Dick's Adventures of 2018 - Part 3


Photos          Related Links          More Travel Reports


Adventures of 2016         Adventures of 2017          2018 Part 1         2018 Part 2


San Joaquin Gorge Bridge Trail          Lewis Creek Trail          Courtright Family Camp


San Joaquin Gorge Bridge Trail

Regular readers of these reports know that I have to visit the San Joaquin River Gorge several times each fall/winter/spring, and on May 15 I made what will no doubt be the last trip for this season. I hiked the upper (San Joaquin River) trail in February with the Ramblers (Wes, Colton and I), the Bridge Trail by myself in April, and the upper trail later in April with Ramblers Wes and Sue. My goal this time was to see the late-season wildflowers on the Bridge Trail, and there was a bumper crop.

Athurial's spear, a variety of brodiaea Pink farewell-to-spring and yellow common madea The bridge from the Fresno County side of the San Joaquin River

The two flower species that dominated the scene were farewell-to-spring and common madea. This made for a nice pink and yellow color pallet, with a fairly heavy sprinkling of white mustang clover, and samples of a number of other varieties. My favorite was Athurial's spear, a deep purple variety of brodiaea that blooms late in the season after its various cousins have gone to seed. A seemingly rare blossom, elegant Clarkia, appeared in larger numbers than I've ever seen before. Other flowers included milkweed, buckeye, owl clover, yellow clover, and datura.

There were more than the usual number of the flowers known as Chinese houses. These pink or purple blossoms resemble an Oriental pagoda, and prefer shady slopes along roads and trails. 

Two common flowers, climbing brodiaea and purple vetch, were at the end of their season, with limited numbers, and blossoms fading fast. A very few fiddlenecks were hanging on as if to remind hikers that they are the number one flower earlier in the season. I saw one plant with three blossoms that appeared to be a white mutant variation of farewell-to-spring. 

The weather was very cool when I started out in the morning, and there was a strong breeze at the bridge. It warmed up to the point that I had to get out my bandana and wipe my face and head several times on the return trip. The sky was clear all the time, although clouds were visible above the higher mountains from the road up to the area.

I went past the bridge about a quarter mile, and stopped for lunch. Three pairs of hikers went past while I was resting, part of at least a dozen in all. I may have seen almost that many lizards.

Snakes: People sometimes mention that my hiking areas are snake country. When I was a kid, we had about 150 acres of other people's land next to our house where we could wander freely. I don't think I ever went out without my parents reminding me to watch out for snakes. Although my dad dispatched about eight rattlesnakes on and around our one-acre property over a 15-year period, I NEVER saw one while I was out walking. We did see a couple dozen others, mostly king snakes, gopher snakes and what we called a striped racer. On my hikes as an adult, I've seen probably four rattlesnakes. I left them alone and they did the same for me. On my hikes at the San Joaquin Gorge, covering a period of just under 40 years, I have seen ONE live snake. Snakes are very good at not being seen, so the fact that I don't see them is proof to me that they are out there. I hope to see a few more.

When I got back to my car, I changed to dry socks and tennis shoes and a dry t-shirt, and made it home without incident, already thinking about finding a cooler place for my next hike. I finally got some photos I've wanted to capture for several years, the "back side" of Squaw Leap mountain from Auberry Road near the Hurley CalFifre Station.

--Dick Estel, May 2018

San Joaquin River Gorge Bridge Photos


Lewis Creek Trail

The Lewis Creek Trail leads off State Highway 41 about halfway between Fresno and Yosemite. A short distance from the road it forks, with the west fork going about a quarter mile to Corlieu Falls. To the east the trail crosses Lewis Creek, with a hike of a mile and a half to Red Rock Falls.

I've taken the Corlieu route several times, most recently in April 2017. I've gone the other way twice, once with the Ramblers and once with my daughters, reaching a place we think was Red Rock only on the second try. With four consecutive days open on my calendar in early June, but several ambitious hikes ahead, I wanted to do a short excursion, and drove up the highway to the trailhead on June 5, with Corlieu as my destination.

