Kings Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon National Park, whose WDPA Code is: 11115335 is a protected natural area in California located in the southern Sierra Nevada, approximately 90km east of Fresno and 250km north of Los Angeles.
This park was established in 1940 and covers an area of 1,873 km².
Kings Canyon National Park borders Sequoia National Park to the south, with which it forms a single administrative unit, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, managed by the National Park Service. The total area of the two parks is 3,495 km².
The area in which the park falls was already known to settlers in the first half of the nineteenth century, but did not receive much attention until John Muir arrived there in 1873. Muir noted the great geological similarity with the Yosemite park, coming to the conclusion that both valleys were created by the action of large glaciers during the last ice age. Muir worked to make the area a protected area, but his future remained uncertain for nearly fifty years. Some politicians and entrepreneurs wanted to build a dam on the western side of the KIngs Canyon valley, which would compromise the integrity of its natural and forest heritage.
The debate ended in 1940, when proponents of its conservation managed to make it a national park, annexing the General Grant park (established in 1890) to form a single park. He was named in honor of the first director of the United States Geological Survey, Clarence King.
The park is made up of two sections: the first, smaller but more important, includes the “Redwood Mountain” (Redwood Mountain Grove) and “General Grant” (General Grant Grove) forests. Redwood Mountain Grove is the largest natural forest of giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) left in the world. It has an area of 1300 ha and there are over 15,800 redwoods with a trunk diameter at the base of 3 m.
The General Grant Grove is home to the General Grant sequoia, the second largest tree in the world by volume (after General Sherman, located in the adjacent Sequoia National Park).
The remaining section, which comprises 90% of the park area, is located east of the General Grant forest. Some tributaries of the Kings River and San Joaquin River are born here. A valley formed by one of them, the South Fork, called Kings Canyon, gives its name to the entire park. It has a depth of 2500 meters and is the deepest canyon in the United States .
To the east of the canyons rise the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, culminating in the North Palisade, the highest point in the park (4341m). The ridge of the Sierra forms the eastern boundary of the park. It is criss-crossed by many passes that are well-traveled in summer, including the Bishop Pass, Taboose Pass, Sawmill Pass and Kearsarge Pass, all at altitudes above 3400 meters.
In the area where Kings Canyon National Park falls there are more than 1,500 types of plants with species ranging from tiny lichens to giant sequoias; the flora varies mainly according to the altitude.
The trees native to the region consist mainly of conifers and deciduous trees. Conifers have needles and cones that do not shed during the colder months and keep their green all year round, earning the name evergreen. Broad-leaved trees drop their leaves in autumn and bloom again in spring.
At lower elevations, the two most common pines you will find are the ponderosa pine and the Jeffrey pine (both also known as “yellow pines”). Ponderosa pine has yellow-orange bark, needles grouped into three, and bark flakes that fit together like a puzzle. The trunk of a ponderosa pine can grow up to 6 feet in diameter. Jeffrey pine is similar to ponderosa but tends to live in higher elevations.
Sugar pine grows at slightly higher elevations and can be seen along many hikes. These pines produce large pine cones, have short needles grouped in five, and have a reddish-brown bark. The trunks can grow over 2 meters in diameter and mature trees sport very crooked branches.
Pines at higher altitudes include lodgepole and white bark. The lodgepole pine, the most common pine in North America, groups its needles in two; it has yellow-orange bark and small cones. White bark pine brings together five needles and has sticky purple colored cones. These pines tend to be smaller and are located closer to the tree line.
Fir trees are another species of conifer that we find in the park.
Spruce trees, with short curling needles and cones ranging from 12 to 20 cm, are found at altitudes of 1,800 to 2,700 meters. Silver firs, found at lower altitudes about 1,000 to 2,500 meters, have 5 cm needles that grow in twists from the branch, greyish bark and 7 to 12 cm cones. Wild animals often take refuge in large hollows near the base of old logs. Both fir trees grow in the forests near Yosemite’s Glacier Point and in the high region along Tioga Road. Silver firs can be seen throughout Sequoia and Kings Canyon.
At the highest elevations (2,700-4,200 meters) are foxtail pines, gnarled trees that have adapted to the harsh rock life of life at the top. This pine, like the white-barked pine, looks stunted and deformed, often with a twisted trunk and a pointed, dead-looking top. The roots grow on granite and only require a short growing season, allowing the tree to cling to a freezing existence.
