Dick's Adventures of 2019 - Part 2


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Adventures of 2016         Adventures of 2017          Adventures of 2018          2019 Part 1          2019 Part 3          2019 Part 4          2019 Part 5


Cabin Days 2019          San Joaquin River Trail West          Striped Rock Ranch


Camp Four and a Half Cabin 2019

In what is becoming a family tradition, in late March I spent several days at Camp Four and a Half Cabin with my daughter Teri, grandson Mikie, grandson Johnny and his family, and our "adopted" son/brother Wes Thiessen. The Upshaw family consists of Teri's son Johnny, his wife Brittany, and sons Jack and Colton, so we had four generations of my family present. Our thoughts were also with those who could not attend due to work or distance - Mikie's girlfriend Lizzie, daughter Jennifer and her husband Rod.

This rental cabin is a former ranger residence one mile up a dirt road on the south side of the Kings River. It's within sight and easy walking distance of the river, and is surrounded by valley oaks, buckeye, live oaks, various shrubs, and lots of wildflowers.

Camp Four and a Half Cabin from the east Bush lupines and the Kings River

I drove up in my truck the morning of March 29, arriving around noon. On the way I stopped several times to photograph Pine Flat Lake, flowers along the way, and the waterfall on Secata Ridge. Teri got there with Jack and Colton about two, and the others would arrive over the next two days. Once we got things brought into the cabin, we took a walk up the road to a place where there is a cattle guard across the road, with a gate next to it. This gate is perfect for boys to swing on, and soon I was pushing the gate back and forth as the boys demanded that I go faster and faster. When I needed a rest, the boys took over pushing.

Pine Flat Lake from the road over Secata Ridge Poppies along Trimmer Springs Road


Colton gives Jack a ride... ...and Jack returns the favor

Later that day we went down to the river. Last year Colton spent a long time carefully piling damp sand onto a slanted rock surface, patting it smooth, and shaping a little "wall" at the top of it. This year he took a less subtle approach -  he simply threw shovels full of sand at the rock, covering it all over. Jack then climbed up and slid down the loose sand. Other activities included climbing on the huge root of a sycamore tree that grows near the river, playing with the Stomp Rocket, and acrobatics on the handrails on the back porch.

Jack supervises, while Colton shovels sand on to a boulder Colton in his cougar pose with Jack below


Trying for record height and distance with the Stomp Rocket Acrobatics on the hand rail

The rest of the day was spent hanging around the cabin, enjoying the spring beauty around us, eating supper, and just enjoying our family outing.

Johnny and Brittany arrived the next day, as did Mikie. In the afternoon we went for a short drive on the other side of the river. Johnny and a friend had been fishing up that way a month or two earlier, and the friend had left his fishing tackle behind, so Johnny wanted to see if he could find it. To no one's surprise, he was not successful.

Teri, Mikie, Colton, Jack and I went only as far as Gravel Flats, pretty much right across the river from our cabin, where there is a huge sand pile. The boys had enjoyed playing here with their sand toys when they camped at nearby Kirch Flat with Teri and me in 2016.

This time they did a little digging in the sand, with Colton getting partially buried, but much of the time they spent rolling down the hill (this link places a short movie in your Download Folder). An interesting aspect of this outing was seeing a gathering of classic VW camper vans in the group camp there.

Mikie and Jack race up the big sand pile Colton tried to bury himself

When we returned to the cabin we had my famous spaghetti for dinner, with meatballs provided by Teri. As the evening cool down began, Johnny got the camp fire going, and we had a good time watching it get dark, looking at the stars, and supervising the boys in one of their favorite activities, putting wood on the fire. As expected, Jack faded out first, with Teri and Brittany not far behind. Colton held on a little longer, and Johnny and I were the last to go in.

The next morning we were in for a treat. Wes and I had seen wild turkeys last year, and Colton and I caught a glimpse of one when we made a second visit to the cabin a few weeks later. This year, they put on a show every morning, and the boys got a good look at them. We saw five or six Saturday, but Sunday was the big day, with at least fourteen spotted in the road and on the side of the cabin.

