Kings Canyon: Hiking in Cedar Grove

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In case this is my first Kings Canyon post you’re reading, I should start by saying that Kings Canyon is divided into two halves, Cedar Grove and Grant Grove, with a long scenic drive through Sequoia National Forest connecting them.

Cedar Grove is the much bigger half, but it’s also less developed and less accessible. But you have to go in order to have the complete Kings Canyon experience. Each half contains very different features of the park, and it is the combination of both that makes Kings Canyon such a unique park. Grant Grove is full of the enormous sequoias, and Cedar Grove has waterfalls, granite canyons, and rushing rivers.

Here are my top picks for hikes in Cedar Grove:

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Roaring River Falls, <0.25 miles

“A very short, shady walk to a powerful waterfall rushing through a granite chute. 3 miles (4.8 km) east of the Village road. Paved, relatively accessible.” (NPS website)

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You can’t visit Cedar Grove without stopping at Roaring River Falls. The parking area for this “hike” is right next to the main road, and the trail is very short and easy. It’s so short, there isn’t even mileage listed for it on the park website. You can do it all in less than 10 minutes if you’re pressed for time, but you may find yourself mesmerized by the waterfall and lingering longer than that.

The waterfall itself is just ok. I mean it’s obviously cool, but nothing spectacular. The thing I found most interesting about this waterfall is how turbulent the water at the base is. It was actually a little scary. Definitely no swimming at this one!

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Zumwalt Meadow, 1.5 mile loop

“This 1.5-mile (2.4 km) trail passes high granite walls, lush meadows, and the Kings River. Trailhead parking is 4.5 miles (7.2 km) east of Cedar Grove Village road. Purchase a trail guide at the visitor center. Allow 1 hour. ” (NPS website)

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This hike was a lot of fun! It’s mostly flat, and the views change drastically throughout the short 1.5 miles. Zumwalt Meadow provides a good sampling of all the things that make the Cedar Grove half of the park cool, so if you only have half a day to spend there, this is the hike you should do. And if you have more time, then you should still do this hike. It is a very peaceful stroll through breathtaking meadows, forests, and canyons. Super cool.

At one point the trail forks and you have to choose which direction to do the loop. There is no wrong choice; they both circle back to the same place. But I think the progression of sights you see is more impressive when you start on the left fork, heading across the meadow on boardwalks first.

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Mist Falls, 9 miles round trip

“This sandy trail follows the glaciated South Fork Canyon through forest and chaparral, past an impressive show of rapids and cascades, to one of the largest waterfalls in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The first part of this 8-mile round trip is relatively flat; during the last mile to the falls, the trail gains 600′. The average time for this trip is 4 to 5 hours.” (NPS website)

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This looked like a perfect spot to swim. The water was so calm and clear!

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Ok, the website says it’s 8-miles round trip, but every other map and sign in the park calls it 9. So I’m going with 9 too, cause I say it’s always better to prepare for a longer hike and be surprised if it’s shorter, than to plan for a shorter hike and be stuck out on the trail for longer than planned, for safety reasons.

Despite its length, it’s actually a pretty easy hike and it goes quickly. We finished it faster than the website estimates, and we never felt rushed and took several breaks. I wish we had started it earlier in the day though, cause there were a couple spots that would’ve been PERFECT for swimming, but we didn’t have time. So my recommendation? However long you think you’ll need to do the hike, add an extra hour and bring your swim stuff!

Also, there were more little gnats on this trail than I have ever seen in my whole life. Be prepared, and take whatever you need to repel insects- bug repellent, face shrouds… trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

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All of these trails can be done easily in one day. Get an early start though! I would suggest starting with Mist Falls, do some swimming on your way back from the falls, break for lunch, do Zumwalt Meadow, do Roaring River Falls, and of course, stop at all of the scenic viewpoints along the drive! That would be my perfect day in Cedar Grove.

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For a complete list of all the hiking trails in Cedar Grove, visit the official park website.


 

 

Road Trip Photo Diary: South Dakota to Los Angeles

Ok, so this is probably gonna be one of the least informative posts on this blog. Just a heads up. I didn’t plan on writing this post originally, but when I was looking through my photos from my trip to South Dakota, I decided I liked all these pics too much to leave out. So I had to find a way to include them on the blog.

