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Geology of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

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Kings Canyon National Park

Kings Canyon National Park (Photo credit: jacobC)

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks has some pretty spectacular and mind blowing geological resources and features. A considerable portion of the longest mountain range in America, the Sierra Nevada, makes up a large part of the rugged mountain landscape including Mt Whitney, the tallest mountain bordering the United States, rising an impressive 14,491 feet. There are an incredible eleven more peaks which top the 14,000 feet mark along the eastern boundaries of the parks. Kings Canyon National Park has colossal ridges which extend towards the west from the crest of the Sierra Nevada forming the Monarch and Goddard divides, boasting several mountains which are more than 13,000 feet tall. Sequoia National Park has the Great Western Divide which runs parallel with the Sierra crest. These are the mountains awaiting visitors at Mineral King, which can be clearly seen from both the Giant Forest area and Moro Rock. Many of these peaks are more than 12,000 feet tall.

When you’ve got such an impressive array of mountains ranges and crests, what else can you expect? Well, think about the name for a second – Kings Canyon National Park – yep, between the mighty mountains are plenty of spectacular, deep canyons, mostly in Kings Canyon. This extensive glacial valley features staggering cliffs, a fabulous snaking river, splendid waterfalls and dynamic green meadows.  The contrasts here are remarkable, as the intersection of the Middle and South Forks of the mighty Kings River is at 2,260 feet whilst towering over the north side is the Spanish peak, a dramatic 10,051 feet but at the south side of the river it’s considerably lower. When they call this place “The Land of the Giants” they’re not just talking about the trees.

There are lots more fantastic canyons awaiting visitors at both of these spectacular parks including Tokopah Valley which is just above Lodgepole, the impressive Kern Canyon at a depth of more than 5,000 feet for an incredible 30 miles, and Deep Canyon which is located on the Kaweah River at the Marble Fork, immersed within the remote back-ground.

The majority of the rocks of the Sierra Nevada mountains and canyons are granitic, rocks like granite, monzonite and diorite, which have been created far below the earths surface when molten rocks have cooled. This molten rock was formed because of subduction, a geologic process whereby the supreme forces within planet earth pushed the landmass beneath the Pacific Ocean waters and beneath the advancing continent of North America. The water, which was heated to extreme temperatures was forced up from the ocean floor melting the rocks as it moved. This all happened a very long time ago, around 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous period.

The Sierra Nevada mountain range is ever changing and growing to this day. The mountains gain precious feet in leaps and starts due to earthquakes along the eastern side close to Lone Pine and Bishop, and the snow and rain falling on the rugged landscape create rapid erosion and movement of sediments. The erosion is what’s responsible for the deposits of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, at depths of thousands of feet.

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