26, 2009: One of the things I had in mind when I switched
from a trailer to a motor home was that I would be able to take off
for short trips on short notice. In early October I vowed to put
this plan into action, and intended to go on the 12th. However,
there was a forecast for 100% chance of rain the next day, so I
decided to wait. This was a wise decision, since we had an unusual
amount of rain, over 1.5 inches, and foothill and mountain areas
received between 3 and 10 inches.
rescheduled my trip for the following week, and on October 19, with minimal advance planning and loading only a few
items, I started out to go camping in the Sierra Nevada mountains
near Bass Lake, about 65 miles from home.
was a 30% chance of rain predicted for that area in the evening, but
the next day was supposed to be nice, and it looked as if I could
get settled in before any rain arrived.
it was already cloudy when I left home about noon, and as I drove
north from Fresno on State Highway 41, the clouds seemed to be
getting lower. I usually have a back-up destination in mind in
situations like this, so about 20 miles from town I turned west for
a few miles on
State 45, then followed county roads to Hensley
Lake, an Army Corps
of Engineers project, a little
over 30 miles from home.
location is in the low foothills, probably about 1,000 feet in
elevation, so it's a nice camping choice for late fall through early
spring. Most of the area is blue
which is marked by open, grassy hills and fields, with very little
brush, and lots of blue oaks. There are also a few digger
pines, more commonly called bull pines by local residents. As
often happens in developed, heavily maintained campgrounds, a number
of non-native trees have been planted, probably in a misguided
attempt to "improve" the surroundings.
itself is formed by Hidden Dam, a mile long earth and rock dam
across the Fresno River.
Interestingly, this river never touches Fresno County; it rises and flows mostly through Madera
County, entering Merced County briefly far downstream just before it
joins the San
Joaquin River. Madera
County was carved
out of Fresno
County in the 1800s, no doubt accounting for the seemingly
paved roads wind around through the hills in the main campground,
which has dozens of campsites, many with electrical and water
hookups. The price is quite reasonable, $22 per night, but half
price for holders of a Golden
are actually four separate camping areas, but I always go to Hidden
View, which has a lot of sites, along with lots of parking for
boaters and fishermen. Since it was a weekday there were few people
there, and I had no trouble
getting a good spot with electricity, which meant I did not have to
run my generator in the evening to watch TV, or to make toast or use the
been there at least twice before with the trailer, and since the
camp roads are good for bike riding, I was unhappy that I had not
brought my bike.
it started sprinkling after I got off the highway, so I was not
thinking of bike riding when I arrived. The rain had stopped before
I got there, but it remained cloudy, so I got set up and put up my
awning, so I could sit outside and stay dry if it rained again.
Not long after I got set
up, it started to rain, and continued for a half hour or so - a very
light rain, but enough to wet the pavement all around my little dry
rectangle under the awning. I sat outside, having a drink and
getting a nice amount of reading done.
Since it was so damp
after the rain, I did only a couple of short walks near my campsite, then fixed
dinner. I sat outside again till about 6, by which time it had
cooled down quite a bit, and went in for the evening.
The next morning there
was a bank of fog across the lake, but it soon spread out and
covered the entire area, keeping the temperature quite low, along
with my enthusiasm for walking around.
I sat outside and read a
while, then had breakfast and watched a movie, hoping the fog would
clear by the time I finished. There was still high fog over most
of the sky, but I set out to walk in an area of hills north of the
camp, dressed for cool weather. Of course, as soon as I got too far
to go back and change, the fog started to break up, and it got quite
The previous day I had
noticed an interesting rock formation, and that was my destination,
although I never quite got there. Instead I came across a trail,
obviously man-made, and decided to follow it. It had numbered posts,
indicating that it was a guided trail, but of course, by joining in
the middle I missed out on getting a copy of the trail guide. It
took me up and down hills, and at one point I noticed a mushroom
shaped rock, on a ridge above a section I had walked through
earlier. I determined to take a side trip to the rock on my way
back, but not long after that the battery in my camera ran down, and
I realized I would have to take a second hike later in the day.
The trail came out at a
parking area about a quarter mile from my camp, so I picked up a
trail guide and headed back to the motor home.
I had lunch, read a
little bit, changed the battery in my camera, and set out for
another good walk. I went back to the "official" trail
head, but walked the trail in the opposite direction of the guide
post numbers. I had a fairly good idea of where I should leave the
trail to find the mushroom rock, and I hit it right on target. Rocks
like this are not unusual, and are the result of erosion around the
base of a rock that happens to have a slightly harder material on
With the two longs walks
and a number of short ones, I estimate I walked between four and
five miles over the two days.
In the course of my
various walks I saw a lot of animal life. Cottontail rabbits are common in the area, as are their enemy, the red
tail hawk. When I see rabbits there, they are invariably
racing from one hiding place to another, and if it's more than a few
feet, they will run in a zigzag pattern, the better to elude predators.
Blue herons also stalk
majestically around the area, and the two that I saw were well
away from the water. On the trail I saw three tarantulas, all within
20 feet of each other, two on the first walk and one on the second.
I also saw one the last day, crossing the paved camp
Although the many rock
formations in the Sierra foothills are a normal habitat for lizards,
I saw only one during this trip. Heard but not seen each night was
an owl who had set up his evening observation post in a tree not far
from my camp.
