BY JOHN ELLIOTT
Most Kaweah Country residents
would attest that their love affair with this area has something to
do with one part or another of the unique Kaweah canyon. Whether looking
up or down, the vast scenery is difficult to match.
Towering almost 6,000 feet above Three Rivers in
an almost sentinel-like pose is Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park’s
most visible landmark. Whether you are a local resident or visitor to
these parts, it’s not long until you are taken by a view of, or
have seen the view from, this monolithic rock.
Even with all Kaweah Country has to offer, every
now and then an escape to the Central Coast can be good for the soul,
not to mention a relief from the poor air quality and stifling heat
of the dog days of summer. Most locals would agree
that at the center of their favorite coastal places is yet another “Morro”
Incredible as it may seem, and within three hours of each other, are
two very different places — one in the mountains and one at the
beach. Together, these landmarks are situated amidst enough to do for
a life of perpetual vacation.
So whether you’re planning to get away for
a day or a month this summer, come along and enjoy the Commonwealth’s
special vacation issue. We begin the journey to some of the region’s
best vacation spots with this tale of two Mor(r)os.
OF THE BAY
coastal Morro Rock is actually a peak of an extinct volcano. It
is one of a group of nine peaks that run in a straight line for
12 miles within San Luis Obispo County. The other volcanic peaks
range in elevation from 665 feet to 1,559; Morro Rock’s
peak is at 576 feet above sea level.
Dubbed “Gibraltar of the Pacific,” Morro Rock
was named by Cabrillo in 1542 because of its characteristic shape
of a Moor’s turban. It was originally spelled with one “R,”
the second being added after a mention by Father Crespi, who described
the landmark in 1769 as morro, in Spanish meaning round rock.
Franklin Riley, who arrived in 1864, built the first
house and founded the town of Morro Bay. Riley planted thousands
of eucalyptus trees to help shield the early settlers from the
In the 1870s, the town prospered as schooners called
at Riley’s Embarcadero to pick up wool, potatoes, barley,
and dairy products. In these early days, high surf, surging tides,
and erratic winds made navigating the harbor a risky proposition.
In the 1890s, Morro Rock was quarried to provide
materials for breakwaters. In 1933, the WPA blasted huge chunks
from the monolith to build a jetty that connected the rock to
The jetty closed the north entrance to the harbor,
but the south channel was dredged and protected by a breakwater.
The Embarcadero became a fishing hotspot, bringing in huge catches
of albacore, salmon, and cod.
During World War II, the Navy and the Army trained
at Morro Bay. The beach was frequently invaded during those years
by amphibious landing craft.
In 1968, Morro Rock was designated a California State
Historical Landmark. It covers more than 50 acres at its base
and is only now climbed by special permit because of its endangered
Today, Morro Bay is a thriving city of 10,000 and
home to one of California’s largest commercial fishing fleets.
For a unique lodging experience, try the Masterpiece Motel
(call 1-800-527-6782). Restaurants and shops are within walking
distance and the place is known for its affordable elegance.
From the rock's summit, which may be reached
by a rock and concrete stairway, to the silver streak of the Kaweah
River below is a sheer drop of 4,119 feet. Climbing of Moro Rock's
several hundred steps has been called “mountaineering deluxe,”
the viewpoint at the top being one of several attractions in Sequoia
National Park that should not be missed.
The place name “Moro” came from the Spanish, meaning dark
roan horse. That name was applied to Moro Rock about 1880, after
a mustang that grazed there for many years.
That renowned mount belonged to John and George Swanson,
who are stepsons of Hale Tharp. Tharp was the first white settler
to visit Giant Forest after establishing a cattle ranch in 1856
above where Horse Creek once met the Kaweah River.
In 1861, Tharp and his stepsons were the first party of
white men to climb Moro Rock. Native Americans had been climbing
the monolith for centuries, evidenced by the grinding holes at
According to Mrs. William Swanson, folks climbing the rock
before the first stairway was built in 1917 described the experience
with something like the following: “You removed your shoes, and
then dug in with fingernails and toenails, as you went on all
To say the climb was dangerous is an understatement. Among
the first women who climbed Moro Rock were Hale Tharp's daughter,
Mrs. Bernard Mehrten (ca. 1872) and Emily Purdy (ca.1890).
In 1917, Armine Grunigen and George Swanson built the first
National Park Service-sanctioned staircase. Both the building
and subsequent climbing of the wooden structure were scary propositions,
to say the least.
During the WPA era, the present-day stairway was carved
out in 1931 on the north and east facades of the rock. The handrails
were added two years later.