Not long after breakfast Wes arrived. He had hiked with Teri, Mikie, Colton and me, but this was his first meeting with the rest of the Upshaw's. He joined us for a trip to the river, capturing some good photos of the boys on the sycamore root and their efforts to skip rocks, with Johnny demonstrating and teaching. Colton tried swinging on the rope swing, getting a foot or two out over the water. Johnny did some fishing, but no catching.

Wild turkeys put on a show all three mornings Learning to skip stones
A rope swing is irresistible Jack and Colton wait for Dad to catch a fish

All too soon it was time for students and working people to leave. Teri, Johnny and Brittany all had to work on Monday, and the boys had school. Mikie was starting a new adventure - on April 2nd he would start training as a correctional officer at the academy in Galt, having been hired at High Desert Prison in Susanville. Wes and I, being retired, would hold down the fort for the rest of the day and Monday.

Wes had never been to Black Rock Reservoir, about 15 miles from the cabin, so we set off in his Toyota Highlander, with his bike on the rack. Wes's thoughts:

"I had a fantasy about coasting my bike ten miles down from Black Rock Reservoir to Balch Camp.  Dick asked that I give this adventure careful consideration since the rough road is carved into the side of a granite canyon with no margins and drop-offs of hundreds of feet. Dick is a wise man and I took his advice."

As it turned out, the road surface just past the PG&E town of Balch Camp was so rough as to be dangerous without the other aspects, so the bike stayed on the rack - up to a point.

The Black Rock Road, designated one of America's most dangerous This bridge seems to just be tacked on to the side of the cliff

Along the way we enjoyed wildflowers, views down into the canyon of the North Fork of the Kings River, and several waterfalls, the most dramatic of which was Patterson Falls, about half way between Balch and Black Rock.

Patterson Falls is part of the great scenery along the road Black Rock Reservoir

We drove down a rough dirt side road near the reservoir to a place where I used to camp, but most of the trees in the area were killed in the drought. A walk from the camp area down to the river also proved disappointing, with the road blocked in many places by fallen trees, and nothing really interesting at the river itself.

We went on to Black Rock and walked down to the dam. Here we were able to get our mandatory picture of Wes on "something," as well as views of a light layer of snow on the hills just above the dam.

Wes on the sign There was still a light layer of snow not far above us

Wes again: "When we reached Balch Camp, I sent Dick on ahead while I rode the bike five miles back to the cabin.  It's a coasting ride along the north fork of the river with lots of wildflowers on both sides.  The dominant flower is poppies."

Poppies in the rock cliffs Poppies in the distance paint the hills orange

"Dick cooked a great pork chop dinner and I brought the red wine.  Afterwards, we spent time outdoors viewing the clear night sky with the constellations in full view including the Big Dipper.  I woke early Monday morning and tip-toed out of the cabin while Dick slept.  I mounted my hybrid bike for a two-hour ride deep into the wilderness. Although the poppy flowers were still closed, the redbud was amazing!

We left the cabin early Monday afternoon in separate trucks.  We were playing 'tag' with each of us stopping to record photo images of wildflowers and seasonal waterfalls.  I took over 200 shots but selected only a few for this report. Suffice it to say it was a fantastic two-day adventure."

Before leaving, we had an official flag-lowering, folding it in accordance with tradition. We were lucky to be able to raise the flag in the first place. When Colton and I started to put it up on Friday, we found that the rope was knotted so that it could not be pulled up. Fortunately the pole is inserted in a pipe about four feet high. Johnny was able to lift it out, undo the knot, and replace it.

Redbud is a common sight in foothill river canyons "Folding the flag is taking care of America"

Driving down Trimmer Springs road just past Bailey Bridge, I noticed what appeared to be a mass of flowers in a field next to the road. By the color I realized it could just be drying grass, but I stopped and walked into the field. To my delight it proved to be a 100 x 100 foot patch of ham & eggs. This now rare plant has red stems the color of a slice of breakfast ham. The flowers have thick, rounded petals the color of scrambled eggs. We used to see this flower regularly in the foothills where I grew up, but I had not seen them for decades until I spotted a small stand of them at the San Joaquin Gorge a few years ago. To see them in these numbers was a unique experience.

