or even the San Joaquin Valley on the clearest of days, but from this perspective just a big jumble of granite.
   As we waited, a father from Canada and his two sons, 19 and nine, caught up to us. Upon informing each other of our itineraries, we were impressed to learn of their ambitious vacation.
   They had arrived in Mineral King after being at the Grand Canyon the previous day. And now, they were taking the old Sawtooth trail to Monarch Lake, where they were planning to continue to upper Monarch, climb over the south ridge to Crystal Lake, then back to Mineral King via the Monarch Lakes trail.
   Following this strenuous dayhike, they were planning to drive to Yosemite before catching a plane in Los Angeles within 48 hours. After the trio went on their way, we discussed how someone from Canada would find Mineral King in this remote area of Sequoia National Park, then plan a dayhike that included taking an abandoned trail and a cross-country route in some of the most rugged terrain in the Sierra.
   Fast forward, two weeks later: Our son was reading the August issue of Backpacker magazine and announced, “I know how those people found Mineral King!”
   In that issue, which arrived in early July, there is a pull-out booklet called “The Wildest Dayhikes in America’s National Parks.” The “Monarch Lake-Crystal Lake Loop” in Sequoia made the list at number three out of the editors’ top five picks, while a Grand Canyon hike was number two.
   We’ll never know, but this general guide may have helped the travelers plan their vacation and their rigorous all-day treks.
   But there was no time to think about such matters on this day. We still had work to do.
   From here, it would be an easy walk to Monarch Lake, but if heading to Glacier Pass or even directly to Sawtooth Pass and/or Peak, it is not necessary to go the extra distance to Monarch Lake. From this point at the top of yet another ridge, there is an obvious trail in the sand that turns north, straight upslope from two large, distinctive white bark pines that adorn the west end of lower Monarch Lake (elevation 10,300 feet) below.
   This is where the well-worn use trail attacks the exceptionally steep mountainside with a vengeance. The trail splits upon reaching the base of a green swath of vegetation that comes down the mountain.
   One fork continues toward the greenery and a rock drainage. Another fork starts immediately up the mountain, heading deceivingly straight toward what looks like an impassable sand slope.
   Either way is okay to take at this point — and neither way is going to be easy — but the trail that heads up toward the sand slope is well worn and more direct, and it veers off before entering the sandy slide area.
   Once we began our ascent on the mountain, we acquired some distance between us. Some of us hiked fast with few rest stops; others selected different routes.
   It became a matter of personal preference to do whatever it takes to haul a heavy backpack to the top of the precipitous crestline.
   Actually, going to the very top of the ridge would be climbing too high. In researching this trip, we had heard complaints that this happened often.
   In fact, our son was so far ahead of us, I became concerned that maybe he would climb too high and miss the pass altogether. But by staying on the most well-traveled trail, no one had a problem finding the low saddle on the northernmost end of the Sawtooth ridgeline, then making the easy horizontal traverse toward Glacier Pass.
   We regrouped on top of Glacier Pass, snacked on trail mix, and recovered after the grueling climb. But we were anxious to head down the other side because that’s where the trip would really begin.
                        TO BE CONTINUED...


Grady Nunnelee, 60 years in 3R
1924 ~ 2007

   Grady Bethel Nunnelee, formerly of Three Rivers, died Friday, Aug. 31, 2007. He was 83.
   Visitation is today (Friday, Sept. 7), from 3 to 8 p.m. at Miller Memorial Chapel, 1120 W. Goshen Ave., Visalia.
   A Celebration of Life service will be held Saturday, Sept. 8, 2 p.m., at Miller Memorial Chapel with Grady’s grandson, Pastor John McKellar, officiating. A reception will immediately follow.
   A private burial will be held Monday, Sept. 10, at the Exeter District Cemetery.
   Grady was born April 23, 1924, in Briartown, Okla., to Anna and Earl Nunnelee. He was the youngest of five children.
   On Nov. 9, 1945, Grady married the former Mary Johnson. The couple moved to Three Rivers in July 1947, shortly after the birth of their first son, James “Jim” Earl Nunnelee.
   Grady worked in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks for over 43 years as an equipment operator and driving and maintaining snowplows and other heavy-duty machinery. He retired in 1987.
   Grady was a hardworking man who loved the outdoors and was a helpful neighbor. His hobbies included raising chickens and rabbits and tending to his garden.
   Last year, Grady was preceded in death by his wife of more than 60 years, Mary (1923-2006). Six months previously, the couple had moved to Lindsay to live with their oldest daughter, Carol.
   Prior to that, they were able to remain in their Three Rivers home due to the care provided by their youngest of six children, Troy.
   Grady was also preceded in death by his oldest son, Jim (1946-2003).
   Grady is survived by daughter-in-law Sandra Nunnelee (Jim’s wife) of Oregon, daughter Carol McKellar of Lindsay, son Jerry Nunnelee and wife Paula of Three Rivers, son Larry Nunnelee and wife Rebecca of Oklahoma, daughter Cathy Hamilton and husband Robert of Springville, and son Troy Nunnelee of Three Rivers; his sister, Molly McCoy of Tulare; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Joan Johnson, motel owner, ambulance volunteer

  Joan Johnson, longtime Three Rivers resident, lost her battle with cancer Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2007.
   A viewing will be held Sunday, Sept. 9, 2 to 3:30 p.m., at Evens-Miller Memorial Chapel in Exeter. A rosary will follow at 4 p.m.
   On Monday, Sept. 10, at 10 a.m., the funeral will be held at St. Anthony Retreat in Three Rivers, immediately followed by a burial service at the Three Rivers Cemetery.
   The only child of John and Dorothy Murphy, Joan was born in Los Angeles. She graduated from UCLA, then obtained her teaching credential.
   In 1958, Joan married Jerry R. Johnson in Fountain Valley. They had four children.
   In 1965, the couple purchased their first property in Three Rivers. In 1976, when Jerry retired from the Los Angeles City Fire Department, the family relocated to Three Rivers.
   The Johnsons purchased the Stivers Motel, later renaming it the Lazy J Ranch and Motel. Joan later obtained her real estate license and her EMT-1 certificate.
   Joan was active in, and volunteered for, numerous community organizations, including the St. Clair’s Altar Society, Three Rivers Volunteer Ambulance, Three Rivers and Visalia chambers of commerce, Visalia Pinsetter Bowling League, Tulare County Pan-Hellenic Society, Random Readers Book Club, Three Rivers Historical Society, and Three Rivers Woman’s and Lions clubs.
   Joan traveled extensively with friends and family, including memorable trips to Australia, China, Israel, France, Ireland, Germany, Mexico, Canada, the Tahitian Islands, Croatia, as well as throughout the United States.
   Some of her favorite memories were the annual trips with her grandchildren to Bass Lake, Montecito-Sequoia Lodge, and Rankin Ranch.
   In 1995, Joan was preceded in death by her husband of 37 years, Jerry. She continued to operate the family’s motel business until 2005.
   Joan is survived by her four children and their spouses, Jeff and Diana Johnson of Arroyo Grande, Jana and Tim Spade of Visalia, Jim and Karen Johnson of Visalia, and Julie and Jason Hawes of Three Rivers. She is also survived by 12 grandchildren, Jacqueline, Derek, and Jennifer Johnson; Trevor, Zach and Brittany Spade; Savanna, Kyle, Spencer, and Kendall Johnson; Abbie Friel; and Autumn Hawes; and her companion, Tom Swall of Tulare.
   Remembrances may be made to: Hospice of Tulare County Foundation, 900 W. Oak Ave., Visalia, CA 93291.

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
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