The sign says there are 400 steps to the top of Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park, but I quit counting after 50. I want to concentrate more on the spectacular view that is expanding as I climb higher and higher. It’s also an excuse to stop for a few seconds to let the oxygen reach my leg muscles. Then I realize that this staircase, constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is pretty darn amazing, too.I try to imagine workers cutting into this giant, dome-shaped granite rock and hauling hundreds of pounds of concrete up its face so future visitors can enjoy the splendor of the Eastern Sierra at nearly 7,000 feet.
Once at the top, I think about our busy day.
Earlier, we spent several hours with naturalist Tara Hostnik, an education assistant with the Sequoia Field Institute, who led us a 4-mile hike to Tokopah Falls. The trail parallels the scenic Marble Fork of the Kaweah River and passes “Sequoia’s Half Dome” — the Watchtower. Less well known, it is still a formidable hunk of granite, rising to nearly 9,000 feet.
Hostnik is a virtual encyclopedia of all things Sierra/Sequoia, and along the way, she pointed out wildflowers with playful names: whiskerbrush, Torrey’s blue-eyed Mary, pine violet, pussy paws, larkspur, cinquefoil and crimson columbine.
“Of all the flowers that exist in California,” Hostnik explained with relish, “over half can be found in the Sierra Nevada, and 20 percent can be found in Sequoia.”
The field institute is a branch of the Sequoia Natural History Association, a nonprofit that raises money for Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks and Devil’s Postpile National Monument. In addition to offering guides, tours and courses, the association makes possible the regular free presentations at Wuksachi Lodge. For instance, on the previous night, Hostnik led a free astronomy program just outside the lodge, using her laser pointer to show participants various constellations hanging in a coal-black, unpolluted sky.
Hostnik also portrays Alice Eastwood at a weekly park barbecue that features characters from Sequoia’s past.
“(Eastwood) was an ambitious woman from Colorado who published the very first plant-identification guide of the Southern Sierra Nevada while hiking along the South Fork of the Kings River,” Hostnik said. “She was considered John Muir’s botanical tutor.”
Back on the trail, we scrambled over boulders to get close to the falls, which cascade about 1,000 feet over the granite cliff. We paused for a rest and watched a lively marmot watching us chugging from our water bottles, then headed back to the trailhead.
The cool, rustic comfort of the Wuksachi Lodge lobby was a welcomed haven after our hours on the trail.
Before dinner, we gathered with other visitors for another free association presentation. This time, we met Mattie Hildebrand, portrayed by recent college grad and musician Alexandra Medina from Visalia. Hildebrand journeyed to Sequoia in the late 1800s to join a socialist colony called the Kaweah Commonwealth that had been established on parklands before they were nationalized. Hildebrand was a music teacher, and after Medina performs a monologue in Hildebrand’s voice explaining her socialistic ideals, she lifts her violin to her chin and fills the lobby with music from her violin.
Our four days in Sequoia National Park made us realize that, though the park is best known for its enormous trees, there are many other must-see attractions and wonders of nature. There also is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic crew of docents who can enhance and deepen visitors’ experiences.
For more information: Wuksachi Lodge: www.visitsequoia.com/lodging.aspx. Sequoia National History Association: http://www.sequoiahistory.org/.
Sequoia National Park: http://www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm.