Kings Canyon National Park: That Time When We Sang to the Bear, and After


Paradise Valley

Just before 3pm on July 4, Sean and I departed Mist Falls and began the hike down Paradise Valley. The Falls marked the farthest into the heart of the Sierra Nevada that we would reach on this trip. The following day we would continue on to the third part of our California trip: three nights in San Diego and Andrew and Yesi’s wedding.



Lanceleaf Goldenweed (?)


Sugar Pine cone



South Fork Kings River




The hike down was swift, and soon we were at the point where views to the south opened up along the series of granite terraces.



The Sphinx

Out ahead of us and across Kings Canyon proper, the Sphinx showed the way.


Buck Mountain




Glacier Monument


Glacier Monument


Image: Sean M. Santos


Ponderosa Pine


Buck Mountain



The Sphinx






Broadleaf Lupine






South Fork Kings River




The Sphinx



In less than an hour, we were back on the floor of Kings Canyon. Instead of taking the westerly trail on the north side of the river, we crossed a bridge to return along the south side. It was a bit longer, but since we’d made such good time coming down, we thought it would be nice to see things we hadn’t already seen.



Glacier Monument


South Fork Kings River

Among the first things we saw from the bridge were two figures, a scantily clad young couple likely getting their Instagram lifestyle shots of the afternoon.


We crossed the bridge and headed west at a fork immediately on the other side. A couple was at the fork having just descended from the direction of Bubbs Creek. They opted for the shorter route on the north side of the river, but they had traveled much further than we.


Avalanche Creek

A little way on, we crossed Avalanche Creek on a makeshift bridge of downed timber.


We continued through a ghostly stretch of fire-scorched standing dead trees. The quiet was reinforced by our only passing one other hiking couple on the entire trail on the south side of the Kings River.




So we were walking along. Sean was slightly ahead of me, and I was fussing with pulling my GPS out of my bag to get a sense of how far away we were from the bridge to the parking area. It actually went through my head, something like “What if we saw a bear right now.”


American Black Bear

And sure enough. Sean stopped short and said, “There’s a bear.”

A small American Black Bear was walking along the trail ahead of us, going the same direction we were.

“What should we do?” Sean asked.

“Well. I suppose we should let it know we’re here so we don’t surprise it. It won’t hurt us, but we should make it aware of us.

“I guess we should sing.”

I started in on “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer,” but Sean stopped me. He suggested that since it was the Fourth of July we should sing patriotic songs.


American Black Bear

And so we sang patriotic songs to the bear. We sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “America the Beautiful,” “It’s a Grand Old Flag,” and “This Land is Your Land.”

The bear did not care for our singing. Actually, the bear didn’t seem to care one way or the other, but instead went down to the bank of the Kings River to continue looking for some lunch.


American Black Bear

We paused and watched it as we passed by on the trail. We were still singing, but by now “This Land is Your Land” had devolved into This bear is your bear…this bear is my bear…bear bear bear bear bear…

We said goodbye to the bear and continued on our way.



Here the floor of Kings Canyon on the south side of the river was very similar to the other side, which we’d hiked through early in the afternoon.


Buck Mountain


I couldn’t help but dwell a bit on the impending drive out of the canyon. I daydreamed about being put out with a horse tranquilizer while someone else drove us back out on that road. But in the meantime, we weren’t there yet, and I tried to enjoy the hike.




South Fork Kings River

The river came close to the canyon’s southern wall, and the trail ran above water. Here South Fork Kings was calm and seemed almost still.


The trail on the south side led a little way beyond the Roads End parking area before reaching the bridge to cross the river. As the trail led through an ancient rockfall, I was beginning to wonder if we’d missed the bridge.




Bridge Penstemon


But no, suddenly there it was.


North Mountain



South Fork Kings River




South Fork Kings River


After the bridge, a narrow path led back to the parking area.


Western Gray Squirrel

We reached the parking area a touch after 5pm, making for a total hiking time of about four and a half hours. A good, solid, gorgeous day hike. But it was far too short a time in Kings Canyon. It and its sister park, Sequoia, deserve weeks of exploration.

Soon we were back in the car and driving out of the canyon. The first portion along the narrow walls above the river was fine. Sean turned on some problematic vintage 70s Cher. But when we got to the twelve-mile stretch that climbed out and up, I asked him to turn on something else. Madonna mostly helped, I guess.

The drive out was worse in that we were on the outside, drop-off side of the road. But it was actually better in two keys ways: everyone was going more slowly on the steep grade and I had a sense of what to expect.

By the time we got to the top, my palms were sweaty and I could feel the stress in my body. But I knew I could do it again to return to Kings Canyon.

We stopped in Grant Grove Village to get some kombucha. Sean also got a hot dog. And I went to the gift shop to get the two little stuffed animals for these Parks (we always get a stuffed animal of a creature we see in each National Park): a Mule Deer for Sequoia and a Black Bear for Kings Canyon.

We returned to Three Rivers the way we’d come, out through the National Forest and down into the foothills. Near the yurts of the Seven Circles Retreat Center (which is a cult or something, right?), we saw a piglet cross the road. Otherwise the drive as uneventful, if lovely.




Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park

Back in Three Rivers, under the watchful eye of Moro Rock, we grilled up some steaks and portobello mushrooms.




