The Sierra Club, originally a mountaineering club based in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, began its program of annual outings into the High Sierra in 1901. In subsequent years, many of these month-long trips included the Sequoia and Kings Canyon region. Participants in these trips often became determined advocates for the protection of the Southern Sierra. Photographer and date unknown.
From its founding in 1916, the National Park Service sought to market the national parks and monuments under its management by finding ways to make them interesting to visitors. The giant sequoia that became the Auto Log fell in 1917 and was promptly outfitted with a ramp that allowed visitors to drive their automobiles onto the surface of the fallen monarch. Photographer and date unknown.
Following instructions provided by Captain Charles Young (later a colonel), the U.S. Army began an effort in 1903 to protect some of the most famous individual trees in the twin parks. Fences were erected around both the General Grant (shown here) and General Sherman Trees to keep visitors a few yards away from the trees. On March 25, 2013, President Barack Obama designated the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument to commemorate the leader of the African-American military whose duties included protection of Sequoia National Park as acting superintendent. Photographer and date unknown.
The first commercial “village” in the Giant Forest had developed adjacent to Round Meadow when this photograph by Lindley Eddy was taken in 1920. After the Generals Highway opened in 1926, many of these buildings were moved to the new village site one-quarter mile away. At the time, visitors parked and camped wherever they wished among the giant sequoia trees.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks preserve many natural and cultural resources, but they owe much of their fame to the presence of the world’s largest trees–the giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum). This 1936 view of the California Tree only hints at the size of the biggest trees. Photograph by George A. Grant, of the National Park Service, October 18, 1936.
The development of ranger-guided walks to educate visitors “properly” began during the early 1920s and immediately became extremely popular. One of the most desirable walks accessed Moro Rock, where workers replaced an earlier wooden structure with nearly 800 feet of steps carved into the granite in 1931. Landscape architect Merel Sager and engineer Frank Diehl designed the new stairway to blend into the natural scenery. Photographer and date unknown.
Moro Rock is a towering dome of granite, an igneous rock formed from magma that cooled and solidified beneath the surface. Weathering and erosion exposed it to the surface, and exfoliation began whereby sheets of material peeled off like layers of an onion. At an elevation of 6,725 feet, it provides outstanding views of the Great Western Divide of the
Sierra Nevada to the east and, on clear days, more than 100 miles of the San Joaquin Valley and the Coast Ranges to the west. Photographer and date unknown.
Not even giant sequoias live forever. Each Big Tree eventually crashes to the ground, creating a roar that echoes through the forest like thunder. Without the park ranger in this photograph, taken after this tree near the Congress Trail fell in 1964, it would be difficult to grasp the overall size of the log. Photographer and date unknown.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks protect the scenic heart of the High Sierra, a wonderland of high peaks and stunning glacial gorges. This photograph of LeConte Canyon and the Middle Fork of the Kings River by Richard Frear, of the National Park Service, taken in the 1970s, captures the essence this spectacular region.
Tehipite Dome, at 7,708 feet elevation, rises more than 3,500 feet above the Middle Fork of the Kings River. It is the largest dome in the Sierra Nevada and towers over another glacially carved canyon that is similar to the South Fork of the Kings River and Yosemite Valley. Tehipite Dome is located well within the official wilderness area of Kings Canyon National Park and is approachable only by hikers, climbers, and equestrian parties. The exposed North Ridge is a Class 3 ascent to the summit, compared with a technical rating of 5.9 and higher for ascents from the south. Photographer and date unknown.
The physical extent of the High Sierra, as captured by Richard Frear, of the National Park Service, in the 1970s, gives Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks much of their character. A backpacker can wander for weeks on the twin parks’ 700-plus miles of wilderness trails. The photograph shows the Sphinx and Kaweah Basin, looking southwest from Kern Point.
Civilian superintendents under the supervision of the Secretary of the Interior have overseen Sequoia, General Grant, and Kings Canyon National Parks since 1914. Prior to that time, officers from the U.S. Army managed the parks. In this photograph, Superintendent Thomas J. Ritter (1989–1994) takes a break after riding to the summit of Franklin Pass east of Mineral King in Sequoia National Park. Photograph by William C. Tweed, 1990.
Managers at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have done their best to document levels of visitation since the very earliest days of the parks. Since the late nineteenth century, levels of visitor use have risen from a few hundred persons per year to more than a million. No other location in the two parks draws as many visitors as does the General Sherman
Tree in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park. Photograph by William C. Tweed, 1985.
Although known primarily for the giant sequoias, the twin national parks of the southern Sierra Nevada preserve countless other life-forms. Among the most spectacular are the foxtail pines (Pinus balfouriana) that cling to the high, rocky ridges of the southernmost end of the High Sierra. Growing resolutely upward in a region where most other woody plants hug the ground, foxtails often endure for a thousand years or more before they succumb to the elements. Even in death, they add beauty to the landscape. Photograph by William C. Tweed, 1997.