Take a look at the Giant Forest web cam. Most of the time, you can see why the National Parks Conservation Association sees a need to clear out the haze in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
The problem is improving, the group says, but far too slowly. How long will it take to clear the air at this rate? Try 83 years. That's what the parks association said last week, quoting statistics from the California Air Resources Board.
The parks association got such calculations for many national parks as part of a campaign for more action.
The group's sampling of 10 national parks includes Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, North Cascades, Badlands, Joshua Tree and Sequoia. Turns out, the Sequoia estimate is the most optimistic.
Yellowstone won't get natural air quality until 2163. North Cascades in Washington is pegged at 2276 — isn't that the same century as the sci-fi classic "Star Trek"?
Sequoia's foothill air monitor at Ash Mountain is among the smoggiest places in the country. Sequoia usually has more bad ozone days each year than Fresno, Bakersfield or Los Angeles.
Ozone is invisible, but it comes with the brown haze stirred up by all kinds of activities, including vehicular travel, farming, trains and construction. The visible haze is partially a natural moisture, scientists tell me. There's also dust, chemicals, soot and other particles.
The parks association says more natural conditions will be better for both people and Sequoia-Kings Canyon.
"The basic idea is that clear air will be good for both the lungs of people and the ecosystem of the national park," said Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Program director and counsel for the parks groups.
In California, that means focusing on clean-air improvements on vehicles, Kodish said. The cleaner engine rules need to be developed faster, she said.
Will it be good news about bad air?
The San Joaquin Valley might not exceed the eight-hour federal ozone standard 100 times this year. OK, that's no success story anywhere in the country except here or Southern California, but it is news.
It has only happened twice here, according to the records. In 2009, the count was 98. In 2010, it was an all-time low of 93.
The only problem is the weather can be cruel in late September. The last four days of September 2010 were triple-digit nightmares.
The heat continued sporadically that year. There were 10 exceedances after Oct. 1 in 2010. Two of them happened after Nov. 1.
Flash forward to this year. The total was 80 through Monday. It was 74 on that date three years ago. So there's a chance the total this year will be below 100 exceedances.
I usually add something here about the target being zero exceedances. Forget it this time. For now, I'd settle for a shutout for the rest of September, October and November.