Dick's Adventures of 2023 - Page 2

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Upper Kings          San Joaquin River Trail West          Yosemite & Merced River
Upper Kings

The title phrase generally refers to that portion of the Kings River upstream from Pine Flat Dam. Hikers, fishermen and other adventurers can go up the river by road and trail at least 15 miles above the lake. The paved Trimmer Springs Road, which parallels the lake on the north side, crosses the river just above the upper end of the lake, and continues about two miles to another crossing.

At this point the paved road goes north along the North Fork of the Kings. Dirt roads follow the main river on both sides, with the south route still carrying the Trimmer Springs name. It goes three miles past several campgrounds and the Camp 4 1/2 rental cabin, then turns south following Mill Flat Creek for some distance. It finally goes over a divide and connects with State Route 180, the road to Kings Canyon National Park.

The road on the north goes eight miles and ends at Garnet Dike, passing a campground and a junction with the Bear Wallow Trail. A former campground at the end is now the base for a rafting company, which offers trips down the river. At this point the Kings River Trail continues upstream for a number of miles. I've backpacked on this trail about six miles to Garlic Meadow Creek and a short distance beyond, but I don't know how far it goes.

The torrential rains of early 2023 caused big and little slides on both dirt roads, with the Garnet Dike route closed until early May. At this time the raft company helped pay for clearing the slides for the first six miles. It looks like the last two miles will remain closed for the 2023 season. (Photo by pathfinderwest2021)

I suspected the road on the other side was also closed, so on May 3 Jackie and I drove up there to find out, and to look at wildflowers. My plan was to drive up the dirt road if open, or to walk in a short distance if closed, so I took my Ford 150, which although old enough to vote, still can handle most unpaved mountain roads that are not specifically 4-wheel drive.

The floral display began as soon as we began to climb up from the valley to the low foothills along the lake. The most frequent flower was common madea, but there were plenty of farewell-to-spring, various kinds of lupines, and many others.

The bright yellow of common madea was everywhere Farewell-to-spring always appears by the middle of that season

After Trimmer crosses the two major tributaries that come in from the north, Sycamore and Big Creeks, the road rises up to cross over Secata Ridge, then drops back down close to the lake at its extreme upper end. Near the top of the ridge a nice waterfall cascades down the hill, and it was still flowing good even this late in the season.

We stopped briefly at Kirch Flat Campground, scene of many camping trips with my younger grandson, an annual event through 2009 known as Frog Camp. The campground has recently been completely refurbished, and everything is new - restrooms, picnic tables, even the posts that line the roads. Additional facilities have been added in the area where raft runners end their adventures.

We continued the final short run to the upper bridge, just past where the North Fork joins the main river. Above this point the main stem, which splits into the Middle and South Forks farther up, is unfettered by dams of any kind, so we were now seeing the full force of this year's spring runoff.

Happily, the road was open, so we decided to drive at least as far as the cabin. There were a couple of small slides and a large boulder in the road, but there was plenty of room to get past. Jackie had not been to the cabin before, but of course, we could only look at the outside. The windows are all covered with blinds, so peeking in the windows did not help.

We walked down to the river, and to a spot where great grandson Colton had spent a half hour or so covering a large rock with damp sand on our first visit. This boulder was now in a small rapids at least ten feet from the shore.


Great grandson Colton piled sand on this boulder in 2018 Exposed roots of this sycamore always attract photographers

We decided to drive up to one of the campgrounds where we could find a restroom. It's probably less than a mile to the first one, but we did not get that far. We came to a huge slide that contained an oak tree, a smaller tree, large boulders, grass, flowers, and several tons of dirt. Vehicles had gone past it, so we were undaunted. However, the same could not be said of my truck. The front tire came against a small rock, and the rear wheels spun in the sandy road bed. I tried a second time with the same results, and decided we had gone far enough, especially since the truck was tilted toward the river at an uncomfortable angle.

Jackie contemplates what proved to be an impassible barrier The view from the opposite side

We returned to the cabin, set up our lawn chairs in the driveway behind the building, and enjoyed our lunch surrounded by the spring beauty of the Sierra foothills.

On the drive back out to the main road, we observed a few flower species we had missed on the way in. Although it's well past their season, we saw a small stand of poppies, almost hidden in the surrounding common madea, a hillside rock with some delightful succulents, and probably the most globe lilies we had ever seen.

Succulents cling to to the rock along the road bank It's a banner year for globe lilies

When we were almost back to the pavement we met a large dump truck followed by an even larger earth mover, with a device to pick up giant boulders and dirt. I had to back up into a narrow, rough space beside the road to allow them to pass.

At the conclusion of our adventure we were tired but satisfied that we had enjoyed a fantastic day in the Upper Kings River area.

Here let me offer a warning or correction to some information on one of the web sites linked from this report. The site about the Kings River Trail says that Highway 180 turns into Trimmer Springs Road. This is incorrect; from 180 you must take Piedra Road north near Minkler to reach Trimmer, or get off the highway earlier by any of several connecting roads to Belmont Avenue, which DOES turn into Trimmer.