Wes stopped a little farther down where Secata Creek crosses the road and got one of what his wife calls an "artsy fartsy" shot of the scene.

Ham & eggs flowers Lupines and the little creek that runs down from Secata Ridge

As I drove along the winding road that parallels the shore of Pine Flat Lake, I realized I was not quite ready to head back to the city. I pulled off at the trailhead for the Edison Pont Trail, and walked a short distance there. (You can read more about this hiking area here and here.)

This spot is usually a good place to see one of my favorite flowers, the purple brodiaea. I was not disappointed; there were good numbers of them, as well as their cousins, yellow harvest brodiaea and blue Dicks. I made one more stop, to photograph lupines along the road just before it goes up and away from the lake.

Purple brodiaea against a bull pine trunk Blue Dicks

During our four days at this magical place, besides the turkeys, we saw lizards, frogs, toads and squirrels. Wes saw four deer on his Monday morning ride, and we had ravens and other birds flying overhead. We saw countless flowers, sunshine, clouds, and a little snow above Black Rock. Everyone had a great time and will surely be returning.

This was our third annual springtime family outing. The first was scheduled for the cabin, but rock slides closed the road, and we found a place at Bass Lake instead. We are considering going there next year so that Rod and Jennifer can join us. But Wes and I are talking about a couple of nights at the cabin just to keep the string going.

The name of this place seems kind of awkward - who thought up Camp Four and a Half Cabin? There are four campgrounds between the Bailey Bridge and the place where the road leaves the river to follow Mill Flat Creek south towards Highway 180. There used to be a small campground near the cabin, probably when it was still in official use. Farther up are Camp 4, Green Cabin Flat, and Mill Flat. What happened to camps 1 through 3? Why is there no cabin at Green Cabin Flat? Who knows? Does it matter?

--Wes and Dick, April 2019

More Camp Four and a Half Photos

San Joaquin River Trail West

I've hiked this location many times, so I'll limit the words and focus on the photos (focus on photos! ha!).

I did this hike, which starts at the Finegold Picnic Area near Sky Harbor on Millerton Lake on April 8, the first hike of the season in shorts and short-sleeve t-shirt. It turned out to be a good choice, since it was quite warm by the time I finished.

The Finegold Creek branch of Pine Flat Lake Popcorn flowers above a drainage

My goal on this hike was to see wildflowers, and there were plenty of them. Along the way I compiled a list of all the wildflowers I could identify, as well as descriptions of some I couldn't. This list appears at the bottom of the report.

Chinese houses and common madea Phecelia
Fiddlenecks against a lichen-covered rock A steep, eroded section of the trail
Blue dicks wave in the breeze Bush lupines were at their best

The only exciting aspect of the hike was a report by a lady hiker that she had just heard a rattlesnake. She and her dog decided to hurry back to the trailhead.

Foothill gilia View of a section of the trail from just below the saddle
The flowers I saw

Those in bold are shown above. The blue links will open a photo of the flowers not seen above. Some flowers were seen along the road only.

Baby Blue Eyes, Big Plant Lupine, Bird's Eye Gilia, Blue Dicks, Bush Lupine, Chamomile, Chaparral, Chinese Houses, Common Madea, Dove Lupine, Elderberry, Fiddlenecks, Fiesta Flowers. Filaree, Foothill Gilia, Fringed Redmaids, Harvest Brodiaea, Lacepods, Medium Daisy, Miner's Lettuce, Mule ears, Phecelia, Popcorn Flowers, Poppies, Purple Brodiaea, Red Clover, Sierra Star, Small Daisy, Tall Ground Lupine, Thistles, Vetch, White Owl Clover.

--Dick Estel, May 2019

More San Joaquin River Trail Photos

Striped Rock Ranch

(text by Dick and Wes)

DICK: This hike was very special for a couple of reasons. First, I went with my daughter Jennifer and my friend from the Ramblers hiking group, Wes Thiessen. The second reason takes a little longer to explain: When I was about ten years old, we were driving around somewhere in rural Mariposa County. I spotted this big rock dome and asked what it was. "That's Striped Rock," my dad answered. Although people think I've been everywhere, I had not seen this feature since that day, until I joined a guided hike to Striped Rock Ranch, organized by the Sierra Foothill Conservancy.