It’s hard to put into words how awe-inspiring the heart of America is. I’ve road-tripped through the country dozens of times, but I still fall in love with the land again every single time.

So this post is a photo diary of sorts. Basically just some snapshots of my journey home from South Dakota back to California. Big skies, open land, small towns, and tourist stops. A drive done over three days, passing through South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and finally home to California…

The childlike blue line marking our approximate journey (cause no, I didn’t actually look at the map closely and follow the specific freeways when I drew it)

START: South Dakota

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Wyoming…

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Utah…

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Nevada…

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California…

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END: California

So there it is. Will this post help prepare you for traveling to any of these states? Probably not. But the reason I ultimately decided to share this post with you is so it might serve as a reminder that the journey is just as worthwhile as the destination. Look out the windows as you drive. Stop at the weird sights along the way. Try local foods.

It’s all those small things that sometimes make the best travel memories. ❤

Welcome to Jurassic Park!

Growing up in the early 90s, I (as well as practically every other 90s kid) developed an obsession with the movie “Jurassic Park.”  I had all the action figures, and my sister and I would take them on dino “adventures” in the backyard.

Well, our days of playing with action figures might be in the past, but our love of those movies has carried over well into adulthood. As many “Jurassic Park” geeks might remember, the first time we meet Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ellie Satler is at a dig site in the North American badlands. So when we decided to take a road trip to South Dakota to check out Badlands and Wind Cave National Parks, how could we resist following in the footsteps of our favorite paleontologists?

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While at a dinosaur exhibit at the LA County Fair the previous year, we stumbled upon a company called Paleo Adventures. After speaking with the owners for a few minutes, we discovered the company was run by a couple of legit paleontologists in South Dakota. Visitors could book tours through the company to go out into the badlands of South Dakota, learn about paleontology, and help dig up some dinosaurs!

Basically, any “Jurassic Park” lover’s dream come true: the ultimate “Jurassic Park” experience!

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We tried to dress up like the characters to really get into the spirit of the dig.

Paleo Adventures is a privately owned tour company that gives visitors a chance to be a paleontologist for a day. They teach you everything you need to know and provide all the tools and materials you need in order to get out there and dig up some dinosaurs! Your guide is an actual paleontologist, so he knows exactly where to dig and is able to identify any fossils you find. The best part? At the end of the tour you are able to take home most of the fossils you dig up. Yes!

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Driving to the dig site.

The digs take place out in the middle of nowhere at the site of ancient river channel deposits where a variety of isolated dinosaur, mammal, reptile, amphibian, and fish fossils can be found. Since they are usually not part of a full skeleton by the time they ended up in these river deposits, they have little scientific value anymore and can safely be collected by tourists. Of course there are exceptions, but your guide will help you with that part. Discovering and documenting new, well-preserved specimens is priority number one, and it’s super cool to be a part of that (while also taking home a few pieces as souvenirs!).

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Dinosaurs lived in South Dakota as far back as 150 million years ago!! They lived here during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods until their extinction around 65 million years ago. Back then part of South Dakota was covered by an inland sea, and the rest was open plains and sandy streams. Dinosaurs roamed through the coastal plains and river deltas (those ancient rivers that formed the bone deposits for our paleo tour). It is also believed that the climate was warmer and more humid than it is today. Nearly all of the major groups of dinosaurs lived in South Dakota at some point, including triceratops, raptors, and tyrannosaurus rex.

Resources: https://www3.northern.edu/natsource/EARTH/Dinosa1.htm

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It is recommended that you book your tour far in advance, since there are limited dates available. The tour is open to anyone 10 years or older who is in good enough health and physical condition to withstand a day of working in extreme heat and rugged conditions.

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After arriving at the Dinosaur Field Station, you are given a brief lesson to prepare you for the dig. You learn a little about fossils, dinosaurs, and how to properly excavate fossils. Then you pile into a van and are transported to the dig site! All information, training, transportation, and tools are included with the tour. The only things you need to bring are a lunch and beverages, cause it’s gonna be a long, hot day. You just show up, and Paleo Adventures takes care of the rest.

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Each participant is allowed to keep up to $50.00 worth of the common fossils they find. Fossils of commercial value can be purchased for an additional fee, and scientifically significant fossils are reserved for museums (your guide will tell you which is which).

