Janell and Mark try a little hard-rock mining

Creek bottom by Road 400

Taken while standing on the bridge

Sierra Foothills - Winter 2013

      

Photos           Related Links          More Travel Reports

    

Finegold Trailhead          Hensley Lake          San Joaquin Gorge

     

Finegold Trailhead 

On February 2 I went hiking with my friend Janell Sidney and her grandson Mark Washington. We went to the Finegold trailhead near Sky Harbor, where I had been three times last fall, and made mainly the same hike as my first visit, up to the top of a ridge where the lake curves around and there is water on three sides of you.

My first hikes were in October and November, when the grass was dry and the weather was fairly warm. For this hike, we had bright green grass, a few flowers and weather that was just right for a brisk uphill hike, about 65 degrees.

We left my house a little after 10, and made the 25 mile drive to the trailhead. Previously there had been only one or two other cars at the parking lot, but those hikes were during the week. This time, on a Saturday, there were at least a dozen other cars there.

Despite all the vehicles, we saw only a few people along the trail, until we reached the ridge top, where a group of six or eight were coming down the hill west of the trail. We also met and talked to a couple of bike riders, one of whom was riding the entire 14 or so miles of the trail from the San Joaquin Gorge to the Finegold trailhead. Janell and I agreed that nothing could make us ride a bike down that steep hill.

At the ridge top there are a number of boulders with large sections of quartz, so Janell and Mark turned into hard rock miners, trying to chip out some crystallized samples of the rock (also hoping that a gold nugget might pop out).

Along the trail on this and my previous hikes, we picked up a few pine nuts. These come from the bull pine, also known as digger pines and grey pines, and are quite tasty. However, the shell is very hard, the nut is small, and cracking them often results in an inedible smushed mess of shell and meat. In other words, while it's fun to "live off the land," pine nuts are more trouble than they're worth (I still have most of the ones I picked up in October sitting on the kitchen counter, waiting for ambition to strike).

After resting and "mining" at the top of the ridge, we continued a few hundred yards past this point. We agreed that we’d like to explore the trail further, if we could just get someone to drop us off at the top of the ridge. It’s a fairly steep climb, nearly all up hill, and once you finish that, there’s not much ambition to go farther.

On our way home we stopped and had lunch at the Dam Diner in Friant.

--Dick Estel, March 2013

Finegold Photos

     

Hensley Lake

One of my favorite winter/spring camping areas is Hensley Lake, located on the Fresno River in Madera County, about 45 miles from my house. I try to go at least once every year, although scheduling is sometimes a challenge. If the weather is nice, I often have other stuff to do, and when my schedule is clear, it seems to bring rain or cold or wind.

However, the forecast for February 4 - 6 was for temperatures in the 60s, very little wind, and no precipitation, so I decided it was time. The campground has quite a few sites with electricity, and there is a reservation system that allows you to book a site on-line and pay for it by credit card. Since going to Hensley is often a last-minute decision, I have not used the system in the past, but once in a while that means I get a less than desirable space. One time I was able to get the only available site with hookups, but only because the people who were there before me decided to leave early.

Last year as I rode my bike around the campground, I made a list of the better sites, since there's nothing on-line to tell you which is which, just site numbers. I was able to get my number one choice, but as it turned out, I would have been fine just showing up - there was only one other party in the area I wanted, and only four total.

I got started at my usual time (when I get around to it), and had a nice, scenic drive. The first part is up Highway 41 and west on Highway 145, which are only moderately scenic, and which I've driven hundreds of times. However, once you turn off the main highways, you get on Road 400, which winds through low hills, past ranches, creeks and ponds. For the first time I stopped and took some photos in this area, since I have photographed the scenery around the lake and campground extensively.

I got set up in my chosen spot, and got busy doing nothing. Actually I did some bike riding, a little walking, and a lot of reading the first day. The next day was very nice in the morning, and after breakfast I rode my bike to the trailhead for the one mile loop trail and hiked that, stopping at one point to rest and read for about a half hour.

In the afternoon a strong breeze came up and it was a little cooler than I would have liked, but still nice to be out in the country. Late in the day a few buzzards landed in a tree on the hill above me, and I got some nice photos of the birds silhouetted against the sunset.

Due to the colder weather, I ended up inside earlier than usual, reading, watching TV and eating. The next morning I got a leisurely, late start, getting back to Clovis early in the afternoon.