The rare California nutmeg resembles a spruce, with sharp single needles, and can be found along the Marble Fork Trail in Sequoia National Park near a creek that flows over marble slabs. Frankincense cedar is often confused with giant sequoias, as both have a reddish, bristly bark that almost crumbles to the touch. But a frankincense cedar has flat sprays of foliage that emit a fragrant smell in warm weather and small reddish-brown cones that resemble a duck’s beak when opened.
The undisputed heavyweight of national park flora is the giant sequoia. The smaller ones can be difficult to identify, but there is no doubt that a 75-meter mature tree dates back to 2,000 or 3,000 years ago. These trees grow to a height of 95 meters, weigh over 1,200 tons, and can have a base of 13 meters in diameter. Tree branches can reach a diameter of 2.4 meters. The trees are bare up to about 30-45 meters high, after which we begin to find the branches. The naturally fire resistant bark varies from 10 to 60 cm thick. These trees resist rot and produce small, abundant cones with hundreds of seeds the size of rolled oats. Interestingly, it takes a fire to dry the cones enough to release the seeds.
Giant sequoias can be found at altitudes between 1,500 and 2,300 meters. Of course, the best place to see these trees is in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The vast expanses of Giant Forest and Grant Grove offer fantastic, easily accessible examples of giant sequoias, and there are other groves, accessible on foot, scattered throughout the park. Yosemite has three giant sequoia groves: the Mariposa Grove near Wawona and the smaller Tuolumne and Merced groves near the Big Oak Flat Entrance.
Hardwoods in the area include California black oak, which grows at lower elevations in both parks. The dark gray to black bark of these trees is characteristic. They also produce acorns and can reach a height of 23 meters. The blue oak sheds its leaves in the fall and can be found in the foothills of 300 to 1,500 meters high. Evergreen holly leaves mark the canyon’s living oak, the other common oak in the region.
Pacific dogwood produces blooms with whitish-green flowers every spring. The trembling poplar has a very thin white bark and an army of small leaves that rustle in the slightest wind. Along streams and rivers below
Wildflowers produce a wide range of colors during spring and summer, as they peek out of cracks and crevices or carpeted fields and lawns. The flowering season begins in February in the lowlands, and lasts until early autumn in the high region. The list of wildflowers found in these parks is intimidating and includes more than 50 species, some of which are detailed below.
Widespread on the meadows and along the slopes of the hills is a lavender flower, the lupine. It is easily recognized by its palmate leaves – leaves that come from a central point like the fingers of a hand. Look for flowering along the valley floors and in the Wawona region of Yosemite. You’ll also see cow parsnips here, bluish-hued flowers placed on thin stems, with almost fern-like leaves. The arrowhead flowers of the cow parsnip resemble violets from a distance, but closer inspection reveals an umbrella-shaped top and leafless stem. The large blue to purple blooms that sprout between tall, narrow leaves are wild irises. In the Wawona region of Yosemite, look for the misery of the mountains, clumps of small white flowers atop fluffy leaves that look like pine needles; and goodbye to spring, a bizarre pink flower with four large, fragile petals and small, thin leaves.
Monkey flowers, showy milkweed and yarrow may also be seen at these altitudes. The monkey flower is one of nature’s brightest flowers, ranging from blue to purple, pink and orange, and is seen along streams and high in gravelly soil. The petals are made up of two-lipped flowers that most imaginative people say resemble the smiling face of a monkey. The showy euphorbia grows in meadows and forest clearings. These sturdy plants have large oval-shaped leaves and stems filled with poisonous milky sap. In summer, colorful bouquets of tiny five-petalled flowers appear; later the euphorbia pods burst, releasing a clump of silky seeds to disperse in the wind. Growing up to 3 feet tall, yarrow blooms as a broad, flat cluster of white (occasionally pink) flowers with a pungent aroma. It was used by Native Americans as a healing herb, a drink to treat indigestion and to reduce fever. Today, the dried flower is commonly seen in potpourri.
At night you can look for the evening primrose: its four-petaled flowers open at sunset and wither in the morning and are pollinated by moths. The flowers range from white to yellow and pink and have a sweet lemon scent; stems can reach 1.8 meters.
One of the last flowers of the season is the meadow goldenrod, which appears in late summer and autumn. The plant grows in long stems, with narrow leaves protruding all along this, and can be topped with a yellow patch that resembles a feather. The goldenrod was used by American Indians to treat all kinds of ailments.
