Exploring The Kaweah River Part I

August 25, 2011

Our guest blogger this month is Dr. William Tweed. In his writing, William Tweed utilizes the knowledge and skills he developed during thirty years with the National Park Service where he worked as an interpretive writer, historian, and naturalist. William specializes in writing that brings together the natural and human worlds.

His major published works include:  Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks: The Story Behind the Scenery (KC Publications, 1980); Challenge of the Big Trees: A Resource History of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (Sequoia Naturalist History Association, 1990) (Co-authored with Lary Dilsaver); Death Valley and the Northern Mojave: A Visitor’s Guide (Cachuma Press, 2003) (Co-authored with Lauren Davis); and Uncertain Path: A Search for the Future of National Parks (University of California Press, 2010).

Tweed also writes a column for the Visalia Times-Delta on nature in Central California. Since 1997, when the column first appeared, more than 400 of his essays have appeared in the newspaper.

Tweed holds a Ph.D. in history from Texas Christian University and makes his home in Three Rivers, California.







The numbers confuse at first.  The community of Three Rivers has either one river, or four, or even five.  It all depends on how you count.

The one river is the Kaweah — a stream that takes its name from a band of Yokuts Indians who once made their home near modern Lemon Cove.  In the early nineteenth century, when the first Europeans to see the stream arrived on its banks, they called it

El de Rio San Gabriel.  But it was the Indians’ name that endured — a name combining the Yokuts words for “raven’s call” and “water.”  The Kaweah, not inappropriately, is the “river of the calling raven.”

Although it is a single stream by the time it leaves the Sierra, the Kaweah is actually a complex system with five major mountain tributaries and, before it was channelized in the middle nineteenth century to serve the needs of agriculture, at least

four major “distributaries”  that spread it waters across the floor of the San Joaquin Valley.  In the nineteenth century the area around Visalia was known as the “Four Creeks” country and even today the idea of a dividing river is retained in such names as the Kaweah Delta District Hospital.

The name “Three Rivers” remembers a time when the foothills town was only a small dot on a map rather than an extended community filling several canyons.  Originally, the name applied to a small rural community centered around the confluence of the Middle and South forks of the Kaweah.  The third river implied in the name was the North Fork, which enters the river’s main stem less than two miles upstream from the mouth of the South Fork.  Left out of the equation altogether were the other two major forks: the East and Marble forks.

Today Three Rivers might better be called “Four Rivers” for the name has come to apply to the community that fills the lower reaches of the East, Middle, North, and South fork canyons.  Once these recesses each had their own settlements, with their own markets and post offices.  Largely forgotten today is Hammond, the old name for the settlement that developed around the Mt. Whitney Power Company’s Kaweah Number One hydroelectric plant when it was built in the late 1890s.  Gone, too, is the town of “Oak Grove,” where lower East Fork ranchers once picked up their mail and supplies. Enduring still, but subsumed into modern Three Rivers, is “Kaweah,” with its tiny, fiercely defended community post office.   Also surviving as a place name but slowly losing its separate identify is Ash Mountain, where Sequoia National Park’s rangers have made their homes since the 1920s.

Each fork of the Kaweah has its own character.  The big Middle Fork Canyon, with its views to Alta Peak and the high country, has long been the visible connection between lowland residents and the high Sierra of Sequoia National Park.  The East Fork, the first of the mountain canyons to have a road, has twice inspired dreams of greed and glory.  But neither silver nor skiing turned out exactly as expected.  The North Fork is the land of the Kaweah Colony with its Utopian dreams of Arcadian life.  The Marble Fork, flowing entirely within the national parks, confuses the parks visitors, who have trouble connecting its disparate parts. And the South Fork, scoured in the mid-nineteenth century by the greatest Kaweah flood in human memory, remains yet a quiet land of ranchers and privacy.

In coming essays in this series, we will explore each of these stories.  We’ll start, next time, with the Kaweah’s Middle Fork, the stream that ties together all the environmental elements of the Kaweah watershed.  In succeeding essays, the four other canyons and the Kaweah’s delta will each receive their due. Perhaps by telling these separate stories we can discover the single place we call home.


NOTE: The above has been modified slightly from the original version published in the Fall 1995 issue of the Kaweah Quarterly. The Quarterly was the newsletter of the Kaweah Land Trust, which is one of the three organizations that merged in 2000 to become what is now known as the Sequoia Riverlands Trust.