Speaking of animals, this
area has some interesting habitat for small creatures. Since the
main activity of the Army Corps of Engineers is to rearrange nature,
they have even carried this so far as to create brush piles where
squirrels and rabbits can take cover. The first ones I saw, several
years ago, were piles of local brush that had been wired together,
to keep them from being hauled off to a campfire. Now they are
of unsold Christmas trees around in various parts of the area.
The newer ones are a bright, reddish brown, while older ones have
lost their needles completely, but can be readily recognized as
small fir trees, something that does not grow naturally at this
The final morning I got
up late, had a bloody Mary and read my book, had a leisurely
breakfast, and made the short drive back home, arriving about 1 p.m.
I enjoyed the trip so much that I am going to try to squeeze in
another visit there before bad weather sets in, so there may be a
part 2 to this report.
--Dick Estel, October
November 2, 2009: Here I
am, back at Hensley Lake once again. I enjoyed my outing here two
weeks ago so much that I decided I should return before wet, foggy
weather sets in.
A number of things are
different this time. First, I am older and wiser. At least, I know
for sure I get older every day, and I like to think I may also get
Although it's November,
it is much warmer, with temperatures predicted to be in the high
70s. On my walks today there was no thought of wearing a long sleeve
shirt, and in fact, I would have been comfortable in shorts. On the
second walk, I had to put on a dry T-shirt when I got back.
The grass, which got a
good start from our big rain three weeks ago, and a boost from the
small rain two weeks ago, is growing and starting to take over from
the dried stems of last year's crop.
Last time I went outside
several times at night, and had a dark sky filled with brilliant
stars. Now the moon is full, and many of the stars are washed out,
although the moon makes it bright enough to walk around without a
Daylight Savings Time
ended yesterday morning, so last night it was too dark to read
outside by 5 p.m. This makes for a long evening, but I have my
computer, my guitar, my DVDs, and my current books and magazines, so
I have more than enough to fill the time.
Despite all these
changes, one thing remains the same - the owl is still on duty, and
greets me with a inquiring "whooooo whooooo" when I step
I left home around noon
Sunday, and got here around 1 p.m., but didn't do any serious
walking yesterday. I had eaten a light breakfast and went to my
grandson's baseball game, so my main interest was dinner, which
consisted of pizza I picked up before leaving Clovis.
The rest of the day was
spent in reading, a couple of short walks, and my indoor activities,
with plans for a couple of long walks today.
Last time, when I stopped
at the dump station to empty my holding tanks, I noticed another
marked trail that takes off from that area, so that was my first
destination. This trail, known as the Shaw'-Shuck Trail, is probably
a half mile or less, and essentially just goes up a hill, around the
top of it, and back down. The name is the Miwok Indian word for
hawk, and there he
was, sitting in a tree right by the start of the
trail. As I approached he gave out his characteristic screech and
took off for another tree a few hundred yard distant.
Despite the short
distance of the trail, I spent a fair amount of time on this walk,
got very warm, and took a lot of pictures. Since the trailhead is at
least a quarter mile from my camp, I did get in a pretty long walk.
Back at camp I read a
while, took a nap, then set out for a long walk. This time I rode my
bike to the Pohonichi
Trail, the one I walked twice last time. (This
is another name for the southern Miwoks.) This time I walked the
trail in the "right" direction, clockwise, heading toward
signpost #1 and following the entire trail with only one brief
detour. This is a much more interesting trail, going up and down
over several ridges, winding through little valleys, and passing a
number of granite rock formations and the ubiquitous blue oaks. Along
this trail, and in a number of areas in the camp there are good
views of the Sierras, including 7,000 foot Signal Peak, which was
visible from the hill back of my boyhood home in Bootjack, and 8,000
Peak, above the San Joaquin River in Madera County.
I saw one rabbit and a
lot of lizards, as well as one or two more hawks, but no
tarantulas this time. I believe the warmer weather brings out the
lizards, but keeps the tarantulas hidden.
I got back to camp in time to have about an
hour of outside reading time, then came in for dinner,
guitar-playing, DVD watching, and writing this report.
November 3: The
good thing about camping less than 40 miles from home - you can loaf
around, do a few more camping things, and still get home early.
Usually on the "going home" day, I get up, eat breakfast,
pack up, and leave. Today, however, I started the day off just like
yesterday - exercise, a bloody Mary and some reading, and
After breakfast I got
things ready to go in a leisurely way, drove to the dump station,
and emptied the holding tanks. Then I drove the few hundred yards to
the Pohonichi trailhead, and did another good walk. I had wanted to
take a detour up on a ridge on the far side of the trail, and
thought about doing it yesterday, but I had already had plenty of
walking for the day.
I thought it might be
closer to go in the "wrong" way (counter clockwise on the
loop trail), but I realized it was pretty much at the mid-point of
the trail, so I re-traced my footsteps from yesterday, then headed
cross-country to make my way up the ridge.
Although there are only
two "official" trails, there are lesser trails all over
the area. Most foothill country has cow trails, which are usually at
least a foot wide, but this land has been off limits to grazing
since the 1970s. There are still lots of little
game trails, which tend to be about four inches wide. They don't
necessarily follow the easiest route, but they are a slight
improvement over wading directly into the weeds, and they are easy
to spot if you're used to looking for them.
With my side trip up and
over the ridge, I probably did at least a mile and a quarter today,
much of it uphill. It was close to 80 degrees, and when I got back
to the motor home, I had to change into dry clothes. Then I headed
back to Clovis, very glad that I had taken this second trip to
--Dick Estel, November