Stacked boulders and yellow flowers

Dick's Spring 2014 Hikes


Photos          Related Links          More Travel Reports


Stockton Creek Preserve          San Joaquin River Trail          San Joaquin Gorge

Millerton Lake          Sycamore Creek          Buena Vista Peak Again


Stockton Creek Preserve: This is a short report about a short hike on a trail we discovered by accident.

On March 22 my daughter Jennifer and I went to Mariposa to do some maintenance on my parents' and grandparents' graves. This was a quick project, so we decided to do a short hike. There is a dirt road that goes from Highway 140, about a mile out of town toward Yosemite, to the town reservoir. It's not open to the public for vehicle use, but has been a favorite walk for people in Mariposa for a long time.

When we arrived at the road we found new signs, indicating that the trail started about 1/4 mile in. We then came to a sign with a map showing the route of a new trail through what is now known as the Stockton Creek Preserve. Just past the sign the trail goes uphill from the road, then turns to parallel the road around the contour of the mountain.

In this area a strip about 100 yards wide has been cleared, part of a plan to restore native vegetation, reduce erosion, and limit fire danger. The trail runs through the center of this strip.

This upper trail closely follows the 2500 foot elevation contour line, dropping to 2400 feet at the town water treatment facility. The lower trail loops back, staying close to 2100 feet. We did not go very far on the upper trail, so we only saw the lower section where it rejoins the upper, but I suspect it follows the old dirt road that runs from the treatment plant to the dam. This is just above my parents former home, and I've walked on that road many times.

We decided this would be an excellent trail for a more extensive walk during cool weather. The section we were on had gentle ups and downs, and the map shows that the entire trail should be similar.

Perhaps as a reward for our hard work and diligent exercise, when we got back to Jennifer's home near Oakhurst, her husband Rod was preparing to barbecue hamburger, and had hors d'oeuvres  ready for us.

Stockton Creek Preserve Photos

--Dick Estel, March 2014


San Joaquin River Trail: After driving to Oakhurst and Mariposa and hiking with my daughter, I realized I needed to get into the foothills a few more times while the flowers are still blooming. Therefore on March 25 I got up, put on my boots, grabbed my cell phone and a big bottle of water, and headed for the Finegold Picnic Area on Millerton Lake. This is the western starting point of the San Joaquin River Trail, which goes eleven miles to the San Joaquin River Gorge Management Area.

I've written about this trail and my hikes here before, so I won't go into the location or description, which is covered in my previous report.

To get the day off to a good start, as I was driving up Auberry Road, about ten miles from town into the foothills, I saw a large bird fly over the road and land on the other side. I realized that it was a wild turkey, and then saw about six more in the field near the road. I've seen them a number of times in the foothills, but had never seen them doing their fan tail display, part of their "spring fling" behavior.

The last part of the route to Finegold, Sky Harbor Road, goes along a fairly steep slope above Lake Millerton. This area was starting to dry out and there weren't many flowers. But once I got on the trail, I saw and photographed around a dozen species. These included baby blue eyes, lupine, fiddleneck, popcorn flowers, miner's lelttuce, blue DIck, filaree, chaparral, and at least three unknown species.

The trail is pretty much all up hill the first hour, and once I get to the top of the ridge where it levels off, I don't have the ambition to go farther, so my usual habit is to rest a while and head back down.

The weather was excellent - cool enough that I did not get too hot hiking, warm enough to get by with jeans and a long sleeve T-shirt. I did get a little "hot-headed" since I wear a cap to keep the sun out of my eyes, but going back down the trail the sun was at my back, and I was able to leave the cap off the entire way.

When I first got to the parking area, there was one other car; when I got back, there were nine. I saw over a dozen people on the trail, including three who were riding their bikes up the steep grade, and a group of men and women who were jogging up the trail.

My total round-trip walking time was an hour and 50 minutes. My goal is 30 minutes a day, five days a week, and since August I have met or exceeded that amount, with an average of 41 in February. The longer hikes make it possible to take a day off, which I often need to do the day after a longer walk.

In the interest of having less to carry, I decided to use this hike to test the camera in my new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 phone. I'm still learning how to take advantage of its many features, but it seemed to work fairly well. I still prefer my Nikon because of the optical view finder, a necessity for me for outdoor photos.