On April 20, I got up at the unspeakable hour of 5:30, had breakfast, picked up Wes and drove to my daughter's place above Oakhurst. We then headed for the Mariposa Fairgrounds, where we met up with the hike leaders Joy and Ben, and about 25 other hardy souls ranging in age from ten to at least 79. We drove in a caravan about five miles on Ben Hur and Silver Bar Roads, and parked along the side of the latter. There is no recognizable trail at this place, but 27 pairs of boots soon marked the way through the grass. Much of the way is a cow trail or old two-track, nearly overgrown with the excellent crop of grass this year. The land is privately owned, but was set aside as a conservation easement. Access is allowed only on official guided walks like this one.

As we made our way mostly down hill, we enjoyed an amazing assortment of wild flowers. The dominant blooms were lupines, but I counted at least 28 different species during our outing. Ben formerly worked for Yosemite National Park and is now with the County of Mariposa, while Joy is a botanist with the park service in Yosemite. We stopped occasionally as they discussed the flowers and the geology of the area. Striped Rock is one of several dome-like outcroppings in this area, although the others are less well-defined.

Wes and Jennifer with a fellow hiker Ben holds forth on the geology of the area

About a half mile into our walk, we went off the trail a short distance to a large granite outcropping where we had our first view of Striped Rock. This area was also a riot of color with a dozen species of flowers, and Wes must have added a quarter mile to his hiking total as he ran around trying to photograph everything.

Where we stopped for a short nature talk
(Striped Rock visible in the background) 
Striped Rock 

In fact, after my second ever look at Striped Rock,  the flowers were the best part of the hike. Lupines dominated, but there was a lot of purple owl clover, common madea (a bright yellow flower an inch and a half in diameter), poppies, yellow-throated gilia, fiddlenecks, and popcorn flowers. At our first stopping place a small boulder with an overhang created a micro-climate where Joy pointed out a few monkey flowers.

Lupines and owl clover Monkey flowers find a damp, shady spot under a rock overhang

However, the best flower discovery was one that I had not seen for many decades. Five Spots appear on every website and paper handout listing foothill flowers, but I had given up ever seeing them. As we crossed Striped Rock Creek, Joy pointed out a large area of them. They are a white flower a bit over a half inch in diameter, with a dark blue spot on the very edge of each petal. Joy told us they like moist areas, so the years of drought have probably reduced their range, but they found a hospitable spot next to the creek. They are related to baby blue eyes, a common flower that we saw in small numbers.

Two other fairly uncommon flowers made the list - buttercups and cream cups. I see them most years, but never in large numbers. We also enjoyed flowering bushes including redbud, manzanita and chaparral (ceanothus).

The elusive Five Spot Jennifer with redbud and other spring beauty

WES: We eventually came to a broad green meadow where we once again regrouped before tackling the monolithic Striped Rock.  We were told the trail to the top would be strenuous with some rock climbing and jumping.  Dick and Jennifer wisely chose to enjoy lunch in this lush "Garden of Eden" while I moved forward with a smaller group.

Along the way, we encountered three challenges to reach the summit.  We first needed to cross a field of boulders which had tumbled atop each other years ago.  Ben divided us into teams of two for help in climbing through this complex trail.  We could "lend a hand" and serve as "spotters" for foot placement ahead.

The beginning of the boulder pile that is the first step of the final stretch Dick relaxing and happy not to be rock climbing

The next challenge was a quarter mile of upward trail overgrown with poison oak plants.  They could be found to the left, right and middle of the trail.  I learned the mantra: "Leaves of three, let it be."  Intermixed with the poison oak were fields of wildflowers.

We finally came to the base of Striped Rock for our third challenge.  Ben told us the trail ended here and we would need to "scramble" to the top. The rock was covered with moss and lichen. Thanks goodness it had not rained, which could have caused much slipping and sliding.

The summit was worth it all!  It afforded 360 degree views of the Mariposa region.  Over the years dirt and dust have blown over the top creating wildflower beds. We enjoyed these vistas while eating lunch at the "top of the world."