We showered and relaxed, packed and cleaned up a bit, and read.

We were amused by the party disco lamp in the cabin.

And the night sounds, particularly the frogs, were great to fall asleep to.



Next morning, Thursday, July 5, we were up at 6am and out the door by 7:30. We had a long drive to San Diego ahead of us. And we were functioning as a sort of remote mission control for the Detroiters coming in for the wedding.




Image: Sean M. Santos

We stopped at the post office and dropped of postcards, some of which were for people we would actually see later that day.

There was some sort of emergency happening because multiple fire trucks and other emergency vehicles were headed to Three Rivers from neighboring towns.


Image: Sean M. Santos

In the Central Valley, we had good cell service again, and Sean was able to be in touch with Andy and Terry. Their flight got in early, so we suggested that they go downtown, check their bags at a hotel, and go see some things while they waited for the rest of us to arrive and be able to check into our AirB&B.


Image: Sean M. Santos

My parents had considerably more drama. My Dad had chipped a tooth the day before and had arranged to see a dentist in San Diego after they landed. So that was their agenda for the afternoon while they waited for us.

We, meanwhile, listened to the entire three-season soundtrack of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on the drive. We made good time to LA, stopped at an In-and-Out Burger for lunch, and continued down the coast.

There was a terrible back-up in Oceanside, so in exasperation, we stopped at a Target and got some supplies for the weekend. By now everyone was on the ground in San Diego.

When we finally got in, I dropped Sean and our bags at the AirB&B and then went to fetch my parents and the boys.

Back at the AirB&B, everyone was pleased. It was actually two cottages (a studio for my parents and a two-bedroom for the rest of us) with a shared patio. From the outside they didn’t look like much, but inside they were bright and clean.


They were also around the block from (and above) San Diego’s International Restaurant Row.

Everyone else had had some food, so Sean and went down to the walk-up ceviche window and got our dinner. We also got some desserts from a gelato place on the corner.



Image: Sean M. Santos

Back up on the patio, we had cocktails and noshed, gabbing until late. Then we said goodnight to my parents, and the four of us got ready for bed. Terry and I left Sean and Andy on the couch watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix.

Watching TNG continued the next morning, Friday, July 6.



Our group went to breakfast at Farmer’s Bottega in Mission Hills, near our AirB&B.






Then we spent the early afternoon relaxing before dressing for the wedding.


Image: Sean M. Santos

The ceremony took place in Centennial Park on Coronado Island across from downtown San Diego.


Image: Sean M. Santos




The groom was nervous, but dapper.


Andrew and my Mother, the groom and his godmother


Congratulations Yesenia and Andrew!

After the ceremony, a Navy ship floated past, which was appropriate because of Andrew’s near-two decades in the Service.


The reception was at a part of San Diego that had been part of a naval base, but was now converted to residential and commercial use. The mariachi band was great!




We toasted, we ate, we danced. We caught up and reminisced with cousins we hadn’t seen in forever. And pooped, we returned to the AirB&B around 10:30pm. We said goodnight to my parents…and watched some TNG before bed.

Next day, Saturday, July 7, we had coffee and pastries on the patio at the AirB&B before heading out to a neighborhood north of the city for brunch. (San Diego is so sprawling that I’m unsure if we were still in the city proper.)


It was at the house that Yesi and her family had rented for the wedding week. Unfortunately, Andy, Terry, Sean, and I had to head out early (after having some of the amazing feast of Mexican food) for a pre-planned afternoon adventure.


We grabbed a Lyft to La Jolla for a sea kayaking and snorkeling tour.


Kudos to Terry for suggesting it, particularly since he’s uneasy about both snorkeling and being in water over his head. Sean too is uncomfortable snorkeling.


Our guide, Blaine, was great, particularly after his partner guide had to return to the beach with some paddlers who were having trouble.


We paddled to an area of sea caves where a bunch of sea lions were resting. Both Terry and Sean got in the water for a successful snorkel.


Image: Blaine

Unfortunately, Sean’s iPhone and my sunglasses weren’t didn’t fare so well. The gladware bag Sean used as a dry sack didn’t work, and his phone drowned. My sunglasses broke in the surf as I returned to the beach in my kayak.


Afterward, though, we celebrated with a drink and a nosh in La Jolla before rejoining my parents in San Diego.



Image: Sean M. Santos

That evening, we went to a so-so restaurant downtown, Glassdoor, before walking over to Extraordinary Desserts. We returned to the AirB&B with our bounty of delicious pies and pastries and celebrated the final evening of our trip.


Sean got some rice to attempt to save his phone, but it didn’t work.

Then we watched more TNG before bed.

Next morning, Sunday, July 8. We six had breakfast again at Farmers’ Bottega before Andy and Terry headed to the airport.

My parents and I hung out at Andrew’s condo with Aunt Karen, Andrew, and Yesi. We had mango and leftover wedding cake for lunch while we watched Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel.

Then Sean and I said goodbye to everyone (my parents were returning to Detroit on a redeye flight that night) and drove to San Diego International. We returned the Cadillac to Enterprise, rode the shuttle to the terminal, and soon were on our flight to Chicago.


From the Pacific Ocean to Lake Michigan.



And when we got home, Elsa was pleased to see us.




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