The River Road, Part One

The Morant River in the vicinity of Serge Island, Jamaica. The Blue Mountains are in the background (credit: Claude Fletcher, amataiclaudius)

Morant River (maybe)

I’ve been around rivers all my life. In the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, a river ran behind our house and also across the street. It could have been two different rivers or maybe it was one river and the Jamaica Public Works Department interfered with it by running a road across it. I don’t know. Since we lived about twenty miles upriver in the same direction as Serge Island, I would guess that the river of my early memories is the Morant River. Later on, when we moved further down towards the sea, I again encountered rivers, including the one that emptied out into the Caribbean about a mile or two from my first school. That too, may have been the Morant River. I don’t know.

Constant Companions

1987 New Monklands, Jamaica photo NewMonklandsSept87.jpg
Windows from which I used to watch the river as a child. Decades later, my boy plays outside in the yard.

As a small child, I took all these rivers for granted. They were constant companions to play in, get stranded on boulders in, watch from the upstairs rooms of our house, and follow as we drove down the valley to places like Serge Island, Trinityville and Morant Bay. On longer drives, as we made our way down winding mountain roads to Kingston or towards Golden Grove in Portland, we drove past children splashing about as their mothers, aunts and grandmothers washed and dried clothes by the river banks. Always of interest, were the lambs, new arrivals to the kingdom of god, dressed in their flowing white robes and tightly wound turbans. Dipped into the river, they were born anew and welcomed into the fold of believers. There was the occasional Rastaman, bathing and shaking his locks dry, and there was also me, a small girl, skipping over rocks, collecting “beads” from river grasses, following the river to its end by Lyssons Beach. I didn’t realize it then but these things were all my special friends.

Plantain Garden River

My all time favorite river in our home parish was the Plantain Garden River. I loved its name and I reveled in the names of the communities through which it ran. Most of all, I loved that it “walked its own walk,” refusing to run in the same direction that the other rivers on the island did. This river, the Plantain Garden, runs through communities with names like Ginger Hall, Airy Castle and Sunny Hill. Whereas all the other rivers in Jamaica (nearly one hundred of them) flow north or south, my idol flows eastwards. I am sure there is some geographical reason for this but for me, it is its difference that makes it memorable.

1987 Knutts River, Jamaica photo KingoftheWorldSep87.jpg
Standing atop steps that are needed to cross Knutts River during the rainy season

The parish of St.Thomas is filled with rivers. These include the Clock and Roaring rivers, both of which meet the Plantain Garden River in the district of Ginger Hall. As memorable as the Plantain Garden may be, it is the Yallahs River that is most striking. Just about every year this river floods its banks, rages across the land making roads impassable and in some cases, makes lives unbearable and unlivable. During floods and hurricane season, it cuts country off from town and vice versa. It surges in a mad rush, taking crops, livestock, homes and humans with it.

Yallahs River

Yallahs is a heavily mined river. It is valued by the construction industry for its sand and river rocks. It is also valuable to the National Water Commission (NWC). The primary provider of potable water in Jamaica, the NWC designed the Yallahs Pipeline Scheme to divert an estimated average annual yield of 16.4 million imperial gallons of water per day from the Yallahs River. This water is channeled into the Mona Reservoir, a large concrete dam that serves the semi-metropolitan area of St. Andrew. In some ways this undertaking is similar to the construction of California’s Hetch Hetchy Dam and the diversion of water from the Sierras to the San Francisco Bay area. In both cases, the corporate area gathers water at the expense of the countryside. To learn more about the Blue Mountain Multi-Purpose Project of 1980 and its possible ecological impacts, access the Ministry of Mining and Natural Resources of the Government of Jamaica’s special report here: <http://www.pcj.com/dnn/Portals/0/Documents/SWECO%20PREINVESTMENT%20B3.PDF>

~Please stay tuned for next week’s, “The RiverRoad” part two.~

2,000+ Year Old Trees and Such, Oh My!

Some of earth’s largest trees are here in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Sequoia, the nation’s second national park, was established in 1890. The largest of the large trees in these two parks is the General Sherman, a giant sequoia that stands 274 feet tall with a base diameter of 36.5 feet. The shot to my left is my favorite photograph from my walk among the big trees. These trees look as if they are marching right along with me. No, that is not the General Sherman.

A Park is Born

As late as the 1860s, people came from all around to chop down the big trees in the Sierras for lumber. Thanks to John Muir’s nature writing and newspaperman George Stewart’s editorial comments, public opinion led to the formation of Sequoia National Park a few decades later. Today, there are a number of trails leading park visitors to the few isolated groves of sequoias that remain in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Some of these trees are said to be over 3,000 years old!

Mountain yellow-legged frog, courtesy/Adam Backlin, USGS

Endangered Species

Although the sequoias are not an endangered specie, other plants and animals in the park are. The mountain yellow-legged frog, the highest-dwelling amphibian in the United States, is one such creature. It lives along the headwaters of the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park and hibernates nine to ten months of the year. Its numbers have collapsed by about ninety percent. For more information on this once-abundant frog, read John Upton’s 2012 Bay Area Citizen Wildlife Magazine article at http://www.baycitizen.org/wildlife/story/once-abundant-frog-may-deemed-endangered/

Of Beetles and Rocks

photo courtesy of MCZ Type Database @ Harvard Entomology

Trachykele opulenta Fall, a bore beetle, may or may not be threatened. It was discovered at Beetle Rock in Sequoia National Park around 1906. Because these beetles live in tree tops during their flight period, they are seldom seen. Their status has not been evaluated.

