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Sequoia and Kings Canyon
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DUE NORTH: Mineral King to Kings Canyon
— Day Two —
Looking down the Kaweah’s Middle Fork canyon at Moro Rock.
Sunday, July 20, 8.8 miles— It was a welcome sight to look out of our tents at dawn and see that the sun would prevail. Mother Nature was benevolent, and the fury of the storm passed during the night.
After determining that the current weather meant a sunny day on the trail, we turned our sights within the tent. An inspection of tent seams, beneath sleeping bags, and of the towering pile of backpacks revealed that our gear had remained dry.
This was cause for celebration as it meant the difference between comfort and misery. To pack soggy sleeping bags, socks, and other items into a drenched pack is not the optimum way to travel and, also of note, water adds weight.
Looking across the Kaweah’s Middle Fork canyon at Sugarbowl Dome and Alta Peak.
We climbed out of our respective tents with the first chore of the day being to light a fire using the kindling we had stashed in the bear box the night before to keep it dry. We boiled water for hot drinks while munching granola and dried fruit.
We dismantled the tents and spread them and the rain flies over rocks in full sun. By the time we were ready to leave camp in an hour or so, the tents had dried enough to be properly stowed into our packs.
We began the day’s hike in good spirits, assuming that the storm we endured the previous night was the climax and it would be clear skies ahead. After all, we’d been backpacking for many summers and had never encountered such a dramatic opening of the heavens.
We left our campsite that was located at just over 7,000 feet elevation and looked forward to the gradual descent that would take us to Redwood Meadow at 6,400 feet in four miles. We have come to call such routes “Happy Trail” because of our tendency to talk happily and incessantly on these sections as opposed to the solemn silence that occurs when encountering the most unrelenting of uphill stretches.
Entering the Redwood Meadow Grove of giant sequoias.
A giant sequoia in the Redwood Meadow Grove, Sequoia National Park.
Redwood Meadow, about which Gordon Wallace wrote: “[The CCC] crew also improved the forage in the pasture at Redwood Meadow by eradicating the skunk cabbage and coneflowers [above] that were threatening to take over.”
The trail runs parallel with Cliff Creek, which then veers west at Redwood Meadow to end at the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River. The vistas along this trail include looking down and across the Middle Fork canyon to Castle Rocks, Alta Peak, Sugarbowl Dome, and the back side of Moro Rock.
It was interesting to see these familiar landmarks because, although we felt we had already walked so far, we remained so close to home.
In just over an hour, the forest of pine and fir began to include some black oak, manzanita, cedar and, soon, some massive trees that towered well above even the most mature of the other conifers, with trunks of a brilliant cinnamon-red color, especially where the sun’s rays shone upon them through the overstory. We had entered the outskirts of the Redwood Meadow Grove of giant sequoias, which grow on the slopes along both sides of the trail.
We descended steadily for another mile before reaching Redwood Meadow. The Redwood Meadow Ranger Station, though no longer manned, is an attractive two-story log cabin located at the junction of the Cliff Creek-to-River Valley trail and the Paradise Ridge trail from Atwell Mill.
Just to the east of the cabin is a smaller, older cabin that served as the ranger station prior to the existence of the larger dwelling.
Gordon Wallace, a former ranger at Redwood Meadow and author of the book, My Ranger Years: Sequoia National Park 1935-1947 (Sequoia Natural History Association and Lamplighter Press, 1993), describes this peaceful locale in these excerpts:“ Redwood Meadow is a lovely green gem that lies at an elevation of 6,400 feet on the western slope of the Great Western Divide between Granite and Cliff creeks, tributaries of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River.
A tack-and-feed storage shed is located near the Redwood Meadow ranger cabin.
The Redwood Meadow ranger station, although no longer manned, is an attractive two story log cabin located at the junction of the Cliff Creek-to-River Valley trail and the Paradise Ridge trail from Atwell Mill.