The view from the top, with poppies The final climb up the face of the rock

Of course, I couldn't resist another selfie with "Wes on the Rock" looking a great distance down to the valley floor.

I wish I could report a relaxed hike back to the car.  But that was not to be.  It happened shortly after we entered the overgrown trail of poison oak. Several tree branches had fallen over the trail.  As I lifted my leg to cross a branch, my boot snagged on a limb and I fell to the left of the trail.  My exposed left forearm caught my fall but landed right in the center of a patch of poison oak. Ben looked back and said:  "You're laying in poison oak!"  Lucky for me, our group included some experienced hikers.  They washed my forearm with cold water and applied "Technu Extreme." Apparently their treatment worked since I experienced no rash or itching even the day after hike's end.

I caught up with Dick and Jennifer on the trail back to the car to bring this interesting adventure to an end.

Wes on the rock, on top of Striped Rock A typical trail-side scene, with fiddlenecks and popcorn flowers

DICK: The hike back to the car had more uphill than the hike in had downhill, a common feeling after three miles or more of walking. However, the endless beauty made it an enjoyable experience, and we had nothing but positive thoughts during the ride home.

Even before we reached the meeting place, Wes and I had a discussion about the pronunciation of the rock's name. My dad pronounced it with two syllables (strip-ed), so I have always done the same. Even so, I might say that a tiger is "striped" with one syllable. When we first met with Joy, she used the one-syllable pronunciation, but when we asked she said that Ben used two syllables. There was a consensus among the hikers that "old timers" from the area say "strip-ed," and younger folks use the one syllable version. It's no wonder our kids have trouble with the English language.

--Wes and Dick, May 2019

More Striped Rock Photos









Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window) 
Camp Four and a Half Cabin          San Joaquin River Trail West          Striped Rock
Camp Four and a Half Cabin

(Photos by Brittany Upshaw, Wes Thiessen and Dick Estel)

Popcorn flowers and fiddlenecks along Trimmer Springs Road Studying ants Colton and Grandma Teri in the cabin
The Notorious Upshaw Brothers This big valley oak fell next to the cabin Doing unspeakable things to the bark of
the big sycamore root
No one is happier to be sitting on a
sycamore root than Jack
Jack on the big sand pile A convention of VW camper vans
The cabin is visible from the
road north of the river
The Upshaw family in the cabin Johnny demonstrates rock skipping
The Upshaw boys contemplating the Kings River Moms can climb on the sycamore root too
Lupines up the river from the cabin The approach to the cabin from the west This fence post wear a grass wig
Yellow or harvest brodiaea More poppies and redbud Where Patterson Creek crosses the Black Rock Road
Looking up the canyon of the North Fork A massive growth of ham & eggs Lupines on the bank along
Trimmer Springs Road
San Joaquin River Trail West
This ground squirrel sat still long enough for a pretty good portrait Fiesta flowers Harvest brodiaea, AKA pretty face,
with filaree at the left
There's still a good amount of
snow in the Sierra
A lovely poison oak bush A few poppies were still around
This bird sat on the rock while I took four or five photos, at least one of which was not bad New growth on a young bull pine tree Large lupine plant is getting ready to bloom
Striped Rock Hike

(Photos by Jennifer Neely, Wes Thiessen and Dick Estel)

Hikers gather around to hear from one of the docents The unique pink and yellow color scheme announces these as harlequin lupines A big fallen oak in the meadow
Five Spots were a special find Jennifer and Wes with a big rock in the distance Wes spotted this balanced rock on the summit
Hikers make their way back down from the top Dick and Jennifer, near the finish line A variety of trees and bushes along the trail
Yellow-throated gilia with a few popcorn flowers Blue oak woodland makes
up part of the preserve
Cream cups, another infrequent flower
Related Links
Camp Four and a Half Cabin Black Rock Road Pine Flat Lake
Kings River Special Management Area Swinging on the Gate Hand Rail Acrobatics
San Joaquin River Trail Sky Harbor Hiking Millerton Lake
Sierra Foothill Conservancy Striped Rock Ranch Ceanothus
2018 Striped Rock Hike Mariposa County All about poison oak
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Updated February 20, 2024