In the forests you will find the legs of the cunt and the snow plant in the shade and the lupine, the mariposa lily and the mountain violet in the sun. The snow plant has a flaming red or orange stem, while the legs of the cunt have small, fuzzy leaves and delicate flowers that cluster together to resemble the shape of a cat’s paw. The mariposa lily, which blooms under the pines in Yosemite, gets its name from the Spanish word for butterfly, which is said to resemble. The flowers consist of three snow-white petals with dark spots at the base; the long stems give the flowers a floating appearance. American Indians roasted the bulbs of these flowers to eat them.
At higher and cooler altitudes, numerous thin blooms abound. The sorrel has lily-shaped leaves, with clusters of small pink flowers no larger than the tip of a fingernail. Diffuse phlox has pointed leaves that protrude like thorns and broad, flat flowers on top. Lawn penstemon produces a cluster of bright pink flowers atop a single thin stem. The flowers are arranged like trumpets, pointing in every direction.
A favorite flower of hummingbirds, columbine grows in lawns and gushes from rock crevices. It looks quite fragile, with bushy leaves clustered at the base of bare stems that produce drooping flowers. Color can vary, but look for five petals that extend back into a long, pointed tube.
One of the many plants found in the parks is the wild azalea. These plants resemble their domestic cousins and are often the first to herald the arrival of spring, with an abundance of bright colors. The Sierra has only one variety: the western azalea, a low shrub with smooth, deep green leaves.
Bear’s clover is a low-growing shrub with sticky leaves and a pungent odor, found in the Lodgepole area of Sequoia and at elevations between 2,100 and 2,400 meters.
The manzanita mariposa, with its smooth red to purple bark and oval, coin-sized leaves, blooms all year round and is just one type of manzanita common in this region. The manzanita mariposa produces small clusters of white and pink flowers that eventually turn into berries that look like little apples, which is what manzanita means.
Finally, looking up, among the oaks, you can see a green bush that seems to grow from the branches. This is the mistletoe. Despite its holiday appeal, it is a pest more than a shrub, growing in green clusters high in the treetops and sucking nourishment from oaks and other trees. Another pest is poison oak, prevalent below 1,500 meters. It is a shrub with three-leaved glossy clusters and white berries. In winter, poison oak stems are bare and very difficult to recognize, so it’s best to stay away from thickets that look like sticks stuck in the ground.
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park are home to 72 species of mammals. Commonly observed species include yellow-bellied marmots, mule deer, pika, and several species of squirrels, such as California ground squirrels, Douglas squirrels, golden-coated ground squirrels, and western gray squirrels. Most mammals are reserved and nocturnal and are rarely seen by park visitors. Examples include ringtails, spotted skunks, short-tailed weasels, and mountain lions.
There is an enormous diversity of habitat types in the parks, largely due to an elevation gradient ranging from 410 meters below the park headquarters to 4,418 meters at the top of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States. Consequently, two groups of mammals are particularly different:
among the rodents there are 26 species ranging in size from the tiny mountain vole to the beaver, which can be 1.2 meters long and weigh over 27 kg. This group also includes mice, squirrels, rodents, squirrels, marmots, wood mice and porcupines.
Seventeen bat species live in Kings Canyon National Park, including several species of concern such as Townsend’s big-eared bat, pale bat, spotted bat, western mastiff bat, and western red bat. One in 5 mammal species in parks is a bat! Bats find food by emitting a high-frequency call and using their sensitive hearing to detect flying insect echoes. Three species in the parks make calls audible to the human ear – listen to them at night if you visit the parks. Bats are found from the lowest elevations of the park up to more than 3,000 meters.
The American black bear is an omnivore (eats both plants and animals) and often eats berries and lawn plants, claws on trunks or digs for insects, dangles from sugar pine branches to chase cones and forage for acorns in the fall. A male black bear weighs an average of 135 to 160 kg, and smaller females weigh 68 to 90 kg. Black bears can range in color from cinnamon brown to black, and some may have slight flare-ups on the chest.
The California grizzly was once found in these parks and was abundant throughout the state. Grizzly bears were exterminated in California in the 1920s. The California grizzly remains one of the most enduring symbols of the state, adorning both the state flag and seal.
Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep are the only mammal in the park listed as federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Pacific fisherman, wolverine, and red fox are also listed by the state as threatened in California and the bat Big-eared Townsend is a candidate for the state list.