We didn’t find a t-rex (though apparently someone on his last tour did…lucky), however I did find this awesome raptor tooth, and our guide let me keep it. I also dug up a triceratops tooth!

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This tour was everything we could’ve hoped for. Everyone found tons of fossils and we all came home with bags full of our findings.

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It was hotter than blazes when we were there, and there wasn’t much shade. To make your paleo dig more enjoyable, I would recommend bringing:

  • A hat and sunglasses
  • Plenty of water
  • A sack lunch and snacks (food isn’t provided and it’s a 12hr tour)
  • Sunblock
  • The “Jurassic Park” soundtrack to inspire you while you dig

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The best part about this tour is that you actually get to be a real paleontologist for the day. This isn’t a fake dig site… these are real fossils that have been buried here for over 65 MILLION years, and you are the first person to uncover them. How awesome is that?!

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A partially excavated fossil

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Ian Malcolm, Alan Grant, Ellie Satler, Tim, and Lex….it got hot. Our costumes didn’t make it till the end of the day.

The tour begins and ends at the Dinosaur Field Station, which is full of fun and useful stuff to purchase before or after your dig. We picked up these sweet Paleo Adventures t-shirts as souvenirs. This tour was so super ridiculously fun. We were able to learn about dinosaurs, help uncover some pieces of history from the earth, and fulfill our “Jurassic Park” dreams.

Mr. Hammond, we have decided to endorse this paleo dig.

Paleo adventures, paleotology, dino dig, places to dig for fossils, fossils, dinosaur fossils, dinosaurs, south Dakota, Jurassic park, paleontology tours, black hills, where can I find dinosaur fossils


Prices for a 1-day dig start at $160 for adults, and $130 for kids (as of time of publishing in 2017).
Tours are by appointment only. Call 605-210-1275 or email stein151@comcast.net to book.
Digs begin at the Dinosaur Field Station at 8am and return to the Field Station no later than 8pm.
Location: 1hr east of Devil’s Tower, 1hr west of Mount Rushmore, 30min north of Deadwood. Click here for a map.

For additional information, check out the Paleo Adventures website!

Witnessing the Building of the Crazy Horse Memorial

“Emerging from granite and iron is the likeness of a legendary leader. More than carved rock, the Crazy Horse dream points toward commitment, a fervent legacy and a proud future.” – Travel South Dakota website

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The first glimpses of the Memorial

The Crazy Horse Memorial was started in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1948 by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. A self-taught sculptor, Ziolkowski arrived in South Dakota in 1939 to assist with carving Mount Rushmore. As media reports of his work on Rushmore spread, he caught the attention of Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear who soon contacted Ziolkowski about creating a memorial to the Native Americans. The two met, and the rest is history (aka too much too get into in this blog post, but can be read about on the Crazy Horse Memorial website).

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When you first arrive at the Memorial, you enter the complex through the on-site museum, the Indian Museum of North America.

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Sculpture of the carving’s final design, 1/300th scale model

It is worth spending some time walking through the museum. You can learn about Crazy Horse and his people- their history, their culture. Seeing the memorial afterwards will be so much more meaningful if you understand the reasons behind the carving and know why Crazy Horse was memorialized.

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The museum flows in an easy to follow path that leads straight to the viewing platform. Without paying an additional fee to book a guided shuttle tour to the base of the mountain, this is as close as you can get.

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This photograph/sketch showed the progress of the mountain- how far they have come, and how far there still is to go.

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Back inside the building, there is a little gift shop. One of the really cool things you could purchase was a piece of the Crazy Horse Memorial. Pieces of rock that have been blasted off the mountain were available for a donation of a couple bucks (proceeds benefiting continued work on the memorial, of course). Such a fun souvenir! It’s like owning a piece of history.

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For information on hours of operation, admission fees, and to book a guided tour, click here.

Not every generation gets to witness the construction of something of this magnitude, so you should take advantage of the opportunity if you get a chance. It costs almost nothing, and the knowledge you gain about Native American and United States history are absolutely worth the drive it takes to get out there.