The Redwood Meadow ranger station, although no longer manned, is an attractive two story log cabin located at the junction of the Cliff Creek-to-River Valley trail and the Paradise Ridge trail from Atwell Mill. About thirty acres in size, it sits in the midst of a modest-sized grove of Sequoiadendron giganteum that is characterized by a mixture of ancient giants and prolific young growth. A little-traveled trail runs along its western fringe, and a snow-fed rivulet gurgles through its center. At the eastern edge, half hidden in a clump of young Sequoia trees, sat a rustic one-room cabin that was now my home. The walls and the pitched roof were constructed with shakes, and the floor consisted of rough-hewn split timber, polished smooth by the years of wear. A small lean-to had been extended over the front, also roofed with shakes and supported by several five-inch uprights of peeled logs. Erected to serve some purpose in the distant past before this area became a part of the park, its character, together with the setting enhanced by isolation, gave it the ambiance of an earlier day when solitary mountain men pioneered the region. This is what I had fallen heir to…
“On June 17  Assistant Chief Ranger Kerr and Park Architect Harold Fowler arrived at Redwood Meadow Ranger Station. The next day the three of us chose the site for a new cabin to be built along the trail on the western edge of the meadow…
“ ...Redwood Meadow had given me in two summers as much of what I consider the finer things of life as most people come by in a lifetime.”
A summer ranger is no longer stationed at Redwood Meadow, and the cabin is used these days mostly by Park Service employees and guests. Those planning on camping are directed to an area north of the meadow; the meadow is fenced and grazing is permitted, but with a one-night limit.
Since we were stopped short by the storm the previous day, we would not be spending the night at Redwood Meadow as originally planned, but instead would continue north for about five more miles to Bearpaw Meadow. So far, we had not encountered another person on this day and we, like Ranger Wallace more than a half-century before us, were enjoying the isolation and beauty of this place.
We remained at Redwood Meadow for most of the morning, and found ourselves wanting to stay longer, but we had an itinerary to which we must adhere and reluctantly bid goodbye to this historic place. We started down the trail toward the headwaters of the Kaweah River.
The Rest of the Story...
Crossroads: Trail junction at Redwood Meadow in Sequoia National Park.
Bob Meadows of Three Rivers provided me with some history on the Redwood Meadow area.
Bob has worked in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks since 1986. He was formerly a summer backcountry ranger stationed at Bearpaw and currently works in the parks’ Division of Natural Resources in the Forestry and Vegetation Management branch.
Bob and his wife, Tani, have lived in Three Rivers for five years. He enjoys researching the history of the Sequoia-Kings Canyon backcountry.
“As many of my co-workers can attest, I am constantly searching for more history,” Bob wrote.
And an ancestor of Bob’s is a fascinating character from local history.
“My second great-grand-uncle, John Meadows, built the first trail up the East Fork and established Silver City at the site of the present Kaweah Han,” he explained.
* * *
In 1872, a mining boom began in the mountains above the East Fork of the Kaweah River. Immediately it became obvious that a better transportation route to this area was needed.
John Meadows of Visalia was appointed to oversee the trail construction, which was being funded by local merchants who wanted miners and other entrepreneurs to reach the Mineral King area by way of their city. The building of the trail commenced late that summer, beginning in Three Rivers at the end of the main road that led into the community, climbing up Red Hill and descending down to cross the gorge near where “Bear Hill Ranch” is today, then continuing up the East Fork canyon on the north side of the river.
This trail-building enterprise remains to this day a remarkable feat of endurance and determination. It was built in a steep canyon so narrow that even the present-day road barely fits one lane as it clings to the rugged mountainsides.
When winter arrived that year, work stopped until spring thaw. While most of the building crew returned to the San Joaquin Valley, others decided to wait out the winter in log cabins they built at a site that John Meadows named Silver City.
The trail, now the Mineral King Road, was completed in the summer of 1873. John Meadows, who was known as a “brave, honest, and conscientious man,” then turned his attention to prospecting in the Mineral King valley and also bought shares in several mines.
In 1881, John Meadows, along with his wife and one son, Henry, were killed in Arizona by Apache Indians.
* * *
Meanwhile, back at Redwood Meadow, Bob Meadows writes:
The current Redwood Meadow cabin was built in 1938 and first used by rangers in 1939. The other cabin you had pictured and referred to as “the old ranger cabin,” was built in 1939 as a tack shed to accompany the larger ranger station.