© Wm. Tweed


Critters in Abundance

August 19, 2011

Remember when you used to run through the yard with an old jam jar in one hand and the lid in the other? You’d tiptoe barefoot across the grass until you saw a grasshopper, butterfly, dragon fly or whatever creature it may have been. Then you’d hold your breath and slowly bring your jar and lid down surrounding the bug. You were hoping that when your jar made that loud “clang!” as the lid came crashing shut that there would be a prize inside your jar. You would have a new pet, perhaps, or maybe just a friend for the next few minutes. During those moments, the most amazing creature was so small that it fit in your hand.

At this time of year there are plenty of insects to visit at SRT’s nature preserves. Although we don’t want you to take them home, we do want to share with you what you can find if you take the time to explore the outdoors. If you are looking for butterflies, there are plenty of painted ladies, tiger swallowtails, and sulfur butterflies— all colorful butterflies. You can spot a painted lady as a large, deep orange butterfly with black and white corners on its wings.  A tiger swallowtail is large and yellow and black. You can find them near the milkweed or other late-flowering plants, which are common food sources found in butterfly-friendly gardens.

Along with the butterflies, you may come across another insect, the Praying Mantis, lying in wait at the top of a flower for prey, which it snatches with its long forelegs. However, they are tricky to find due to their ability to blend in with the foliage around them. While looking for a Praying Mantis, be careful not confuse it for a grasshopper.  The grasshopper is another elongated insect with long back legs. The grasshopper may be more familiar to some because of the easily recognizable noises it makes by rubbing its hind legs. ­­

There is a lot to see at SRT’s nature preserves. It’s just a matter of how closely you are willing to look. Slow down next time you’re outside. Take a seat on one of the benches in the shade along a trail at Kaweah Oaks Preserve and just observe. You may get the chance to see much more than you anticipated.


August 11, 2011

Sequoia Riverlands Trust has two volunteer days coming up this month, at Dry Creek Preserve on Tuesday, August 16th and Tuesday, August 30th from 9 am – 11 am. If you choose to volunteer you will be helping our Nursery Tech, Andrew Glazier propagate native plants, focusing on potting elderberry and starting some willows.

We propagate elderberries and willow by taking a ‘cutting’ of a mature plant, then soaking it in water to let the roots grow out before planting it in soil. We take cuttings by cutting off a piece of the mature plant’s branch. So essentially, we make clones of wild plants, grow them in the nursery, and then plant them on the preserve where we took the cutting.

Anyone can volunteer, but you need to bring a liability release form with you. If you are under 18, then you need your parent’s signature. Anyone under the age of 16 needs to be with an adult. We hope to see you at Dry Creek Preserve!

You can download a printable copy of the liability release form here.  RELEASE OF LIABILITY_DCP Work Days_Aug 2011


SRT Plans for Visitor Use & Outdoor Learning at Blue Oak Ranch

August 5, 2011

Sequoia Riverlands Trust is nearing completion of a visitor use and education plan for the Blue Oak Ranch Preserve north of Springville. This planning effort is funded by a Proposition 48 grant from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, and will enable SRT to invite visitors to to enjoy the preserve’s biological, scenic and historical values, while protecting sensitive resources.  The plan will include:

  • A resource inventory to identify important physical, biological and cultural resources to be highlighted or avoided by visitors
  • Recommendations for appropriate recreational activities, amenities, signage, interpretive materials, and ways to manage the logistics and liabilities of opening the preserve to visitor use.
  • Recommendations for education programs and partnerships that will boost the value of the preserve as an “outdoor learning laboratory.”

Springville community members joined SRT at Blue Oak Ranch on April 17, 2010 to discuss how to best utilize the preserve in a way that mutually benefits the land and the community. Approximately 50 people attended the event, including preserve neighbors,  representatives from Tulare County Back Country Horsemen, Wild Places, and local Boy Scout troops.  Participants highlighted hiking, horseback riding, group events, and service learning opportunities as desirable visitor uses.

The visitor use plan is the first step toward conservation-compatible recreational access at the Preserve. The plan will also be the guiding document as SRT seeks funding and partners for visitor amenities and preserve stewardship. If you would like to view the plan once it is complete, please e-mail info@sequoiariverlands.org.