Corlieu Falls Larkspur Multiple trunks are common on canyon live oak

Although it was a weekday, there were a half dozen other parties of two to five on the trail, all of us enjoying great weather. It was a little warmer than I expected, mainly because I had been  looking at the weather forecast for 5,000 feet instead the actual elevation of 4,000 feet. But it was delightful and much of the trail is shaded by large ponderosa pines, cedars and canyon live oaks.

Of course, there were a number of wildflowers blooming along the highway and the trail. Most common along the trail were bear clover and wild strawberries, plus a nice display of wild iris, larkspur, wild rose, Indian pinks and a number of the well-known "unidentified" varieties.

The falls drops down 80 feet in a series of cascades. It's a delightful sight when the water is at mid-level, as it was this time, and a dramatic, crashing torrent during spring  runoff. Its low elevation means it becomes fairly small and less impressive in late summer. At the best spot for viewing the falls, the US Forest Service has built a nice wooden viewing platform, complete with a bench, and virtually every hiker stops here for a rest and some photos. The trail is fairly steep down to the platform, and the next two hundred yards or so, then it goes right next to the creek and becomes a gentle downhill walk. I think the trail goes into Cedar Valley, a private residential development along the creek, but I'm not sure of the distance.

The elevation change is about 500 feet from trailhead to the bottom of the falls. People taking shortcuts have created what looks like the real trail at one spot, but it's no more difficult than the official route, as I discovered when I took it by accident coming back up. It's easier to keep to the real trail on the downward journey.

When I returned to the trail junction, I went down about 100 yards on the east fork to the creek, just to check on the status of the crossing. There used to be a bridge, and there are plans to replace it (In 2016, says the USFS website, but you know, funding, environmental reports, etc. etc.). Our first crossing of the creek was on a makeshift "bridge" of stumps, with the water fairly low; and the next time, a rock-hopping crossing with even lower water. Teri and I visited this spot some time in the last year or so, when the water was too high for safety, although a log and a rope across the creek just upstream were available for the adventurous. This time, the log was gone, replaced by two smaller logs, one resting on the other, about five feet from the rope. Fortunately, I had no plans to go that way. However, I did get to see some western azalea in bloom next to the creek. This trail continues into Sugar Pine, a residential area that used to be a lumber camp, about a mile off the highway.

On my way home I stopped at daughter Jennifer's to drop off some stuff I had for her. She and husband Rod were both at work, but I enjoyed another batch of wild flowers along Road 620 - Mariposa lilies, harlequin lupine, Athurial's spear, and farewell-to-spring.

Since I had got an early start, I got back to Fresno just after the lunch rush at Sweet Tomatoes, where I enjoyed a well-deserved lunch - lots of greens, topped off with frozen yogurt for dessert.


--Dick Estel, June 2018

Lewis Creek Photos

Courtright Family Camp (Coming soon)

Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window) 


San Joaquin River Gorge Bridge Hike          Lewis Creek          Courtright Family Camp


San Joaquin River Gorge Bridge Hike


Farewell-to-spring along Auberry Road Common madea A few streaks of green grass remain, but most of it is quickly turning brown
Farewell-to-spring The "plain" variety and the spotted ones are common. This was the first time I'd seen the white version, possibly a mutation
Buckeye and wild grapes in the drainage we call Grapevine Canyon
Typical scene along much of the trail Squaw Leap table top mountain from the trail Milkweed blossom up close
The striking blossoms of elegant Clarkia Chinese houses Buckeye on the hilltop
Buckeye blossom up close Mustang clover Still lots of green in this cool, shady section of the trail
Five-trunk blue oak on the Ridge Trail The river as seen from the bridge The "back side" of Squaw Leap from Auberry Road
Lewis Creek Trail
The beginning Bear Clover AKA Mountain Misery Wild Iris
Suggested names welcome Indian pinks The falls and the viewing platform
Corlieu Falls Lewis Creek below the falls Western azalea
Wild rose How you're expected to cross the creek  
Courtright Family Camp (Coming soon)
The LeConte Divide Colton loves to dig Climbing the rocky slope
Related Links
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area All my reports on hiking and camping at San Joaquin Gorge (Squaw Leap) Snakes of California
San Joaquin River Lewis Creek Trail Corlieu Falls
Red Rock Falls    

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Updated June 14, 2018