Hensley Lake Photos

 

San Joaquin Gorge

On February 28 I did not do my usual morning walk. Instead I went to San Joaquin Gorge (Squaw Leap) and hiked the trail down to the river. (Read about last year's hikes in this area here.) Actually I only hiked about half the trail; as soon as I went through the first gate I veered off to the right and went “cross-country.” I had done this a few times in the past, but don’t have any particular route that I can recall, so I just tried to follow normal hiking rules – never lose elevation unless you have no choice, regardless of detours around brush, gullies, etc.; continue in the general direction of your destination, and for those of us of great age, be careful with every step, especially going up and down rocks or down steep hillsides.

I clearly did not follow the same route I have traveled in the past, since I got into a fairly steep, brushy area where I had to backtrack briefly and circle around, and I joined the trail a little bit further down than I remember doing on my earlier cross-country ventures.

Once on the trail I continued on down to the bridge where I rested a little and took some pictures. Just past the bridge I again left the trail, going left up the hill where the trail bears to the right. I have gone up this route in the past also. In fact, once I hiked that route with my backpack, my grandson Johnny’s sleeping bag and other stuff, and Johnny, all on my back (he was much smaller in those days). Along this route there is a good size patch of chaparral. I remember walking through there right after the fire of 1982, when the brush was burned off to the ground. By the time I carried Johnny through there, it was knee-high; now the bushes are full size, eight to ten feet tall, and there is very little sign of the fire.

There was a fairly good size drainage to the left (west), with a smaller one to the right, and the trail east of that. I considered going through the large drainage to an area I had visited before, but it looked too rough, so I rejoined the trail where it goes over a low ridge. A few hundred feet of trail was enough and I turned left toward the river, into an area that has a lot of gently sloping land, where I searched for a couple of areas where I had camped in the past. At least I think I camped there twice, although my backpacking notes don’t indicate anything but Lost Hat Camp.

I found a good resting rock and read, napped and walked around. This area offers some good views of the river, and while walking away from my stopping place, I realized I was right above the bridge. It looked like I could go down through the fairly steep drainage east of me, then make my way back up to the hill just above the Madera end of the bridge. I did this, with some help from big deep footprints left by cows in the soft soil, which made going down the steep hillside a little easier.

Once I got back to the bridge, I stuck to the trail going back to the parking lot, since it’s nearly 100% uphill, and offers enough of a challenge without doing any bushwhacking.

It was a little early for a good wildflower display, but I saw small patches of fiddlenecks, shooting stars, baby blue eyes, and popcorn flowers, as well as isolated brodeia blossoms and some flowers whose identity I don’t know. There was only one field of popcorn flowers that I could considered a normal amount. The bush lupines are loaded with buds, but none are open yet.

On my way up Auberry Road I made an exploratory side trip down Wellbarn Road. Bike riders that Janell and I met on the trail up from Finegold mentioned a campground along the trail. I looked on the map and discovered that they were referring to Temperance Flat Boat-In camp. The map showed that Wellbarn road went from Auberry Road to the trail, and there is a side trail down to the camp.

Wellbarn was a decent paved road, with a center line the first mile or so, then it got narrow, and about three miles in it turned to dirt, with a locked gate preventing further exploration. I talked to a ranger at the USFS office in Prather, and she said it is possible to hike down there “if you don’t mind climbing a gate.” Well, I thrive on climbing gates and fences, but it looks like quite a long walk, and since it goes to the river, there would be plenty of uphill coming back out. There also seemed to be very little room to park anywhere near the gate, so that adventure will have to be accomplished by someone else.

--Dick Estel, March 2013

San Joaquin Gorge Photos

    

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

    

Finegold Hike          Hensley Lake Trip          San Joaquin Gorge Hike

    

Finegold Hike

    

Nature creates a striking composition with the burnt log, green plants and mossy rocks

Janell and Mark on the trail Plants grow anywhere they can find a bit of soil
Nature creates a striking composition with the burnt log, green plants and mossy rocks Janell and Mark on the trail Plants grow anywhere they can find a bit of soil
   
Shuteye Peak and Eagle Beaks, above the upper San Joaquin Janell and Mark try a little hard-rock mining Black cattle, green grass, grey pines and white rocks

Shuteye Peak and Eagle Beaks, above the upper San Joaquin

Janell and Mark try a little hard-rock mining Black cattle, green grass, grey pines and white rocks
   
Pine trees tower above a large rock outcropping A lone mushroom nestles among new plant growth Boat rounding Horseshoe Bend
Pine trees tower above a large rock outcropping A lone mushroom nestles among new plant growth Boat rounding Horseshoe Bend
    
Hensley Lake Trip
   
Rolling hills along Road 400 en route to Hensley Lake Farmland along Road 400 Ranch on Road 400
Rolling hills along Road 400 en route to Hensley Lake Farmland along Road 400 Ranch on Road 400
   
