The Sequoia and Kings Canyon in the United States is famous for having the highest and the jagged relief in the entire Sierra region. The rugged topographical nature of these parks is attributed to the formation of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in eastern California. According to Liu and Shen, the formation of this mountain range has been the subject of profound controversy (299). Huber suggested that the uplifting of the range, now approximated at slightly over 2800m above the adjacent lowlands, occurred in the past 20 million years (Liu & Shen 299). A number of subsequent seismic studies conducted by different scientists on the same range later confirmed Huber’s views. For example, some studies concluded that an Airy-type crustal root 55km thick supports the range (Eaton; Pakiser & Brune as cited in Liu & Shen 299).
However, other studies suggested that the thickness and ruggedness in the Sierra Nevada Region resulted from the batholith formation that occurred in the Mesozoic time (Chase & Wallace as cited in Liu & Shen 299). The batholith formation was the latest tectonic event capable of the formation of such magnitude. The high rise and rugged topography of the region have also been closely linked to the asthenospheric upwelling under the range (Crough & Thompson as cited in Liu & Shen 299).
The Sierra Nevada is an approximate 600 kilometer long mountain range situated in the western part of the United States. It is part of the Sierra Nevada – Great Valley (SNGV) of the continental North American microplate (Argus & Gordon as cited in Hammond et al.). Bounded by the San Andreas Fault system and the Great Basin faults, the Sierra Nevada hosts the Sequoia – Kings Canyon National Park.
Sequoia National Park, created on September 25th, 1890, ranks second among the oldest parks in the country. To its north lies the Great Forest plateau colonized by sequoias extending to great heights into the sky. Notable in this part of the park is the General Sherman giant Sequoia of about 275 feet above the ground. Joaquin Valley is located on the western side of the national park and is covered mainly by chaparrals and dry oak trees. Kaweah valley and the Middle Fork extends the southern area of the park with the eastern area covered by the snowcapped peaks of the Western divide. At 14,494 feet beyond the divide stands Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in continental USA. Within the park, The Great Western Divide, visible from the Moro rock, parallels the Sierras. It peaks to 12,000 feet.
Kings Canyon rests next to sequoia national park and forms part of the same park system – the U.S National Parks system. It consists of two distinct areas – Grant Grove and Cedar Grove. Prominent ridges in the Canyon create the Goddard, and Monarch divides. Kings Canyon is one of the innermost Canyons in North America with its bottom lying from 4,000 to 8,000 feet below the surrounding topography. Studies suggest that the Canyon attained this great depth due to the regional uplift of the Southern Sierra in the Plio – Pleistocene era (GeologicTrips.com 276). The gouging in the valley resulted from the rejuvenation of the Kings River. Kings Canyon is a glaciated valley with remarkable cliffs, threaded by the Kings River, and marked by several waterfalls. For a short distance outside the parks, the Canyon deepens considerably becoming, at least for a short distance, the deepest canyon in USA.
Together, the Kings Canyon and Sequoia national park are home to awe-inspiring geological features. The parks, as noted earlier, contain a significant portion of the Sierra Nevada - America’s longest mountain range. According to National Park service California, the Sierra Nevada that hosts the two parks is a young mountain range, not more than 10 million years old. Incredible forces associated with the development of the Great Basin forced the mountains to grow. During the cold years that followed, glaciers formed over the mountains. These glaciers, as they moved, carved deep valleys and pronounced peaks in the region. The glaciated area spanned the headwaters of the Kaweah River, Tule River, and the Little Kern River (Sisson & Moore).
Geologically, rocks within the southern and western slope Sierra, mainly in Sequoia National Park, are chiefly composed of Cretaceous granitic rocks and grano - diorites of the Sierra Nevada Batholith. The Batholith intruded the initial continental landmasses of Mesozoic meta-sedimentary and meta-volcanic rocks. The resistant nature of these rocks coupled with the extensive history of glacial activity in these parks and within the range created a scenic setting. The scenery is, therefore, marked with the geography of waterfalls, craggy peaks, hanging valleys and gigantic glacial canyons of which the Kings Canyon is part. The main surface deposits are the quaternary till and talus.
The dominant rocks of granite, diorite and Mennonite found in this area were formed when magma ejected from the center of the earth cooled beneath the earth’s surface. The parent molten rocks were a by-product of subduction, a tectonic geologic process in which the lighter continental crust is forced to rise above the denser oceanic crust upon collision on the continental margin. In this tectonic event, powerful tectonic forces in the earth pushed the Pacific plate beneath the advancing North American Continental landmass. Super-hot water forced out of the ocean floor metamorphosed the rocks along its path upwards. This process occurred around 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period (Quizlet.com).