And then just because I thought it was interesting, and because I had been curious about why Crazy Horse was chosen as the subject of the memorial, I will end this post with a letter sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski wrote near the time he started the project:

A Letter written by Korczak Ziolkowski in 1949, “Why Crazy Horse was chosen by the Native Americans”:

“Crazy Horse was born on Rapid Creek in 1843. He was killed when he was only 34 years of age, around midnightthe morning of September 6, 1877.  He was stabbed in the back by an American Indian soldier at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, while he was under a flag of truce.  During his life he was a great leader to his people. He did not have an equal as a warrior or chief.  He gave submissive allegiance to no man, White or Indian, and claimed his inalienable rights as an Indian to wonder at will over the hunting grounds of his people. He never registered at any agency; never touched the pen; never signed a treaty.  He wanted only peace and a way of living for his people without having to live in the whiteman’s reservations.

Crazy Horse defended his people and their way of life in the only manner he knew, but only after he saw the treaty of 1868 broken.  This treaty, signed by the President of the United States said “As long as the rivers run and the grasses grow and trees bear leaves, Paha Sapa, the Black Hills, will forever and ever be the sacred land of the Indians.” He took to the warpath only after he saw his friend Conquering Bear killed; only after he saw the failure of the government agents to bring required treaty guarantees such as meat, clothing, tents and necessities for existence. In battle the Sioux leader would rally his warriors with the cry, “It is a good day to fight-it is a good day to die.”

In 1877 Crazy Horse’s wife, staying at Fort Robinson, was dying of tuberculosis. His only child, a daughter, had recently died of this same disease. Under a guarantee of safe conduct both into and out of the Fort, Crazy Horse agreed to confer with the Commanding Officers. History has proven since that the intention never was to let Crazy Horse go free, but rather to ship him to the Dry Tortugas in Florida. The chief had no notion of what was in store for him until he entered the building and saw the bars on the windows. Right then he was face to face with the fate the whiteman had intended for him. He drew a knife (the fact that he had not been disarmed is good proof that he never surrendered) and attempted to get his Indian friends outside of the stockade. Little Big Man, friend and warrior companion of Crazy Horse, hoping to avoid trouble, seized Crazy Horse’s arms. In struggling to free himself, Crazy Horse slashed Little Big Man’s wrist. At this point an infantry man of the guard made a successful lunge with a bayonet and Crazy Horse fell, mortally wounded.

In the minds of the Indians today, the life and death of Crazy Horse parallels the tragic history of the redman since the whiteman invaded their homes and lands. One of the many great and patriotic Indian heroes, Crazy Horse’s tenacity of purpose, his modest life, his unfailing courage, his tragic death sets him apart and above all others.”

– Korczak Ziolkowski, Sc. May, 1949

Extraterrestrial Snacks at Alien Fresh Jerky!

Driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, you don’t really have many places where you can stop for gas or food. The farther you get from LA, the most desolate the drive becomes.

And then you see it…the little town of Baker, rising out of the desert like a fast-food oasis. Of all the places to stop on the drive to Vegas (and by that I mean like the four cities you pass during the 3+ hour drive, length of journey depending on what part of LA you are coming from and how bad traffic is), this is my favorite. It feels like a nice halfway point. Plus Baker has something the other cities don’t: Alien Fresh Jerky!!

Selling fresh and delicious beef jerky and other assorted snacks in an extra-terrestrial themed shop, Alien Fresh Jerky is a must-see stop out in the California desert.

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Gotta love the parking signs!

There are lots of fun alien photo-ops in the parking lot…

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We come in peace

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If you throw a few quarters into the UFO, you get a little show. Seriously, do it. It is hilariously bad and anti-climatic.

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Being underwhelmed and confused by the UFO show…awesome hehe

But the best part of course is the jerky itself. They have lots of unique and interesting flavors, and you can sample as much as you want before buying anything. And the samples are self-serve, which I love, because I always feel so awkward asking employees for more samples.

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This is seriously the best beef jerky you will find in the state of California.

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My favorite flavor- Colon Cleaner Hot!!

Sure, you could stop at a regular fast-food restaurant or mini-mart for snacks on the road, but stopping for alien fun and deliciously amazing jerky at Alien Fresh Jerky is so much better!

And since you are stopping in Baker for Alien Fresh Jerky, while you are there be sure to look across the street…Baker is also home to the World’s Tallest Thermometer!

If you never find yourself passing through Baker but still want to try this amazing jerky, visit their online store.