Creek bottom by Road 400 Parked in my favorite campsite The crotch of this blue oak next to my camp provides a perfect germination basin
Creek bottom by Road 400 Parked in my favorite campsite The crotch of this blue oak next to my camp provides a perfect germination basin
   
The new crop of grass is getting a good start One of the many hawks seen on a typical visit to Hensley Hensley Reservoir and mountains from hill above campground
The new crop of grass is getting a good start One of the many hawks seen on a typical visit to Hensley Lake and mountains from hill above campground
   
A section of the Pohonichi trail Buzzards at sunset Sunset at Hensley,
A section of the Pohonichi Trail Buzzards at sunset Sunset at Hensley,
February 5, 2013
   

San Joaquin Gorge Hike

    
A barn on Wellbarn road Antique fire truck in Auberry New shoots on buckeye tree
A barn on Wellbarn road Antique fire truck in Auberry New shoots on buckeye tree
   
Fuel for the next fire? A study in shades of green Baby blue eyes
Fuel for the next fire? A study in shades of green Baby blue eyes
    
Taken while standing on the bridge A collection of oak apples Looking down on the bridge from the ridge above
Taken while standing on the bridge A collection of oak apples in the hollow of a blue oak Looking down on the bridge from the ridge above
    
Remains of a manzanita killed in the fire Close up of the base One of the most dramatic wildflowers - shooting stars
Remains of a manzanita killed in the 1982 fire Close up of the base One of the most dramatic wildflowers - shooting stars
      
Related Links
   
Millerton State Recreation Area Prather, CA San Joaquin Gorge Hikes
USFS San Joaquin River Hensley Reservoir
Fresno River Red tail hawk Federal Reservation System
 San Joaquin Gorge  Special Recreation Management Area Wellbarn Road      
   
Pine trees tower above a large rock outcropping

The crotch of this blue oak next to my camp provides a perfect germination basin

One of the most dramatic wildflowers - shooting stars

 
Travel Reports
   
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2008
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2009
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Hensley Lake Camp
2010
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Hensley Reservoir, Mojave Preserve 2 & 3
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    Brown Barn, Watsonville & Hobbs Grove
   
2011
Roundup 2011
Mariposa, Hensley, Table Mountain
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2012 
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A 3-Event Weekend
Farmer's Market, Kings River Bluegrass, Antique Fair
2012 Las Vegas CAN AM Hockey Challenge
Fall Hikes
Finegold Trail; Bower Cave
Into Los Gatos Canyon
  
2013
Silver Stick Tournament - Canada Sierra Foothills - Winter 2013
Finegold Trailhead, Hensley Lake, San Joaquin Gorge
Death Valley - Alabama Hills - Whitney Portal Sierra Foothills - Spring 2013
San Joaquin Gorge Hike, Big Creek Drive
Parkfield Bluegrass 2013 Shaver Crossing Station & Big Creek
Lake Almanor & Caribou Crossroads Mono Hot Springs
Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival A Wedding in Duluth
Sequoia Park Hiking Roundup 2013
Kings River Bluegrass, Buena Vista Peak Hike, Hensley Lake Camp, North Fork Mono Museum, White Rock Road, Hockey in Denver
     
2014
2014 Winter Hikes
Millerton South Bay Trail, Clovis Trail, Hite's Cove Trail
San Joaquin Gorge Campout
Colorado Springs Hockey Tournament Lake Havasu Bluegrass
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Stockton Creek Preserve, San Joaquin River Trail, San Joaquin Gorge, Millerton Lake, Sycamore Creek, Buena Vista Peak Again
NORCAL Hockey Playoffs and Santa Cruz Visit
Greeley Hill Road Trip Parkfield Bluegrass 2014
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California Flat Campout
Snow Day with the  Upshaw's   
 
2015
Rambler Hikes 2015 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2015 Part 2
Adventures of 2015 - February to May
(Goofy Smith Flat, Coast Redwoods & Big Sur, Pine Flat, Finegold Trail, Edison Point Trail, Nelder Grove)
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(Lewis Creek Trail, Kaiser Pass, Kaiser Pass Again, Taft Point, Kings River Bluegrass, Shaver Logging Road, San Joaquin River Trail, Lewis S Eaton Trail, San Joaquin River Gorge, Thanksgiving at the Gorge)
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2016
Adventures of 2016 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2016 Page 1
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Adventures of 2016 Part 4 A Pennsylvania Adventure
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2017
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Adventures of 2017 Part 5 Lake Almanor
Adventures of 2017 Part 6 Northern California Redwood Hike
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Updated July 10, 2017