Dick's Adventures of 2021 - Part 1

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Eastman Lake
Eastman Lake

I consider Eastman Lake to be the sister to Hensley Reservoir. Both were built in the 1970s in Madera County, both on minor rivers. Hensley is formed by Hidden Dam on the Fresno River, and Eastman by Buchanan Dam on the Chowchilla River. Both are relatively small, Hensley with 90,000 acre feet, and Eastman 150,000. By comparison, Millerton Lake on the San Joaquin is over 500,000 and Pine Flat on the Kings stores over a million acre feet of water. I have camped and hiked at Hensley many times, but only twice at Eastman, in 2016 and 2017. When my daughter Teri and I planned a hike for January 7, I suggested Eastman. It would be her first visit to the location.

We've had some foggy mornings, and this one was no exception. We discussed whether we should go to a higher elevation where we could get above the fog, but decided to stick with our original plans. Our route took us north on Highway 41, west a few miles on Highway 145, then on a series of county roads to our destination. Along the way we drove right past the dam at Hensley, and then through the small historic village of Raymond.

The trailhead starts just before the road crosses the river and is known as the Lakeview Trail. By the time we got to our destination, at the very upper end of the lake, the fog had lifted enough that we had good visibility, although there was still no sunshine.

Bridge across the Chowchilla River at the upper end of Eastman Lake Leaves are a beautiful shade of brown on this blue oak

The trail goes over seven miles to the dam, but I no longer walk that far. Our plan was as usual, to walk till we had gone half of far enough. Viewing the lake would have required there to be water in the lake all the way up to our location, but a dry year has left small reservoirs very low, and we were limited to glimpses of short stretches of river in the original channel.

The trail goes up and down on a regular basis, so the view of the lake bed was often blocked by the land when the trail went up into the low hills east of the lake. The area is typical low foothill country, less than one thousand feet elevation, with lots of blue oak, bull pines, and various shrubs. On my first visit with Wes we enjoyed a profusion of wildflowers, but it will probably be another month or so before we see them this year. However, the new green grass was getting a good start all through the foothills. There are plenty of granite rock formations, and the area is known for being occupied by many rattlesnakes. Wes saw two males fighting on one of our previous visits.

We probably hiked about a mile before finding some good rocks to sit on while we had a snack, then stared back. By the time we reached the car, we had mostly blue sky, and overall the hike was scenic and enjoyable.

Massive infestation of mistletoe looks cool, but is killing this tree After a foggy morning, a few clouds drift over the hills west of the lake

A final note: Although I have not visited this spot very many times, the Chowchilla River has been a big part of my life. It flowed south about a mile from my childhood home in Bootjack (Mariposa County), and through nearby property owned by family friends. We swam in the river, explored various sections of it, and fished in one of the forks. There are three forks that flow across Highway 49 between the Mariposa-Madera County line and Bootjack, with the west fork being the largest. This stream gets its start as Snow Creek, and crosses Triangle Road just west of the Darrah School (AKA Mt. Buckingham). Somewhere between there and Highway 49 it is joined by Jones Creek and becomes the Chowchilla.

From the house where we lived a dirt road went back from the main road (now Highway 49) for a mile, where there was a "homemade" bridge over the river. A few hundred yards downstream from this location, I discovered a place where the water went down under some huge boulders, and almost became an underground, or at least under-rock stream. You could climb down into some parts of it, and there were some very deep holes.

Like many central California rives, water from the Chowchilla eventually ends up in the San Joaquin. There is no natural outlet to the bigger stream, but a canal carries excess water during flood years.

--Dick Estel, January  2021

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Eastman Lake


Eastman Lake

Twisted shapes of dead manzanita Another view of the mistletoe-infested tree Blue sky and clouds over the hills
Related Links
Eastman Lake Hensley Reservoir Lakeview Trail
Hensley Lake Trips Chowchilla River  

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Updated January 13, 2021