This one day trip was one
of the most enjoyable and special adventures I've had recently,
since it was the first time I had spent an entire day with my
16-month old great grandson, Colton James Upshaw.
My grandson Johnny and
his wife Brittany have a mobile
home in Greeley
Hill, a small community in northern Mariposa County. Although
it's barely 40 miles from where I grew up, I had never been there
until I went with my friend Caroline to see Bower
Cave in 2012, and our trip on April 12, 2014 was my second
We left the Upshaw home
in Clovis a little after 8 a.m., and drove north on State 99 to
Merced. Here we turned north on city and county roads and a couple
of other state highways, through areas I had either never been in,
or last visited more than 50 years ago.
Through Merced we went
north on G Street, which turns into Snelling Road. This joins State
59 a short distance west of the town of Snelling, where the highway
ends and becomes Merced Falls Road. This route turns north at Merced
Falls, which was once the site of a major lumber mill. Until the
mid-40s it received logs brought down from the highlands outside
Yosemite National Park on the Yosemite
Valley Railroad, which ran from Merced to El Portal. I remember
visiting this mill with my parents, probably some time around 1944.
Merced Falls Road runs
between Lake McClure on
the Merced River and Lake
Don Pedro on the Tuolumne, and ends at Highway 132. This road
runs from Modesto into Coulterville
at the intersection of State 49, where we took the Greeley Hill Road
six miles to our destination at the 3,200 foot level.
Through the hills past
Merced Falls our route took us through beautiful green
hills, with large oaks and an area where there are some
interesting and unusual outcroppings
of rock that sometimes look like a mini Stonehenge, and elsewhere
like tombstones. As the road approaches Coulterville, it runs
through some of the thickest stands of bull pine (AKA gray pine and
digger pine) that I have ever seen.
It was Johnny's plan for
Colton to nap in the car, and we would then have brunch at Greeley
Hill's finest (and only) restaurant, the Gold
Mine Diner. This was not Colton's plan. He stayed awake much of
the way, and of course, finally fell asleep the last few
While Brittany stayed
with him in the car, Johnny and I went in and ordered food to go,
and we drove the final mile or so to their place. With parents
checking on him frequently, Colton continued to sleep while we ate
our lunch. He soon woke up, and for a short while was quiet and
still. However, he soon got completely awake, and became the busy,
active, unpredictable boy that I'm used to.
After he ate some of
the grilled cheese sandwich we had got for him, we all went
outside, and he started off across the property to explore.
We followed, and with him sometimes leading and sometimes being
guided, we went down to the entrance to the mobile home complex,
then along a couple of dirt roads that eventually led us back to the
main residential area.
The mobile home had been
vacant for ten years before Brittany's grandparents (who have
another unit there) decided to give it to them, so they've been
working on fixing it up for the last two years. Johnny had planned
to do some work during this trip, but it seemed more like a day for
just hanging out.
After resting up from our
brief explorations, we set off to hike down the North
Fork of the Merced River, which crosses Greeley Hill Road a few
miles east of town. We took Dogtown
Road, which runs past their property. At their end and where it
joins the Greeley Hill Road it is a well maintained gravel road, but
in between there are some places that are slightly rough. It's
nothing that can't be driven in most passenger cars, and their Jeep
had no trouble, even with the two places where the road goes through
We parked by the river
bridge and took the wide trail, actually an old road, for the first
half of the hike. Colton could navigate this without any trouble,
although he seemed to have a preference for walking toward the bank,
where it drops off six or eight feet on a steep slope, so the adults
were required to stay alert at all times.
Once we came to the place
where the old road ended, the trail was narrow and a little more
uneven, so Colton got to ride
in a backpack on his dad's back, which he liked well enough that
he refused to walk when we got back to the smoother section on our
There's a place where you
can make your way down
to the water, and when I had walked this with Caroline, it had
seemed easy enough. Of course, at that time I didn't consider what
it would be like for someone with a 25 pound child on his back.
After going down the first, fairly easy part, we decided that Colton
would have to wait till he was a bit older to make it down to the
water. In this same area we saw some people prospecting for gold, using
a sluice box.
We continued on the trail
a ways, to where a fairly large tributary came in from the west. We
decided to make this our turnaround point, and headed back up the
trail to the car, enjoying various wild
flowers along the way.
Along Dogtown Road, where
it went up to a higher elevation, we could see below us a magnificent
meadow, with a
barn and other outbuildings. Once we got back to the mobile
home, we gathered up our stuff and started on our long journey home.
It was mostly uneventful, with Colton napping quite a bit of the
way. From Merced south he was a bit fussy off and on, but when we
got back home he was his usual happy self.
When we got back to their
house, I noticed Colton's wagon on the front porch, so I gave him a short
ride. We then ordered pizza, and while waiting for it to arrive,
enjoyed watching him play in his sand box, go down his slide, and swing
in his new swing. Actually this part required more than watching -
he would keep going as long as adults were willing to push.
After our supper I said
my goodbyes and headed back home, hoping for another invitation to
Greeley Hill some day soon.
--Dick Estel, April 2014