This trail is part of what is intended to be an 80-mile route from Highway 99 on the west side of Fresno to the eastern slope of the Sierra. Various segments exist, including the section from Sky Harbor to the San Joaquin Gorge. Be aware that many of the web pages mentioning this trail focus on bike riding. It's a delightful walk from either end, but I have no hope of ever completing the entire segment unless I can do it three miles at a time, with a helicopter ride to my starting and ending points.

San Joaquin River Trail Photos

--Dick Estel, March 2014


San Joaquin Gorge: On April 7, for the third time in 2014, I found myself on the trails at the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area. This time it was for day hiking, and I was joined by a former co-worker, Carolyn Amicone.

The weather has been warming up, so we got started from Clovis around 9 a.m., in order to complete our hiking before it got too hot. As we drove east on Highway 168, the air was clear, and the lighting was such that every ridge and hill of the Sierra foothills stood out in a different shade of blue from the one behind it.

I usually take Auberry Road when going to the Gorge, so we got to enjoy some different scenery on 168. There weren't many wildflowers along the roads in the valley, but as we gained elevation, we saw more and more blossoms, especially fiddlenecks.

Once we got to the parking area and paid our fee, we took the nature trail, with hopes of completing my photo documentation of the plant species described by the signs along the trail. The main thing I am missing is a good photo of buckeye in bloom, and it turned out that the blossoms on this tree were just getting started, so I need to try one more time in the near future.

It was Carolyn's first visit to this area, and she enjoyed the walking and the flowers. She also liked our next stop, the visitor center, which is excellent despite being shamefully under-utilized. Brenda, the woman I met in January, said they get only about ten visitors a week.

I described the main features of the center in my January report, so I won't get into it again, but if you're ever in the area, don't miss this fine facility. It's open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

After leaving the visitor center, we drove to the main parking lot and started walking on the San Joaquin River Trail. This eleven-mile stretch of the trail ends at Sky Harbor on Millerton Lake, but of course, we just walk till we feel we've walked half as much as we want, then turn back.

We made it to the blue oak with the huge burl, which I wanted Carolyn to see. There are many oaks and other trees with burls, but this is one of the biggest I've seen. Just past the tree, off the trail, were some rocks where we sat to rest, and we discovered several bedrock mortars there.

Like many trips, the walk back seemed shorter than the walk in, but we were ready to switch to tennis shoes and relax on the drive back to the city. When we arrived at Clovis, we went to El Pueblito Mexican restaurant, which we'd both enjoyed a number of times in the past.

San Joaquin Gorge Photos

--Dick Estel, April 2014


Millerton Lake Trail: Only two days later my next door neighbors, Bob and Alice, joined me on another nice walk, this time in the low foothills at Millerton Lake. They walk about an hour every day, but had been doing all their walking around the neighborhood. A few weeks ago I introduced them to the Clovis trail system, and they agreed that these walks were an improvement over sidewalks and streets.

They had never been to Millerton Lake for any purpose, so again I had the pleasure of showing people something they had not seen before. Since we planned to stop for lunch in Friant after our hike, I drove out Auberry Road to Millerton Road, so we would have a loop drive and the maximum possible scenery.

The hike is the same one I took in January, the South Bay Trail (also known as the Blue Oak Trail). We drove about two miles into Millerton State Park, just before the road ends, and got on the trail about 10:15 a.m. Although the high was expected to be 90 that day, we had a nice breeze much of the time, and since we finished our hike around noon, it was probably just above 70.

Since I described the area in my earlier report, I won't repeat that part. Bob and Alice very much enjoyed seeing some country they had not been to previously, and we worked up a good appetite. We headed for the Dam Diner in Friant, but it was closed. There was a sign saying "closed for winter; we will re-open in green spring." Since green spring is already close to getting brown, who knows when or if the place will be open again (it never did).

Not far away was a Pizza Factory, a very good chain restaurant that is found in many small towns. I've eaten in three of or four of them, and this one was good, like the others. Bob and I had an excellent sandwich, while Alice, due to dietary limitations, brought her own. We sat outside on a shaded patio with a nice view of rose bushes, green hills beyond, and very pleasant weather.

After lunch we continued west on Friant Road to Willow Avenue, which led us back to Clovis, having hiked close to two hours, covering about 3 1/2 miles

Millerton Lake Photos

--Dick Estel, April 2014

Sycamore Creek:

This was another of those day trips that I wasn't planning to write about, but as usual, in the end I could not resist.