The majority of sub-strata exposed in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks consist of granitic rocks of composite batholith (Quizlet.com). The identifying characteristic of these rocks is their speckled salt and pepper appearance. Granitic rocks contain quartz, feldspars and mica minerals. These rocks had earlier cooled below the surface. Metamorphism of limestone into marble is one of the several processes that facilitated the formation of several caves such as Crystal Cave in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.
The Yosemite and the Sequoia National Parks exist in a mountain range of great beauty (Frommers.com. a). Even though Yosemite attracts more tourists than Sequoia & Kings Canyon combined, all three are delightful parks (Frommers.com. b). Situated in different parts of the Sierra, Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings National Parks differ in a number of ways. Firstly, the Pleistocene glaciation was not extensive in the south as it was in the central and northern Sierra. This minimal glaciation activity permitted the outcrop of several roof pendants of metamorphic rocks in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks as compared to Yosemite.
Secondly, the majority of the little glaciation activity that occurred in the south was mainly confined to the canyons. This confinement significantly reduced the extent of glaciation and, therefore, the thick soil cover in most areas remained intact. Sequoias now dominate the uplands in the south, growing on the soil that would have otherwise been removed by the glaciers.
Lastly, the major difference between the two regions is attributed to the extent of the Western metamorphic Belt. This Belt does not extend into the southern Sierra as it does in the northern corridor. Instead, the metamorphic rock lies within the granitic rocks of the Sierra Nevada Batholith as a huge roof pendant.
In the heart of the Sierra Nevada, south of Yosemite, the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are dotted by several roof pendants. The roof pendants are of irregular shape and elongated facing the northwest. They occur in separate patches scattered throughout the granite, and some are of similar rocks. Based on their parent material similarity, the pendants in Sequoia National Park can be grouped into four terraces. The Kings-Kaweah Terrace is characterized by ophiolites. Ophiolites are ultramafic rocks of the once oceanic crust. The Kings terrace is located in the southern Sierra, and is chiefly a metamorphosed shale. It, however includes quartzite and marble. It provides a platform of marble for the formation of the several caves present in the southern Sierra. Its notable caves include the Crystal cave and the Boyden cavern. The other two terraces are the Goddard and the High Sierra terraces. Unlike the Goddard terrace, the High Sierra Terrace is composed of metamorphosed Paleozoic rocks of schist and marble. Conversely, the Goddard terrace consists mainly of metamorphosed volcanic rocks.
In conclusion, the sequoias found in these parks attract thousands of visitors each year. Consequently, the general geology and topographical setting of this region is of significant interest to a number of individuals ranging from range planners to park naturalists. Metamorphic rocks of controversial and at times unclear origin forms the bedrock in this region. This metamorphic platform and two major parts of granitic intrusions are the epitome of the Sequoia and Kings – Canyon National Park geology. The "U"-shaped Tokopah Valley is a perfect example of glaciated canyons in this part of the Sierra Nevada. The moraines are popular sites along the valleys. They are the well-preserved evidences of the ancient glacial activity that once dominated the region. The metamorphic rocks in this area occur as north-west trending belts of foliated marbles, limestone, foliated quartzite, and schist. These rocks diverse rock geology results into the spectacular scenery in this area.
Frommers.com. “Exploring the Area in Yosemite National Park.” 2014a. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <http://www.frommers.com/destinations/yosemite-national-park/782404>.
Frommers.com. “Introduction in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.” 2014b. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <http://www.frommers.com/destinations/sequoia-and-kings-canyon-national-parks/782416>.
GeologicTrips.com. “Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.” 273-291. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <http://www.geologictrips.com/sn/snttsk.pdf>.
Hammond, W. C., Blewitt, G., Li, Z., Plag, H., & Kreemer, C. “Contemporary Uplift of the Sierra Nevada, Western United States, from GPS and InSAR measurements.” 5 March. 2012. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <http://www.nbmg.unr.edu/staff/pdfs/G32968.1.full.pdf>
Liu, M., & Shen, Y. “Sierra Nevada Uplift: A Ductile Link to Mantle Upwelling Under the Basin and Range Province.” Geology 26.4. (1998): 299-302. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <http://web.missouri.edu/~lium/pdfs/Papers/Liu98_Geology_SierraNevada.pdf>.
Quizlet.com. “Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.” Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <http://quizlet.com/31898173/ch-49-sequoia-and-kings-canyon-national-parks-flash-cards/>.
Sisson, T. W., & Moore, J. G. “Geologic Map of Southwestern Sequoia National Park, Tulare County, California. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 26. 2013. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2013/1096/>.
U.S. National Park Service. “Geology Overview: Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.” Web. 6 Nov. 2014. <http://www.nps.gov/seki/naturescience/geology_overview.htm>.