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 anywhere near 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 north on Highway 41 then west on Highway 145. This section is only moderately scenic, and I've driven it 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 the 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 brodiaea blossoms and some flowers whose identity I don’t know. There was only one field of popcorn flowers that I could consider 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

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
Hensley Lake Trip
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
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,
February 5, 2013

San Joaquin Gorge Hike

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
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 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      San Joaquin River Trail

Travel Reports
Before 2002     2002     2003     2004     2005     2006     2007     2008     2009     2010     2011     2012

2013     2014     2015     2016     2017     2018    2019     2020     2021     2022     2023     2024     Other

Before 2002
Early Trips Later Trips
Camping Trips Backpacking Trips
Early Stargazer Rock Camps 1961 Monterey Jazz Festival
Bluegrass Odyssey
Multi-Year Compilations
Fresno Area Canal Walks Clovis Trail Walks
Journey of 2002 (Ohio & Back) Logandale & Utah Parks 2002
Arizona & Bluegrass on the River 2003 Grand Canyon & Logandale Bluegrass 2003
Parkfield & Huck Finn 2003 Early Frog Camps (2003-2005)
Paso Robles & Parkfield 2004 Road Trip 2004 (Ohio & Back)
Bullhead City Bluegrass, Mesa, Superstition Bluegrass 2004 Bluegrass in the Foothills 2004
Arizona-Southern California 2005 Huck Finn Bluegrass 2005
Morro Bay 2005 Stargazer Rock Camp 2005
Parkfield Bluegrass 2005    
Huck Finn Bluegrass 2006 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2006
Rock Creek Non-Camp Stargazer Rock Camp 2006
Parkfield Bluegrass 2006 Oregon 2006
Bluegrass in the Foothills 2006    
Bullhead City, Bakersfield, Joshua Tree 2007 Frog Camp 2007
Eastern Sierra Journey 2007 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2007
Stargazer Rock Camp 2007 Roundup #1
(Mother Lode; Kings Canyon, Yosemite)
Bluegrass in the Foothills 2007    
Nevada-Arizona Hockey & Bluegrass 2008 Parkfield Bluegrass 2008
Frog Camp 2008 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2008
Stargazer Rock Camp 2008 Bluegrass in the Foothills 2008
Hobbs Grove Festival 2008     
Roundup 2009
Las Vegas, Mariposa, Table Mountain, Orange County
Frog Camp 2009 Southern Journey 2009
Parkfield Bluegrass 2009 Stargazer Rock Camp 2009
Bluegrass Tour 2009
Brown Barn, Plymouth, Hobbs Grove
Hensley Lake Camp
Mojave National Preserve & Havasu Bluegrass Roundup 2010
Hensley Reservoir, Mojave Preserve 2 & 3
Parkfield Bluegrass 2010 Lake Almanor & Mt. Lassen 2010
Las Vegas Expo Summergrass
   Brown Barn, Watsonville & Hobbs Grove
Roundup 2011
Mariposa, Hensley, Table Mountain
Frog Camp 2011
Parkfield Bluegrass 2011 Frank, Pat, Dick & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Northern Coast Journey 2011 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2011
Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival Chilkoot & Stargazer Rock Camp
Kings River & Brown Barn Bluegrass Festivals Hensley Camp 2011
Parkfield Bluegrass 2012 Four Squaw Leap Hikes
Northern Coast Journey 2012 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2012
Stargazer Rock Camp 2012 Bluegrass in the Foothills 2012
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
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 Winter Hikes
Millerton South Bay Trail, Clovis Trail, Hite's Cove Trail
San Joaquin Gorge Campout
Colorado Springs Hockey Tournament Lake Havasu Bluegrass
2014 Spring Hikes
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
Journey of 2014 Journey of 2014 Photos
Nelder Grove Hikes 2014 Sentinel Dome Hike
2014 Fall & Winter Hikes
San Joaquin River Trail South & North, Red Rock Canyon Nevada, San Joaquin South Again
California Flat Campout
Snow Day with the  Upshaw's   
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)
Adventures of 2015 - June to December
(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)
Lake Tahoe & Virginia City Parkfield Bluegrass 2015
Colorado Springs Cousin Convention 2015 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2015
Stargazer Rock Camp 2015 Grand Canyon & Arches National Parks
Adventures of 2016 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2016 Page 1
Adventures of 2016 Part 2 Rambler Hikes 2016 Page 2
Adventures of 2016 Part 3 Rambler Hikes 2016 Page 3
Adventures of 2016 Part 4 A Pennsylvania Adventure
Adventures of 2016 Part 5 Parkfield Bluegrass 2016
Adventures of 2016 Part 6 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2016
Adventures of 2016 Part 7 Stargazer Rock Camp 2016
Adventures of 2017 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2017 Page 1
Adventures of 2017 Part 2 Rambler Hikes 2017 Page 2
Adventures of 2017 Part 3 Rambler Hikes 2017 Page 3
Adventures of 2017 Part 4 Hiking and Hockey
Adventures of 2017 Part 5 Lake Almanor
Adventures of 2017 Part 6 Northern California Redwood Hike
Parkfield Bluegrass 2017 Stargazer Rock Camp 2017
Travel Blog 2017 (an experiment) Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks
Adventures of 2018 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2018 Page 1
Adventures of 2018 Part 2 Rambler Hikes 2018 Page 2
Adventures of 2018 Part 3 Rambler Hikes 2018 Page 3
Adventures of 2018 Part 4 Parkfield Bluegrass 2018
Adventures of 2018 Part 5 Northern California Journey 2018
Adventures of 2018 Part 6
Adventures of 2019 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2019 Page 1
Adventures of 2019 Part 2 Rambler Hikes 2019 Page 2
Utah National Parks Rambler Hikes 2019 Page 3
Adventures of 2019 Part 3 Parkfield Bluegrass 2019
Adventures of 2019 Part 4 Adventures of 2019 Part 5
Adventures of 2020 Part 1 Adventures of 2020 Part 5
Adventures of 2020 Part 2 Adventures of 2020 Part 6
Adventures of 2020 Part 3 Adventures of 2020 Part 7
Adventures of 2020 Part 4 Rambler Hikes 2020 Page 1
Adventures of 2021 Part 1 Adventures of 2021 Part 5
Adventures of 2021 Part 2
Adventures of 2021 Part 3 Rambler Hikes 2021 Page 1
Adventures of 2021 Part 4 Rambler Hikes 2021 Page 2
Adventures of 2022 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2022 Page 1
Adventures of 2022 Part 2 Rambler Hikes 2022 Page 2
Adventures of 2022 Part 3 Rambler Hikes 2022 Page 3
Adventures of 2022 Part 4 Utah Parks
Adventures of 2023 Page 1 Rambler Hikes 2023 Page 1
Adventures of 2023 Page 2 Rambler Hikes 2023 Page 2
Dinosaur National Monument Rambler Hikes 2023 Page 3
Adventures of 2023 Page 3 Rambler Hikes 2023 Page 4
Adventures of 2024 Page 1 Rambler Hikes 2024 Page 1
Adventures of 2024 Page 2 Rambler Hikes 2024 Page 2
Mendocino Coast Rambler Hikes 2024 Page 3
Fresno Area Canal Walks Clovis Trail Walks
Butch's Blog Walker Family Trips
Parkfield Earthquake Kim & Morgan Brown Trips & Photos
Travel Report Menu Estel Home Page
Photo Albums Slide Shows
Laurie Lewis' High Sierra Hikes Email

Updated October 9, 2020