I set out on April 29 with two goals in mind: To photograph some buckeye blossoms at their peak, and to walk enough to get my daily exercise. I considered three different destinations. The route to Nelder Grove would take me through a cluster of buckeyes along Highway 41 above Oakhurst, and would end with a walk in the redwoods, but I really didn't want to drive the 60-mile one way trip. One of the photos would end up on my San Joaquin Gorge photo album, so it would be nice to actually take the photo there, but after three visits, I was ready to go somewhere else.

Eventually I settled on the Blue Canyon Road, which runs along Big Creek, and starts where the creek runs into Pine Flat Reservoir. I wrote about a trip to this area a year ago.

After a good breakfast, I drove south through the city and turned east on Belmont Avenue, which goes through miles of farm land, and becomes Trimmer Springs Road as it approaches the Kings River and the foothills. This road then winds into the foothills, over a ridge, and runs along the north shore of the lake and past its upper end.

Only a short distance into the hills past the hamlet of Piedra I came to an area where there were several different bunches of buckeye trees by the road, so I stopped twice and got the photos I wanted. If you know anyone who needs a bunch of buckeye blossom pictures, I can provide you with about a dozen.

At this point I decided to shorten my drive a little, and walk in the area of Sycamore Creek. There are two large tributaries that run into the lake from the north, creating long, narrow branches of the lake, and requiring the road to go up these canyons a mile or more from the main lake. Big Creek is the farthest, and the road beside it goes up to around the 3,000 foot elevation to join Highway 168 below Shaver Lake.

There is an old paved road along Sycamore Creek, but access is blocked, so I thought it would make a good hiking trail. There is another dirt road that runs parallel to the creek and paved road, about 200 feet in elevation up the canyon, and I had walked in on this road a short distance a number of years ago.

I decided to hike this road, which starts a quarter mile past the creek, hoping it might drop down to the other road and allow me a loop trip. This would be a mixed blessing, since the walk from the creek back to my car was up hill in the sun.

The dirt road is blocked by four stout posts, and even when open was only usable with a 4-wheel drive vehicle. The posts only create a challenge, and adventurous drivers have simply created a new route on the steep slope around the posts. The first hundred feet or so is very steep, and I had trouble believing that I had walked up it with a chain saw and cut firewood about 25 years ago, throwing heavy chunks of live oak down that hill two or three times till they got close enough to carry to my truck.

Once I got up this section, the road was the kind of trail I prefer, with sections of up and down, but never too much of either, and nothing very steep.

The vegetation here is mostly bull pines, interior live oak, some blue oak, and lots of brush and shrubs of various types. The grass is starting to dry out, but it's still green overall in most areas.

Although it is pretty much the end of spring in this part of California, there were still quite a few wild flowers, mostly scarce remnants of those that bloom earlier, but a few that are late bloomers. The most profuse blossoms were "farewell to spring," which were thick along the road, although absent from my hiking area.

I made note of various plants and flowers that I observed as follows: Hiking area: Baby blue eyes, fiddlenecks, lupines, and popcorn flowers, all at the very end of their time; filaree, milkweed, yerba santa (a shrub), unidentified little yellow flowers, and wild cucumber. Unlike some wild plants with "food" names, these are not edible, but produce a large, prickly seed pod which dries up after popping open at the bottom to release the seeds. Even those that were still green had opened up.

Along the road I saw farewell to spring in great profusion, a daisy-like flower, gold cups (a variety of poppy), unidentified tall thistle-like plant, purple vetch, purple brodieia, Mariposa lily, a plant with leaves in a circle at the ground and a tall stalk with flowers on the sides, and of course, buckeyes.

Wild life included a dead snake in the road (once alive), and lots of birds, including a turkey buzzard that flew up from the road as I came around a corner. I didn't get a good look at it, but it landed in a tree close to the road. It did not look like a hawk, and I hoped it might be an eagle, so I turned around and went back, then turned again, and saw what it was. It landed on a rock about 20 feet from the road and stayed there while I took photos. From the aroma on the air, he was dining on a tasty dead skunk. I also got a good look and a pretty good photo of a woodpecker along the trail.