But even if have you have climbed the nearly 400 steps
to the summit, you haven't really seen the rock until you have
completed most or all of the following:
—Climb at least one of Moro Rock's several famous climbing routes
and literally hang out at more than 6,000 feet above Three Rivers.
—Hike the Colony Mill Road and view Moro Rock from Panoramic Point
and see Sawtooth, Mineral King's tallest peak, silhouetted directly
—Picnic at Hospital Rock and look straight up at the massive monolith
and realize what a really big rock Moro is.
—Take the High Sierra Trail out of Crescent Meadow and at approximately
three miles out, look at the east side of the rock that appears
to be sunken into a slightly lower section of the trail you just
—Hike to the top of Milk Ranch Peak (be sure to get permission
first) and then look north across the Kaweah canyon. From this
vantage point, the tremendous girth of the monolith is fully visible.
There are many more ways to see this famous Sequoia National
For a virtual view of this Kaweah canyon sentinel from
anywhere on the planet, log on during daytime hours to Kaweah
Kam on this website.
From A to Zion:
trail-chasers. By foot or by mountain-bike, we constantly search out
the most adventurous or scenic or historic or wild place and then we
plan a vacation around it.
In our travels over the past decade, we have
discovered some amazing places. And since statistics show that Americans’
vacation time is dwindling, the best part is that these domestic destinations
are all within a week’s vacation of Three Rivers.
So pile the gang into the family-fun wagon
and escape with us.
There are no words in the English language that can aptly describe the
intense blue of Crater Lake. The centerpiece of Crater Lake National
Park, Oregon’s only national park, the lake is in a caldera filled
with rainwater and snowmelt in what used to be a volcano named Mount
Mazama, which erupted and collapsed into itself 7,700 years ago.
With a depth of 1,943 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest
lake in the United States. The 33-mile Rim Drive circumnavigates the
lake, offering access to spectacularvistas, hiking, and picnic areas.
HERE: 580 miles (Note: All mileages listed are based on the most direct
route from Three Rivers and, nevertheless, are approximate. But, remember,
the recipe for vacation success is that the route less traveled is the
most memorable and interstates should be avoided for adventure’s
better place to see the lake than thehighest point in the park? Mount
Scott is a five-mile round-trip hike with a 1,500-foot elevation gain
to a historic fire tower at the top (elevation 8,929 feet). The trailhead
is off of Rim Drive on the east side of the lake.
In an ongoing effort to keep Crater Lake the pristine specimen that
it is, the only legal access to the shore of Crater Lake is the Cleetwood
Cove Trail. The trail is one mile and drops 700 feet from the Rim Drive
trailhead. Narrated open-air boat tours are offered by Volcano Cruises,
beginning at the dock at Cleetwood Cove. The 1¾-hour trip circles
the caldera with a stop at Wizard Island and a close-up look of the
Phantom Ship and the Old Man of the Lake.
IT: Mazama Village Campground (200 sites); Lost Creek Campground (16
sites; tent-camping only).
REST EASY: Crater
Lake Lodge (71 rooms; overlooking the lake); Mazama Village Motor Inn
(40 rooms; seven miles south of the lake).
It Up In
The vacation season is short in Death Valley National Park. One of the
hottest places in the world, temperatures of over 120 degrees are common
during the summer months, so the best time to visit is November through
At first glance,
Death Valley appears to be a barren, monotonous landscape. In reality,
Death Valley’s colorful geology, cultural history, and natural
habitat are a constant source of wonder and amazement.
Canyon is a one-way dirt road that starts near Rhyolite, Nev., at an
elevation of 3,000 feet and climbs two 5,000-foot passes before beginning
a long, gradual descent to sea level. This is an excellent 28-mile bike
ride if the transportation can be arranged. The best time to ride is
early in the day when the sun is at your back. Experience petroglyphs,
Leadfield ghost town, mines, amazing scenery, and a canyon so narrow
that the sun can’t even find the ground.
For hikers, Telescope
Peak, at 11,048 feet, is the highest point in the park. It’s seven
miles to the peak, and the view from the summit is unparalleled as both
the highest (Mount Whitney) and the lowest (Badwater) points in the
United States are visible. (Wildrose Peak is a good alternative is the
Telescope Peak Trail if snow-covered.)
Scotty’s Castle, Badwater (lowest point in the western hemisphere),
Wildrose Charcoal Kilns, Rhyolite ghost town, Harmony Borax Works, Stovepipe
Wells Sand Dunes in the moonlight.
IT: There are nine campgrounds in the park, three of which are open
REST EASY: Furnace
Creek Inn (resort hotel with 68 units); Furnace Creek Ranch (resort
complex with 224 units); and Stovepipe Wells Village Motor Inn (83 units).
