Kings Canyon

Who knows why Kings Canyon acquired its immodest name? Doubtless Google can explain. But I can’t be bothered. The place was regal for me even before I saw it.

Interesting how preconceptions work in a life. As one friend put it, Kings Canyon is like Yosemite Valley but without the tourists. This was enough to get me there. Actually, the description is not apt. But this doesn’t matter. Except perhaps to bolster the element of surprise. And either way, the real surprise was how much Jane and I delighted in this first look at a famed bit of California wilderness.

For me at age 72, there’s a bit of anxiety attempting anything new. Particularly in doing something that takes me out of my accustomed paved environment. Like into, say, nature, where forces of life and death are closer to the surface.

After all, it’s one thing for an able-bodied person to slip in the snow melting around the Kings Canyon Lodge. It’s another thing for someone in a wheelchair venturing out at night to make a minor wrong turn and tip over in the dark and in the cold. Ironically, we are simply talking about a mountain motel. That’s life in a wheelchair.

Of course, anxiety and legitimate fear are often far removed. The one serious time I tipped over in a wheelchair involved an exit from a stage. I had just taken part in a public discussion of gun policy, described my own shooting, and in conclusion rolled off stage right with everyone else. But I rolled off a little too early, missing the ramp. There was only about a six inch drop. But that was enough to tip me over on my side. Someone called an ambulance. I was slightly bruised and mostly humiliated.

Anyway, back to Kings Canyon. Would I ever be back to Kings Canyon…was very much in my mind as Jane and I drove into the place. The road only opened on our last day in the park. Snow in the Sierra mountains is formidable. California doesn’t even bother opening several roads until late in the spring. And the Kings Canyon route is one of them.

The drive took us through a surprisingly barren, chaparral-covered land. Forest predominates elsewhere, of course, but the forests in the Kings Canyon region have had some severe fires. A Park ranger explained to me that what looks like natural brush country is actually the aftermath of an extremely hot fire that literally vaporized some trees and left those remaining too fragile to stand.

One drops about 4000 feet from the canyon’s edge to its floor. And once there the mighty snow-fed Kings River was surging. It was glorious. Waterfalls flew off the sides of the canyon. The actual chasm is much narrower than Yosemite. The wide meadows do not exist there. In short, it’s not such a welcoming, tourist-friendly site. It is predominantly narrow. At the road’s end, the canyon walls soar as they do in Yosemite. In fact the cliffs right there seem to rival El Capitan, the famous granite escarpment where mountaineers show their stuff, roping up to the summit.

All so invigorating. I feel as charged as the river, even now, days later.

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