I'm going to claim that I walked about a mile on the dirt road, because that's what the step-counter app on my smart phone said. However, I think it calculates mileage based on the number of steps, with no allowance for the fact that some steps are longer and some shorter. I take very short steps on steep terrain, and went down the side of the hill a ways from the road to photograph the cucumbers, so my actual mileage may have varied. In any case, I walked a little under an hour total, including stops to rest and take pictures.

I did not find a way down to the old paved road, which proved to be a good thing. I stopped at the bridge to walk in a ways on that road, and it is blocked with fallen trees and brush much worse than the dirt road. There were trails to bypass the blockages, but they were narrow and required ducking under brush and scrambling over fallen logs. I considered this part of the trip educational, and I did get a good shot of the bridge.

From this point I drove back to Clovis with only a couple of quick stops, and went to the Colorado Grill for one of their excellent spicy chicken sandwiches before heading back home, a round trip of about 90 miles.

Sycamore Creek Photos

--Dick Estel, May 2014


Back to Buena Vista Peak: This hike was scheduled for May 20, but a few days before that, the weather forecast was for scattered thunderstorms all over central California. Since our destination was an exposed granite dome, and the temperature was to be in the 40s, a postponement was in order. This seems to be par for this hike; Carolyn and I went there in November, having been delayed from October by the government shutdown.

This time we had a group of four, all retired from the Fresno County Department of Social Services. I'd hiked separately with Wes Thiessen and Carolyn Amicone before, but it was my first time to have Julie Hornback along. Retired we may be, but we are all ambitious enough to handle a two-mile round trip hike at 6,000 feet elevation. Wes is actually capable of much more, but with ten years on all the others, it's getting to be more of an effort for me.

Wes acted as chauffer, picking each of us up, and we were on the road by 9 a.m. on May 26, Memorial Day Monday. From Carolyn's house we drove south through what used to be farm land, but is now houses for a long ways, until we reached State Highway 180, the route into Kings Canyon and Sequoia Parks. The trail head is on the General's Highway, between the parks and about five miles south of the Grant Grove area. We arrived there some time between 10 and 10:30 and headed up the hill. The trail is moderately steep in a few places, but for the most part winds gently around the dome to the southern side, where it makes a fairly straight rise to the top.

The trail web site warns about a place where it's easy to get off the real trail and get on what looks like a trail, but which dead ends at a rock wall at the northern base of the mountain. I should have reviewed this information as a refresher, but having navigated the route when it was half covered in snow, I assumed that I was an expert. In fact, I have a sort of good excuse - we started seeing wild flowers just a few feet into our hike, and had counted at least ten different varieties by the time we came to a big log that we had to go around. Paying more attention to the flora than the terrain, I went to the right instead of the left, which as we observed coming down, was clearly marked with rock cairns.

It was actually a pleasant side trip; it took us up near the top of a ridge where we got a nice cooling breeze flowing up the mountain, and we only had to walk about 100 yards cross-country, down hill through fairly easy terrain, to get back to the trail.

The rest of the walk went off with no problems, and we arrived at the top ready to rest and enjoy the view, the breeze, and a snack. There were two other hikers there who took photos of us with Wes's camera, and he set up a tripod to get some other shots. The top is at least an acre in size, with several large boulders. To reach the very highest point, you  need to climb on one of these, but access is difficult for older people, so we settled for being right next to the top. I studied the two routes that could be used to get up on the highest boulder, and decided that I could have easily done it 20 years ago. Wes did go out on a rock near the edge of the drop off, and we accused him of acting like a 14-year old as I took some photos of him.

The view from the top is a full 360 degree vista, with the mountains around Alta Peak to the south east, and Big Baldy, a rocky dome that marks the end of ridge about a mile away to the south. Directly east and nearby is Buck Rock with a fire lookout on the top, and farther away to the northeast is a range of snow-covered peaks in the Kings Canyon backcountry. Directly north you are looking at 10,000 foot Spanish Mountain, which plunges 7,000 feet to the bottom of the Kings River below, making the deepest canyon in North America. The westerly view looks down on Redwood Mountain and Redwood Canyon, the site of one of the largest stands of giant sequoias in existence, with over 2,000 trees that are over ten feet in diameter. Beyond this is the San Joaquin valley, shrouded in a purple haze. We tried not to think about the fact that this stuff is what we are breathing every day.

After a half hour or so we began our trip back down. A little below the top is a long, flat ridge, and the trail from there to the top is not really obvious, but not hard to find. Coming back down from the top to the ridge there are several routes that look like the trail, but only one of them really is. We discovered this by the simple process of taking the wrong one first.