Have a blast
The tour of the west’s volcanoes starts here at the northernmost
point of the Sierra Nevada or the southernmost point of the Cascade
Range, depending upon who you may be asking. One of the active, yet
dormant, volcanoes in the Pacific Ring of Fire, Lassen Peak, the namesake
of Lassen Volcanic National Park, began as a volcanic vent on the northern
slope of the great Mount Tehama (now called Brokeoff Mountain).
Lassen Peak erupted
on May 30, 1914, and remained active until 1921. Although Lassen and
surrounding volcanoes are closely monitored via satellite, infrared
photography, and seismographs, it’s anybody’s guess if,
or when, Lassen Peak will erupt again.
trail to the top of Lassen Peak is a steady, steep 2.2-mile route with
strategic views of several different types of volcanoes (shield, composite,
plug dome) and sparkling lakes in the distance. The summit, at 10,457
feet elevation, has several huge volcanic craters and a lava flow. The
hike has a nearly 2,000-foot gain from the trailhead, which is located
on Highway 89, seven miles inside the park’s southwest entrance.
Bumpass Hell, an area of hydrothermal activity, including steam vents,
mudpots, and hot springs. Devastated Area, a mudflow that occurred on
the north slope of Lassen Peak on May 22, 1915.
IT: There are eight campgrounds in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
REST EASY: The
only overnight accommodations in Lassen are the cabins and bungalows
at Drakesbad Guest Ranch, located in the Warner Valley area and accessible
via a road that enters the park’s south boundary and dead-ends
at the facilities. Accommodations outside the southwest park entrance
are in Mineral.
For history, geology, and outdoor recreation, an adventure is waiting
for anyone who travels to this northernmost region of California. Lava
Beds National Monument is located on the north flank of a large shield
volcano, the Medicine Lake volcano.
The Lava Beds
area has a violent past, due both to the natural forces of the Earth
— volcanoes — and human activity — the Modoc War.
The most intriguing
of the volcanic features in Lava Beds is the nearly 300 known lava tube
caves, many of which have been developed for public access. The caves
are actually lava flows in which outer “shells” of the lava
hardened while the centers continued to flow, creating caverns, some
of which may be more than 30,000 years old.
one-mile hike up Schonchin Butte takes visitors to the highest point
in Lava Beds. The fire lookout at the top is an excellent place to view
a sunset while enjoying panoramic views of the Medicine Lake volcano,
Mount Shasta, and the entire Lava Beds landscape. Access roads lead
to many of the caves, so driving to them is an option, however, traffic
is light in the monument, so bike-riding is our transportation of choice
when exploring the caves. And the bike helmets double as hard hats for
cave exploration (other necessary equipment includes jackets and flashlights/headlamps).
Captain Jack’s Stronghold, two self-guided interpretive trails
in an area of deep lava trenches and caves along the south shore of
Tule Lake that created a natural fortification for the Modocs in 1872
to 1873 to hold off the U.S. Army’s advances. Petroglyph Point,
where early man carved hundreds of pictures into the soft rock. There
are also many trails, both long and short, that lead to some of the
most significant sites in the monument.
IT: There is one campground with 43 sites in the monument and its exposure
offers the most incredible sunrises.
REST EASY: Lava
Beds is extremely remote and there are no overnight accommodations within
the monument’s boundaries.
Along the northern coast of California is where the tallest trees in
the world grow in a moist climate that supports a wide range of species,
from mosses and ferns to giant banana slugs.
coast redwoods along the Pacific coast are the focal point of Redwood
National and State Parks, which are managed cooperatively between the
National Park Service and the State of California Department of Parks
and Recreation. This is a place that needs to be experienced rather
than just viewed, so enter this magical world of redwood groves and
start the adventure.
are more than 50 miles of designated bike trails in Redwood National
and State Parks. The Ossagon Trail Loop, in Prairie Creek Redwoods State
Park, is a 19.4-mile bike ride that includes pavement, dirt road, trail
and, believe it or not, single track riding surfaces. The route starts
at the Elk Prairie Campground and travels through dense, second-growth
forest on an old logging road before descending to oceanside near Gold
Bluffs Beach Campground. The route continues north along the coast past
Fern Canyon and elk herds and becomes single track along the coastal
prairie. The trail turns inland at its northernmost point and climbs
steeply for about a mile on a dirt road. Bikers then embark on the Newton
B. Drury Scenic Parkway and deal with semi-light traffic for a six-mile
gradual descent back to the campground.
The Roosevelt elk herds, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Gold Bluffs Beach,
IT: There are four front-country campgrounds within the parks’
boundaries, including Elk Prairie Campground in Prairie Creek Redwoods
State Park, which is centrally located, offers convenient access to
many recreational opportunities, and is popular with the elk.
