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In the News -
Friday, SEPTEMBER 7, 2007
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.
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
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
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.
IT LIKE IT IS
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
For the past year, the webcam — online at www.mk-webcam.net
— 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
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
“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
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
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
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.
HIKING THE PARKS
in Sequoia’s backcountry:
A family’s journey into the wilderness
By Sarah Elliott
— DAY 1 —
Saturday, July 14
Mineral King to
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.