The photograph above is of an adult Trachykele opulenta Fall. This particular specimen was collected from Beetle Rock in 1906. It is part of Harvard University’s H.C. Fall Collection. If you go to Sequoia National Park, visit Beetle Rock. Maybe you’ll spot one of these creatures. I didn’t, but lying on this mass of granite enjoying the sun and views was enervating. When you visit Beetle Rock also go see The Sentinel tree, a 2,200 year old sequoia  that is just a stone’s throw away from the rock. Of course, don’t forget to go see the rest of the mighty giants in the Giant Forest.

Below are photos of:

  • Beetle Rock where Trachykele opulenta Fall was discovered around 1906, and
  • two of the mighty trees, the Sentinel and the General Sherman.
beetle rock, i
2,200 year old Sentinel Tree
General Sherman Tree, older than the Sentinel Tree(?)

Crystal Cave

About a forty-minute drive from our lodge (Wuksachi Lodge) is the marble karst Crystal Cave. Temperatures in the cave remain constant at about 58 degrees year round so there is no need to worry that it will be too hot or cold when you visit. A lightweight jacket is sufficient to keep you warm.

Crystal Cave consists of several large rooms with the most intricate designs. The patterns on the walls and ceilings will most certainly turn up in my paintings. The marble, the shiny crystal-like sparkles within the karst, the patterns that remind me of brain coral, all are incredibly beautiful. Look closely at the photographs below and see if you see any of the figures I saw in the formations.

Details to note
  • There is a half mile walk down to the cave. (Give yourself plenty of time to stop and enjoy the waterfall on your way down.)
  • Crystal Cave is open from mid-May through November.
  • Tours last around 45 minutes and tickets sell out fast. You must purchase your tickets in advance. (We bought ours at the Lodgepole ticket office.)
  • The last tour of the day is at 4:00 p.m.
  • Tours cost $13. (There is a candlelight tour that costs a few dollars more. These are offered from the end of June until mid-August.)

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Moro Rock

Oh boy, Moro Rock, elevation 6,400-6,700 feet! Follow the 1/3 mile staircase from the parking lot. You will ascend more than 300 feet to finally reach the summit of Moro Rock. As I made my way up the rock face I was greeted with beautiful panoramas of the Great Western Divide. Awesome! This hike is moderate and took about 20 minutes (minus the time it took me to stop and enjoy the view). Sweet!

view of Great Western Divide, i

If it wasn’t such a foggy day, I would have been able to see the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River which is about 4,000 feet below. Instead, I got this beautiful, ethereal, foggy view. No complaints here.

The Moro Rock hike consists of a series of switchbacks and 353 granite steps to the summit. It is easy in parts and steep in others.

View from Moro Rock, i

view of open cliff face that is Hanging Rock (where I stood earlier!)
Yikes! Overhead view, Moro Rock

If you are afraid of heights, do not look down as you make your final climb to the summit. I was nearly there, forgot, and looked down. Lost my nerve and turned back towards the lower landing. Janice went all the way to the top and took this photo from above. Yes, that’s me, chicken, who turned back when shy just about 20-25 steps to the summit. Maybe next time I’ll make it to the top? I’m coming back to conquer you, Moro Rock (and maybe get a clear view of the river and valley in the canyon below).

shot from atop summit, Moro Rock

For more information on Moro Rock, visit the Sierra Nevada Geotourism site: http://www.sierranevadageotourism.org/content/moro-rock-sequoia-national-park/sie517345097B27D7BA5

Next post, Beetle Rock! (I still have the big trees (sequoias!) and Crystal Cave hikes to share.

Hanging Rock

Here are some views from the exposed cliff, Hanging Rock, in Sequoia National Park. Awesome! Today (10/13/2012) was very foggy. Not much of the valley below could be seen. The views were spectacular nonetheless. The large grey (granite) rock to the left is Moro Rock. It will be the next stop on my route. (More on Moro Rock later.)

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If today wasn’t foggy, you would be able to see the valley in the canyon below. This includes views of the fertile San Joaquin Valley (made famous by Steinbeck in his novel, The Grapes of Wrath). The climb to Hanging Rock is very easy and as you can see, the views are spectacular.

Yosemite

At Yosemite (mixed media on canvas, 2011)

We went to Yosemite and enjoyed the waterfalls, brilliantly powerful from last year’s rains and snowfall. The Merced was a rushing, roaring monster of a river. It was breathtaking. In a little grove inside the park I agonized over a plaque, a commemoration of the First Peoples. It told the story of the original inhabitants who were burned out of their home in the very spot where I stood. I took some photographs of the plaque so I could go home and do some research/further reading on the peoples and the subject. Ironically, they are part of the cache of deleted images that remains deleted from my computer files. Though in no way incriminating, these photographs stayed where I sent them, first in and then out of the Trash Can. Not so the other photographs that you find interspersed in my “Red Book Stories” posts.

I created an oil and acrylic painting of the very first stop that DSan and I made in Yosemite. It is our first view of the river [the Merced?] from a very high perch atop granite rocks. If you look carefully, you will see his profile along with a head in the clouds and also an emerging (or disappearing) face in the water below. Both head and face are substitutes for two women, his Europe woman and his California woman.

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