King’s Canyon

I am not very good at planning trips and when I thought I was going to camp in Sequoia National Park in October I ended up booking a campsite in King’s Canyon, just to the north. It was a good thing. Because the campsites in Sequoia were at 6,500 feet of elevation and the ones in King’s Canyon were 2,000 feet lower.

So while the nights were cold where I ended up, about 44 degrees, the nights in a Sequoia campsite would have been freezing. Literally.

My campsite had bear boxes, which are metal boxes where you can store food so the bears can’t get to it. My camp neighbors were Sam, Christy and Mark, who were very friendly and offered me coffee in the morning. They knew a thing or two about bears since they’d camped there many times before. Mark was a retired dean from USC.  Called himself a computer geek.

One thing I learned: Bears in California are called black bears even when they are not black. One that’s brown is a brown black bear. When you say brown bear you are talking about grizzly bears, and we managed to kill off all of the grizzly bears in California about a hundred years ago. They say there’s only one grizzly bear in California. It’s the one on the state flag.

I saw a black bear in Sequoia. I was talking to a park ranger at one of those Visitor Centers when I heard someone say, ‘Hey… there’s a bear over here!’ We went there in time to see a black bear (which was really black) halfway up a tree. It came down and ambled very near to us before disappearing into the woods.

Cool. Got to see a wild bear. From a distance it looked like a really big dog.

In King’s Canyon the cliffs on either side of King’s River soar to spectacular, rocky heights. I hiked about two miles through the canyon to the Roaring River waterfall, just before dusk. When I got back to my car it was dark and, walking along the two lane road to find my vehicle, a car stopped on the road and a guy learned out the window to say I should be careful.

‘We are seeing small grizzlies by the side of the road,’ he said. He spoke with a foreign accent and I decided to not explain to him the whole black bear/brown bear thing, and the lack of grizzlies in California. I got his point. They were seeing bears, which, thankfully, are pretty harmless when you encounter them.

The last thing I did before camping my last night and heading home on Friday was to take a hike through a redwood forest in Sequoia where some trees were red and enormous while others were either fir trees or immature redwoods that had yet to assume their massive appearance.

When you are around redwoods you’re in the presence of the ancients. Some of the biggest ones date back to the Roman Empire. On that final hike, I also met two deer, which I caught on a video. And I encountered a blessed silence on that windless day. The silence of the wilderness is like a blanket wrapped around you that takes you to a sacred place.

It can be broken by the call of a crow. Otherwise you hear a kinda low hum or some mixture of aural receptions that might just be the sound of the world. The sound of the universe. I lingered, still as I could be, in that sacred place. Until it felt like time to leave, and I heard only the rhythmic crunch of my steps on that path through the forest.

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