REST EASY: The
only lodging inside the parks is at the DeMartin Redwood Youth Hostel.
Lodging is available outside the parks in nearby communities, including
Orick, Trinidad, Eureka and Arcata.
This is the crown jewel of the National Park System and the park that
started the entire movement of preservation in 1872. The scenery, geology,
and wildlife of Yellowstone National Park are wondrous — the lakes,
rivers, forests, peaks, valleys, meadows, the Continental Divide; the
hot springs, geysers, mud pots; grizzlies, bison, moose, bighorn sheep
— and the history and pre-history are fascinating — the
Indians, the mountain men and fur trappers, explorers, surveyors, photographers,
artists, the exploiters, and the protectors.
a wild land, a special and important place, that tells tales of truth
and legend. It is also a fragile place that hosts nearly 3 million visitors
Most of these
people never even see Yellowstone’s backcountry, which encompasses
2 million acres and contains over 1,000 miles of trails, many of which
are the same paths that were traveled by Native Americans and the first
But even if you
don’t want to leave the vehicle behind, there’s Yellowstone’s
Grand Loop Road, the figure-eight-shaped road system that provides convenient
access to the park’s major attractions.
the one-mile scenic loop around the West Thumb Geyser Basin, a caldera
within a larger caldera overlooking Yellowstone Lake, one of the largest
lakes in North America. The Upper Geyser Basin Trail at Old Faithful
can be walked or even biked, since much of it is on what was the highway
prior to its realignment away from the geothermal features in the 1980s.
The loop contains
the largest concentration of geysers in the park, including Old Faithful.
Many side trips originate from this trail.
Longer day hike
recommendations include Heart Lake Trail (7.5 miles one way), the Lewis
Channel-to-Shoshone Lake Trail (6 miles one way), which is much more
scenic than the shorter, 4.25-mile Dogshead Trail that shares the same
trailhead and destination.
Time for just
one hike? Then it has to be Mount Washburn for the views, wildlife,
and wildflowers. Hikers can choose from one of two old stagecoach routes
(Chittenden, 2.25 miles one way, or Dunraven, 3 miles one way) to the
summit and the three-story fire lookout tower on top. Bikes are allowed
on the Chittenden Trail.
Old Faithful, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Upper and Lower Yellowstone
Falls, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone Lake and, south of the park,
Grand Teton National Park and the Old West/ski resort town of Jackson.
IT: Campgrounds are plenty, and plenty busy, throughout the park. Away
from the main hustle-bustle of the park is Lewis Lake Campground near
the South Entrance.
REST EASY: Several
overnight accommodations are available in Yellowstone, from romantic
to historic to rustic to practical. Old Faithful Inn was opened in 1904
and billed as, then, the largest log structure in the world. Also, hang
your hat at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, Canyon Lodge, Old Faithful Lodge,
Grant Village, Lake Hotel, Lake Lodge, or Roosevelt Lodge.
The draw of Zion National Park is the exquisite beauty of the landscape.
And it’s not all towering red walls because there are rivers,
waterfalls, forests, lush canyons, sandstone deserts, natural bridges,
and ancient dwellings.
The visitor feels
miniscule while on the canyon floor, where cliffs rise 3,000 feet into
the sky. Although the park is open year-round, Utah’s first national
park has implemented a shuttle system that operates March through October
to take visitors into the heart of the canyon while leaving the traffic
jams behind (walking and bicycling are also acceptable modes of transportation
on the shuttle portion of the highway).
Landing Trail is an extreme outing, considering that it’s a front-country
day-hike that’s under three miles one way. From The Grotto shuttle
stop, the trail ascends 1,500 vertical feet to the top of a sheer-walled
monolith via Walter’s Wiggles, a series of 21 switchbacks. Then,
for a half-mile during the final ascent, a death grip on a chain becomes
necessary as the trail traverses a steep, narrow ridge.
If you fear heights, you’ll either get a major adrenaline rush
or have to turn back on this one.
In Springdale, the community at the park’s south entrance, there
is an IMAX-sized movie screen with multiple daily showings of Treasure
of the Gods, a history and overview of Zion. All of Utah’s “Color
Country” is a must-see. This area is located in the southwest
portion of the state and is a haven of national parks — Zion,
Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, and Grand Staircase-Escalante
National Monument. Also within driving distance is the Grand Canyon’s
North Rim in Arizona and Great Basin National Park and Hoover Dam in
IT: There are two campgrounds in the park — Watchman and South,
both located near the south entrance.
REST EASY: The
only cars allowed on the park’s scenic shuttle road are those
whose occupants are staying at the Zion Lodge and traveling to and fro.