Searching for clean air in Three Rivers, California--gateway community to the Sequoia National Park -- landed me in a paradise at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in Central California.
Three Rivers is conveniently located adjacent to a Sequoia National Park entrance leading to the world's largest trees - the giant Sequoias - where red bark glows in the California sun.
Three Rivers is a very charming small town alive with music, ( award-winning High Sierra Jazz Band), art galleries, scenic beauty, and an infectious pioneering spirit emanating from its warm and wonderful hard-working people.
Now spring wildflowers are bursting onto the scene. On mountaintops. At the side of the road. In every backyard. An artist's dream! A kaleidoscope of color!
The Kaweah River runs through town, offering beauty, food, recreation, and wildlife. A life sustaining tributary.
I went hiking, along trails of wildflowers with grazing cows, and when I arrived at a pool of water -- frogs!
I'm posing with John Elliott co-publisher of the local paper The Kaweah Commonwealth. He works closely with his wife, Sarah Barton Elliott. John is also the area's public historian and planning commissioner for Tulare County. I'd soon learn that in Three Rivers most residents wear multiple hats.
John showed me the area, explaining holes in rocks where Native American "Yokuts" once ground nutritious acorns, and warned that before we grind our own acorns, learn about the process that includes leaching tannin.
An interesting population description--480 Souls. John told me about a utopian-minded group called the Kaweah Colony, who originally came to Three Rivers to create a socialist society. They built the road to what's now Sequoia National Park with the intention to cut down trees and share proceeds equally. The Kaweah Colony originally named the largest tree in the world, (now the General Sherman Tree), by the name Karl Marx. When they finished building the roads to what would have been their lumber heaven, our government swooped-in to preserve the land as California's first national park, Sequoia National Park--second national park in our nation.
Preserving the past for future generations is the Three Rivers Historical Museum - a must see to learn about Native American and pioneer culture. The museum is run by volunteers, like much of Three Rivers, and is fascinating. Tools Natives used to sharpen arrows, head-dresses, pioneer clothing, a fine wood sewing machine from 1800s, children's games from the turn of the century and more, (all donated by locals), and historical facts such as represented on this tree trunk, its various ages and stages marked by tree rings.
I took in a jazz concert with Three Rivers' High Sierra Jazz Band. Members have played together for decades. Their big Jazz Affair music festival is coming up April 12-14, 2013. For information, click here.
After the gig, I met bandmembers Earl McKee and Charles Castro. Earl taught me a cattle call (his other hats being cattle and hog rancher) and Charles described how he once climbed Sequoia trees to put out fires! He also gave me the new CD of his grand-daughter, Kylie Castro. I loved her voice! A sublime torch-song and jazz singer. Her CD I wish you love is here. If you want to hear upbeat Dixieland style jazz, check out the High Sierra Jazz Band.
Sequoia Outdoor Sports specializes in outdoor equipment rentals and guided trips. You can get a complete camping outfit - tent, sleeping bags, cooking gear - for nominal cost. So leave your stuff at home and keep things simple. (559) 561-1190
Also take a day tour to see the Giant Forest and noteworthy natural monuments with a highly recommened outfit Sequoia Sightseeing Tours.
Everyone but everyone spoke of helping one another. Maybe that's the secret to long life and why I met several active seniors living on their own, walking up and down hills, minds sharp, and bodies active in their communities. And when I say, senior, Three Rivers is redefining aging. Maybe like their nearby long-lived healthy trees! 99-year-old Ruby moving to the jazz, 95-year-old Augie still driving, and sharp as a whip, enjoying his jazz, too. And Jim Barton, 88, walking up and down a steep hill most days to go to the post office. He is part of six generations in Three Rivers. Jim's family recently had the mountain behind their home named after them! Photo is from my interview with Jim about his pioneering family.
I met many happy people whose families have been around for generations. In my city life, I know mostly transients as defined by no more than one generation in an area. That would be me, too.
I've always thought less than stellar air quality meant people and plants dying off before their time; getting sick. I suppose health impact studies have a kernel or more of truth but here I was in a town that is impacted by air pollution at various times throughout the year due to industry, cars and trucks in the San Joaquin Valley. Especially in the heat of summer when ozone pollution kicks in and lungs can be impacted. Yet those 88-100 year olds I met, living on their own, walking up hills, dancing to local jazz, seemed to tell a different story. It seemed a lot of older folks are plain too busy to slow down.
And it seemed there was a protective force generated from robust nature--trees, mountains, rivers--community, and hard work. That was my take-away from Three Rivers.
Three Rivers is low-key, has no traffic; it's hard to get a good wireless signal in many places which means no beams from excessive cell phones and cell phone towers bombarding their bodies and brains. I didn't ask about smart meters rampant in big cities.
I stayed close to the Sequoia National Park entrance at the Buckeye Tree Lodge, which I highly recommend.
Rooms overlooked the Kawaeh River, blossoming trees, wildflowers, and birdsong overhead. Below a photo where I'm relaxing on a rock outside room #1.
Delicious coffee beans and a grinder are in each room. Also mini-fridge, TV, and free wireless. If you have a cell phone, apparently only AT&T worked pretty much throughout town.
I met the owner of the motel, Dennis Villavicencio, who also works as a volunteer firefighter, president of the water board, part-time trial attorney and is a husband and active father. He also races bikes and runs. Dennis said he wouldn't live anywhere else.
The air quality of Three Rivers is mixed given its close proximity to the San Joaquin Valley but its elevation of about 1000 feet and the oxygen-giving Sequoias add health giving benefits to the vibrant community.
The air quality story in Central California's San Joaquin Valley is challenging due to geography and industry. Sandwiched between the Coastal and Sierra Nevada Mountain Ranges, cars, trucks, and farm-industry emit soot that frequently get trapped in an inversion layer. Winds tend to blow east toward Three Rivers and Sequoia National Park. But Three Rivers is about 1000 ft above sea level, giving residents some relief. And the park goes to much higher elevations and therefore suffers the least negative air quality impacts.
Fall, winter, and spring are your best bets for good air quality. After a rain, if you can be so lucky, (I was!) is best.
Side note about altitude: Some people with asthma and lung disease are prone to altitude sickness. Indeed I suffered from altitude sickness in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Not here. I think getting acclimated in Three Rivers before going higher to 7,500 ft during my park tour, helped. As well as drinking a lot of water with electrolytes.
San Joaquin Valley Air Quality, click here.
Three Rivers events, click here.
Local newspaper, The Kaweah Commonwealth.
I highly recommend Three Rivers and Sequoia National Park. Only 3 1/2 hour drive from both Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Until next time, breathe easy and make life an adventure!
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To read my Sequoia National Park review with photos, click here.