--Dick Estel, May 2023

More Photos


San Joaquin River Trail West

This is one of those places I've hiked a number of times in the last ten years, but I think this will be the last time. More about that later. This trail starts at the Finegold Picnic Area, at the end of Sky Harbor Road, next to Millerton Lake, and goes a little over 12 miles to the San Joaquin River Gorge Management Area. I have stated before that I have not and never will hike the entire distance, but in addition to hikes from the western end, I hike in from the  upper end at least once every year.

On May 8 I had a light breakfast and drove the 22 miles to the trailhead. With dry grass and almost no flowers along the route I was afraid I might be too late for wildflower season. However, in the Sky Harbor residential area, there were lots of farewell-to-spring, including the rarely seen white variation, as well as common madea, foothill gilia, and many others.

A white variation of farewell-to-spring Foothill gilia

The road goes down to the picnic area, but the gate is often locked, and most hikers park along the Sky Harbor Road, avoiding a $10 day use fee. This gives you a 200-yard downhill walk to the trailhead, after which the hike is relentlessly uphill for about a mile. After that mile, the trail arrives at a saddle, and begins to wind around the hills above the lake, with just some gentle up and down, at least as far as I have gone.

Although the more exposed hillsides were fully brown, there was a lot of green where the trail went into more shaded area.

Brown hills above the trail Green hills along a drainage

Along most of the trail there were many more flowers than I had expected. The most common were tall plants with a tiny dandelion-like yellow blossom and equally tall thistle plants with tiny pink blossoms. There is a pale blue lupine, as well as the more common dove lupines and tall ground lupines. A Mariposa lily made its appearance, and there was some owl clover, which has been scarce this year.


These pale blue lupines grow on a large many-branched plant A foothill favorite - Mariposa lily

Despite its steepness, the one-mile hike is usually well worth while. In a good rain year, and at the right  time of the season, the lupine and poppy display at the saddle is hard to beat. But...I know the trail is not longer or steeper than it used to be, but it is definitely in worse condition. Incessant rain this year has washed a lot of soil away around the many rocks in the trail (and the Sierra Nevada is essentially one big rock pile). There are places where the trail is downright dangerous for older hikers, especially going down hill. It has dried out and there is a lot of loose dirt where one can slip. All in all, it's "no country for old men," and this old man is wise enough to know when to eliminate such areas from my hiking repertoire. Thankfully I've taken a LOT of photos during my 21 previous visits there. And there's still Finegold North.

For younger, stronger hikers, it's considered a moderate trail. On my way up I met a CalFire worker jogging down the trail. Later he passed me going back up, then I met him coming down again. He was carrying a hoe, which said was for snakes. He had gone to the top of Pincushion Peak, back down, and half way back up, preparing for an upcoming physical test. I hiked to Pincushion seven years ago with daughters Teri and Jennifer, plus Wes Thiessen. All my family agreed it was one of the most difficult hikes we had ever done. We were glad we had done it, and even gladder we never have to do it again.

A nice display of farewell-to-spring Rock outcropping above the trail

Always hiking with great care, I made it to the spot a little more than half way up where there are some good resting rocks, and made that my turn-around point, just as I had in 2021.  From this location I had a view of the branch of the lake that goes up Finegold Creek. The lake has been lowered to 35% of capacity to make room for the coming snow melt, and the water barely entered the Finegold drainage.

After resting for 20 minutes or so, I went back down, bidding a sad, final farewell to this wonderful hiking spot.

--Dick Estel, May 2023

More Photos


Epilogue: The flowers seen on this trip included yellow and purple brodiaea, yellow-throated gilia, foothill gilia, blue dicks, poppies, milkweed, filaree, farewell-to-spring (including the white variation), thistles, dandelions, common madea, fiesta flowers, lupines (big pale blue, dove, tall ground), clover, a clover-like blossom, owl clover, elderberry, tall and short mystery flowers, Chinese houses, Mariposa lily, phecelia, a tall yellow flower at the resting place, and an unidentified orange blossom down by the little creek (I had seen them only once before, in this same location).

Yosemite & Merced River
YOSEMITE: 2 good falls down canyon near Cascade; twin falls in valley; Stairstep, Royal Arches, Ribbons, Horsetakl

River raging; bear in the meadow parking; spray at Bridalveil; spray above river, etc. 

Nobody goes there anymore. Itís too crowded. - Yogi



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


Upper Kings          San Joaquin River Trail West


Upper Kings

Climbing brodiaea We saw one small patch of poppies Lots and lots of common madea
White lupines were having their peak display A lovely but unknown blossom A deep magenta variation
of farewell-to-spring
A few years ago a friend swung out over
the river on this rope. This year not so much
White water in the Kings - note
trees in the river near lower center
This sign is new in the last two years
San Joaquin River Trail West
A unique and dramatic rock along the trail We're always trying to remember how far it
is from Sky Harbor to San Joaquin Gorge
Probably a variation of
yellow-throated gilia
Lake water barely enters
Finegold Creek branch of the lake
Not quite a bush, but a good size lupine plant White owl clover - scarce
in most areas this year
Related Links
Kings River Trail Camp 4 1/2 Cabin Bear Wallow Trail
March 2023 Drive to Secata Ridge 2019 Campout at Upper Kings Bear Wallow Trail in the 1980s
San Joaquin River Trail Millerton Lake Pincushion Peak
Yosemite Waterfalls List of  Yosemite Waterfalls More About Yosemite Waterfalls




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Updated May 30, 2023