The original ranger station, which was used by Gordon Wallace in 1936 and 1937 and pictured in his book, was located on the east side of the upper meadow. The remains of this cabin were still to be found in the forest east of there in the early 1990s.
I think a stand of medium-age sequoias has fallen on the old remains and obscured them from view.
There was a summer ranger at Redwood Meadow from 1928 until sometime in the early 1960s. This ranger always used stock in his patrols, whereas the Bearpaw ranger (1954 to present) was on foot.
The cabin is now only used by the Hockett Trail crew for a ouple of weeks early in the season while clearing trails to Paradise Ridge, Timber Gap, and down the Middle Fork Trail. The Bearpaw ranger might stay there a couple of nights during the season when on longer patrols to Pinto Lake and Spring Lake country.
There are also two old hand-hewn redwood privies at Redwood Meadow that were presumably built at the same time as the cabin and tack shed. One is at the backpacker campsite 100 yards north of the cabin; the other is hidden in the trees in the forest east of the upper meadow.
* * *
Bob also reminded me that Redwood Meadow was once owned by James Hamilton prior to its inclusion into Sequoia National Park. Hamilton also owned Wet Meadows, south of Mineral King.
James Hamilton is the namesake of Hamilton Lakes, located on the High Sierra Trail above Bearpaw. According to the Place Names of the Sierra Nevada book, the lakes were named for him because he stocked them with fish that he carried on his back from Big Arroyo.
In 1921, Stephen T. Mather purchased Redwood Meadow from James Hamilton’s heirs and placed it in trust for Sequoia National Park. Mather was the first director of the National Park and used his wealth to acquire privately-owned lands within Sequoia National Park.
* * *
And, Bob Meadows concludes: “As for the remains of the ‘old cabin,’ all that is left is the original lumber and some shingles in a small pile on the ground. This should not be confused with the remains of another old cabin just a few dozen yards up the trail toward Cliff Creek.
“ Nothing is known about that cabin, but I was able to record some old initial engravings off of the remains back in the 1980s and still hope to find some background on that structure.”
* * *
Grass roots: Redwood Meadow is a specimen of cultural and natural history and the focus of ongoing preservation and conservation in an always-challenging effort to balance park management goals.
In another piece of correspondence I received, a reader was upset because of the mention of “grazing” being allowed at Redwood Meadow.
Lona Pierce of Warren, Ore., wrote: “I was a little dismayed to read that Redwood Meadow is fenced and grazed and even had native wildflowers eradicated in the past because they were taking over.”
What alarmed Lona was a caption for a photo of Redwood Meadow that took a quote from former backcountry ranger Gordon Wallace who was stationed there during the summer of 1937 when the Civilian Conservation Corps arrived. Wallace stated in his book, My Ranger Years, “[The CCC] crew ... improved the forage in the pasture at Redwood Meadow by eradicating the skunk cabbage and coneflowers that were threatening to take over.”
The point of publishing this quote was to portray how far public lands policy has evolved in the past 70 years in regard to how natural resources are managed.
And about “grazing,” no longer are the cattlemen like James Hamilton, et al., allowed to lay claim on Sequoia-Kings Canyon meadows for their summer pasture. Today, it’s pack stock — horses, mules, llamas — which are used primarily for recreational purposes and trail-building and maintenance.
Although always a controversial issue, pack stock are allowed in the parks’ backcountry, but are subject to strict guidelines to minimize impact. Restrictions include limits on number of stock in a party, limits on time spent in certain areas, fragile areas that are closed to stock and/or grazing, and opening dates so grazing in meadows doesn’t occur until after they have dried out from snowmelt. Failure to adhere to these regulations can result in fines and imprisonment.
In 2003, Redwood Meadow was actually closed to grazing to allow for restoration. When open to grazing, stock are allowed only in a portion of the meadow.
Currently, there are no pack stations operating in Sequoia National Park. Within the past couple of years, permits were not renewed at the Wolverton and Mineral King pack stations, thus further phasing out stock use in the backcountry of the southern Sierra Nevada.
Proponents of pack stock say that grazing of large herbivores is an important part of the ecosystem that assists the vegetation community in biodiversity and fire suppression.