We often forget, I suspect, just how special our local landscapes can be. Now, a strong reminder is on the newsstands.
This month’s Sunset Magazine features carefully selected “mountain escapes” in several of the major mountain ranges of the American West. Four areas receive special attention – the Cascades, Utah’s Wasatch, the San Juan Range of Colorado, and inevitably, California’s Sierra Nevada.
For each of the four areas, the magazine offers a series of recommendations including such things as best lake, best peak, best campground, and so forth.
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed all four of these areas, but of course as soon as I picked up the magazine I turned to the section on the Sierra Nevada. Call it the curiosity of a native son.
Choosing the best of anything in the Sierra Nevada is not easy. The range is both large and rich in features. Stretching more than four hundred miles from north to south, the Sierra is full of famous locations – places like Lake Tahoe and Yosemite Valley. That is what makes the magazine’s recommendations so interesting.
I’m too lazy to calculate how many public campgrounds can be found within the Sierra. Certainly, if one starts at Lake Isabella in the south and continues up to the Lake Basin area just south of Lassen Peak, the number must easily go into the hundreds. Think of how many you know – places like Cedar Grove and Florence Lake.
So out of these hundreds of potential candidates, which campground does Sunset anoint as the “best” in the entire range? The honor goes to cozy Cold Springs Campground in the Mineral King area of our own Sequoia National Park!
I’ve known Cold Springs since I spent time there as a young national park ranger in the late 1970s. What I discovered was a shady, intimate campground tucked in dense lodgepole and red fir forest along the banks of the East Fork of the Kaweah River. Huge glacial boulders added privacy to several of the thirty campsites (nine of them walk-in only). Since then, very little has changed.
As locals know, getting to Cold Springs is more than a bit of a challenge. The infamous road to Mineral King is passable in a passenger car but narrow and steep enough to turn around more than a few motorists. Experienced travelers allow ninety minutes to drive the twenty-four miles to Mineral King from the beginning of the Mineral King Road in Three Rivers.
Is Cold Springs Campground for everyone? Definitely not, but if you like your camping quiet, cool, and very far off the web, then Cold Springs is a truly wonderful place. Personally, I think Sunset got it right.
Back in the magazine, I continued down the list of the best in the Sierra only to discover another of my favorites. According to Sunset Magazine, the “best peak” in the entire Sierra Nevada is Alta Peak – the 11,200-foot mountain that defines the view from my home in Three Rivers.
Readers of this column know Alta Peak well. I try to climb the peak each summer and have written about it several times, most recently in a column published just four weeks ago.
Sunset correctly describes the t climb from the trailhead at Wolverton to the summit as “thigh-burning,” but also lets out the secret that the 360-degree panorama from the summit is as good as from the summit of Mt. Whitney. How can you beat that?
What should we make of all this? Sunset Magazine knows the West. Since its founding in 1898, the magazine has focused on the landscapes and stories of the West. No other media outlet has watched the Sierra more closely or for so long. So, if Sunset Magazine has selected Cold Springs and Alta Peak as the best campground and best peak in the entire Sierra, we should value the magazine’s perspectives.
And that brings us back to home. How many Tulare County residents, do you suppose, have camped at Cold Springs or climbed Alta Peak? Have you?
© Wm. Tweed