Sequoia-Kings Canyon superintendent and his life in a mountain cabin


The occasion was part of the Mineral King Preservation Society’s Storytelling series on Sunday, Nov. 5. The monthly programs are presented in the Mineral King Room of the Three Rivers Historical Museum.
This month, Woody Smeck, superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and a cabin owner on land surrounded by the Giant Sequoia National Monument, was the featured speaker.
The Smeck family cabin, on six acres of fee simple land, is part of the Cedar Slope tract, a community of 90 cabins at about 6,000 feet elevation and located just off Highway 190 along the Middle Fork of the Tule River.
The 160-acre section of land that includes Cedar Slope was first patented in 1882. After filing on the claim, Nellie Marshall, a seamstress and artist who lived in Yokohl Valley, continued to spend her summers exploring the Upper Tule River region using the Jordan Trail that passed by her home.
“The Jordan Trail is one of several points where my cabin story connects with Mineral King history,” Woody said. “The Jordan Trail, built in 1861-62 was used by early explorers to access the Mineral King country from the south. It pre-dated the wagon road up the East Fork of the
Kaweah, and with its later companion, Hockett Trail, opened up much of the Southern Sierra to early exploration and survey.”
Woody said Nellie Marshall built a simple log cabin with intentions of spending more of her summers up there enjoying the cool mountain air.
“Unfortunately, she died in a tragic wagon accident in 1897, shortly after completing the cabin,” he said.
The land changed owners several times after Marshall’s death. In 1947, it was purchased by Les Bailey, who subdivided it and sold individual lots for summer cabins.
“My father purchased one of the lots for $900 and began to build a cabin before the building codes went into effect in 1962,” Smeck said. “I use the term ‘cabin’ with some license. Those that own cabins often debate the distinction between a cabin and summer home.”
The Smeck cabin is a simple structure of locally sourced lumber. It is built on concrete piers that support a floor of rough-sawn sugar pine covered with 1-by-12 planks and oak floor boards.
“The walls are framed with rough-sawn sugar pine and covered outside with 1-by-12 Douglas fir boards and battens and on the inside with 1-by-8 Ponderosa pine boards,” Woody said. “The roof is an open truss system of rough-sawn sugar pine, 1-by-6 sheathing boards and cedar shingles.”
Woody described the floor plan: the downstairs is open with one bathroom, one enclosed bedroom, and a kitchen. The upstairs loft accommodates space for six twin beds. A stone fireplace heats the cabin built from recycled granite refuse from the construction of Highway 180.
“The only change I’ve made is adding a standing seam metal roof for fire safety,” Woody said.
An important feature is the outdoor deck with sweeping views of the Tule River and Camp Nelson below.
“It’s a place where you can fall asleep in the middle of the day and wake up believing it was yesterday morning,” he described.
There was also a corral where the family kept two quarter horses.
“I loved those horses and took them all over the Golden Trout Wilderness,” Smeck said. “In fact, my early career goal was to be a packer and guide at the Lewis Camp pack station.”
Woody’s father convinced his son that he was too skinny, and “after getting thrown off more times than I can count, I readily took his advice.”
As a teenager, Woody was allowed to go off on week-long mountain adventures.
“Today, my father would probably be thrown in jail for child endangerment,” Smeck said. “But I appreciated the freedom he afforded us.”
Woody told tales of two near-death experiences. One when he was bitten by a rattlesnake, and another when he nearly drowned trying to cross the Kern River. Woody’s father called these incidents “character-building moments.”
“I spend as much time at the cabin as possible,” Woody concluded. “It’s a place where I feel closest to my mom and dad, and a place where I can share family history and values with my daughters.”

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