Greeley Hill Road Trip


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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 visit.

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 miles.

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 creeks.

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 way back.

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


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


The Upshaw Jeep, stopped
along the road for photos

Johnny & Brittany at the
mobile home in Greeley Hill
Colton starts his explorations
Embracing the bear On the green Yummy! Grilled cheese!
New black oak leaves Wild yellow violets Prospecting for gold with a sluice box
North Fork of the Merced River The easy way to hike the trail A prime piece of real estate
Meadow from Dogtown Road Rock formations along
Merced Falls Road
More rock outcroppings
Dick with great grandson Colton Enjoying a wagon ride... ...and getting pushed in the swing
Panoramic view along Merced Falls Road
Related Links
Greeley Hill Coulterville Merced Falls
Yosemite Valley Railroad More about the Railroad Lake McClure
Dogtown Road Lake Don Pedro  

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