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Return to Sequoia National Park and the Generals Highway

On the 29th I finally was able to make a return trip to Sequoia National Park via California State Route 198 and the Generals Highway.  The Generals Highway is a personal favorite of mine and in my opinion is one of the best engineering gems of the National Park Service.  I covered the history of the Generals Highway on AAroads.com net forum after consulting the curator for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks which can be found here on reply #7:

Generals Highway History

I also covered the precursor road to Sequoia National Park which was known as the Colony Mill Road which can be found here:

Colony Mill Road

Essentially the abridged version of access to Sequoia National Park is as follows:

 -  Either in 1895 or 1896 there was a Danish socialist commune that was set up along the North Fork Kaweah River.  Apparently there was at least two town sites in what was known as the Kaweah Cooperative Colony; Arcady (now known as Kaweah) and Advance. 
-  Starting in 1896 the first 18 miles of the Colony Mill Road was constructed and sawmill operations were opened up.  The Colony Mill Road followed the North Fork Kaweah River and had an 8% grade which was meant for eventual rail service which never came to be.
-  In 1890 Sequoia National Park was opened which annexed all forest land being worked by the Kaweah Colony towns along with any possible redwood groves into protected government lands.  Basically this meant that any prospects the Kaweah Colony had of surviving were hosed and they shut down operations in 1892.
-  An eight mile extension of the Colony Mill Road was built by the U.S. Army in 1903 to facilitate wagon traffic to the Giant Forest at about 6,000 feet above sea level.  Apparently at this point car traffic was not a thing yet up to the Giant Forest and I'm really not exactly sure on the true date.
-  In 1905 the Park Service gave some hydroelectric rights out to Mount Whitney Power Company in exchange that they would improve the Colony Mill Road and build better roads to the Giant Forest; the yield of this was apparently the Middle Fork Road which later became part of the Generals Highway.
-  By 1913 there was automotive road access to Wolverton which is a small valley just north of the General Sherman Tree.
-  From possibly 1919 (I lost my original notes on when the Middle Fork Road was completed to the Giant Forest) to 1935 traffic would climb up to the Giant Forest one way via the Colony Mill Road and descend one way via the Middle Fork Road.  The Colony Mill Road is now North Fork Road in Three Rivers, the Colony Mill Trail, and Crystal Cave Road.  Middle Fork Road essentially is the same alignment of the modern Generals Highway.
-  From 1921 to 1926 Tulare County improved the Colony Mill Road and Middle Fork Road for better automotive travel.  Traffic would take Colony Mill Road up one-way into the Giant Forest and apparently come back down the Middle Fork Road.
-  From 1926 to 1935 the Middle Fork Road was improved, paved and extended to General Grant National Park (now Kings Canyon National Park) which was re-dedicated in June of 35.
-  At some point a large portion of Colony Mill Road was abandoned; namely the extension created by the Army and is now maintained as the Colony Mill Trail.


A history piece by the National Park Service on the history of the Generals Highway can be found here:

History of the Generals Highway

With that all in mind I started the day out with an early morning drive to the 1923 Pumpkin Hollow Bridge and the eastern terminus of CA 198 at Sequoia National Park.  The Pumpkin Hollow Bridge is one of the bridges constructed during the 1921 to 1926 period which improved access from Sequoia National Park via the Middle Fork Road.  The Pumpkin Hollow Bridge has an Art Deco Design and is one of the oldest bridges still active in the state highway system. 





The gate for Sequoia National Park is immediately after the CA 198 "END" sign.






I usually try to get up to the Giant Forest before 9 AM since the Park Service starts shuttles from the Generals Highway along the Crescent Meadow Road.  The shuttle makes getting to Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow much more difficult with wait lines and a long walk from a far away parking lot at the Giant Forest Museum..  Currently the Generals Highway is undergoing a two mile repair above Amphitheater Point which had anticipated delays of one hour during daylight hours.  I'm to understand that two miles of the Generals Highway are repaved each year in a rotating cycle by the National Park Service which would essentially mean it is completely resurfaced every 16 years given it is 32.5 miles long.  I stopped briefly at Amphitheater Point to get a view of Moro Rock above me and the Generals Highway below.



Luckily I hit the traffic control light just as it was turning green.  Unfortunately the work crews are in a zone that has a really nice new of the Marble Fork Kaweah River descending from the Sierras.








The Generals Highway enters the Giant Forest at about 6,000 feet above sea level and intersects the Crystal Cave Road which as mentioned previously was the Colony Mill Road.  The Redwood Sequoias aren't quite as tall as Coastal Redwoods but are much wider in diameter which makes them the largest trees in the world.



I turned off the Generals Highway at Crescent Meadow Road and made my way towards Moro Rock.



Moro Rock is a 6,725 foot granite spire overlooking the Great Western Divide and the Kaweah Rivershed as it descends to San Joaquin Valley.  Moro Rock is easily traversed by a series of stairs that were built in 1931 out of the granite rock face.  The original wooden stairwell was built in 1917, but quickly fell into disrepair over the ensuing decade.  The views from Moro Rock are incredible with the 13,000 foot peaks of the Great Western Divide to the east, the Generals Highway below, and San Joaquin Valley to the west.  The Moro Rock Stairway isn't for the faint of heart as the cliffs are sheer on both sides.




























After returning to the car I backtracked to Crescent Meadow Road and traveled through the Tunnel Log.  The Tunnel Log is a fallen Redwood Sequoia that has an 8 Foot height clearance.






The Crescent Meadow road ends at the Meadow of the same name which I believe is the largest in the Giant Forest.  I was scoping out a possible trip on the High Sierra Trail to Bearpaw Meadow later this year and wandered over to the Log Meadow before returning back to the car.






Returning to the Generals Highway I noted that Crescent Meadow Road was already closed and the shuttles were running by about 8:30 AM.  I turned north on the Generals Highway to make the obligatory stop at the General Sherman Tree.







The General Sherman Tree isn't the tallest tree in the world but it is the largest by volume.  General Sherman is 274.9 feet high, has a 36.5 diameter base, and is estimated to have a volume of 52,508 cubic feet.  Most of the tourism to Sequoia National Park comes to see the Sherman Tree pretty much above all else.  The trail to the Sherman Tree is paved but deceptively steep.  I actually managed to rip an Achilles Tendon running back up from the Sherman Tree to the trailhead this year.






Continuing northbound the next major stop was the Clover Creek Bridge which is shown on the Park Service link to the history of the Generals Highway in 1935.  The bridge is very ornate and has a unique brick design.





Continuing north towards the boundary for the Giant Sequoia National Monument I stopped at the Little Baldy Trail which has a trailhead on the shoulder of the Generals Highway.  Little Baldy is a small granite spire above 8,000 feet which has a view of Big Baldy to the west on the ascent and the Great Western Divide from the peak.
















The rest of the Generals Highway northward travels through the Giant Sequoia National Monument which is maintained by Sequoia National Forest before entering Kings Canyon National Park near the Kings Canyon Overlook.








Despite what many think there is a boundary and a difference between Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park.  The Generals Highway essentially is the link that makes both parks operate as one unit.  Prior to the creation of the Generals Highway it would have taken a huge drive to reach both parks or a very long hike.  Originally Kings Canyon National Park was called "General Grant National Park" until a large portion of the canyon bearing the name was absorbed into the park by 1940. Generally most people enter and leave Kings Canyon National Park via CA 180.  I only took CA 180 for a couple miles before cutting south on CA 245 which I believe is the curviest state highway in California mile for mile...but that is a story for another day.

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