The walk down was pleasant, usually with a breeze, but of course, we had to be careful on the few steep spots, so it was not fast. When we reached the car we calculated that we had enjoyed a three-hour hike, going about three miles when you add in the wrong paths and wandering that we did.

After changing out of our hiking boots, and enjoying some cold bottled water that Wes had thoughtfully brought along, we drove to the Grant Grove Village area and went to the restaurant. Because it was the last day of the Memorial Day weekend, they were out of many things, including French fries, which forced us to have a healthy salad with our sandwiches. The waitress told us that when the concessionaire first got the contract, they had to agree not to serve any deep fried foods. This resulted in servers being subjected to verbal abuse by unhappy customers, and the policy was soon changed. We agreed it would be almost easier to take away people's guns than to take their French fries.

After enjoying our lunch, we started the drive back to the valley. With a constant flow of conversation, the ride went quickly. When we made our first stop, to drop off Carolyn, we were a bit shocked to open the car doors and be hit by the valley heat of 100 degrees. We agreed we'd like to get back to cooler elevations for another hike soon.

Buena Vista Photos

--Dick Estel, May 2014


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

Stockton Creek Preserve          San Joaquin River Trail          San Joaquin Gorge

Millerton Lake          Sycamore Creek          Buena Vista Peak


Stockton Creek Preserve


Spring Beauty Jennifer by the trail sign Where the lower loop comes
back in to the upper trail
Old post and barbed wire    Another unidentified foothill plant Buttercups by the trail

San Joaquin River Trail

Turkeys on parade Miner's lettuce A closer look
Fiddleneck blossoms Along the trail Chaparral blossoms
Blue Dick Bush lupine Once "unknown," we now
know this is a phecelia
Daisies and fiddlenecks Filaree With a dry year, the lake barely
reaches into Finegold Creek
Bush lupine on the ridge Guardian pines on the ridge top Male bull pine cones
San Joaquin River Gorge
Miner's lettuce after seed formation Buckeye tree with blossoms
just getting started
Close-up of buckeye blossoms
Mustang clover Carolyn by the big burl Bedrock mortars near the burl oak
Sierra panorama from State Highway 168 east of Clovis
Millerton Lake
Blue oaks and boulders
above the South Bay trail
A hillside of fiddlenecks Ancient dead blue oak
makes an arch over the trail
Hikers heading west A beautiful green drainage
near the start of the trail
Bob and Alice
   Dick on the trail   
Sycamore Creek
Valley of Hughes Creek Where the road rises up
from Hughes Creek to the
ridge above Pine Flat
Wildflower gone to seed
Typical "candle" appearance
of buckeye blossoms
A closer look Turkey vulture next to
Trimmer Springs Road
Farewell to Spring Wild cucumber vine Drying wild cucurmber seed pod
Some non-typical open terrain on my walk Trimmer Springs bridge
over Sycamore Creek
Woodpecker on a branch
Who can identify this plant? Milkweed in bloom Athurial's spear
Valley and foothills below Trimmer Springs Road
Not the end of the road, but the end of my walk
Buena Vista Peak
   (photos by Dick Estel and Wes Thiessen)
Ready to get going: Wes,
Julie, Carolyn, Dick
Wes investigates an
interesting flower cluster
Stacked boulders and yellow flowers
Julie and Wes stop for pictures Carolyn always found a shady
spot during our rest stops

Plenty of boulders
and trees along the trail

Snow plants Pussy paws Western wall flower
Wes among the flowers Julie by the trail Kings Canyon and Sierra Nevada
back country peaks above
The top of the mountain

Wes channels his inner 14-year old

We made it!
Looking down into Redwood Canyon

Buck Rock has a fire lookout on top

Mountains in the Alta Peak area
A typical section of the trail Another view of Buck Rock Heading down hill
Related Links
Stockton Creek Preserve Millerton Lake San Joaquin River Trail
Hiking the Trail Trail Map San Joaquin River Trail Council
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 San Joaquin River Gorge Two other hikes from Finegold
El Pueblito Mexican Restaurant Four SJ Gorge Hikes in 2012 A Previous Millerton Hike
San Joaquin Gorge Camping Pizza Factory Sycamore Creek
Pine Flat Reservoir Buckeye Trees Piedra
Nelder Grove Kings River Conservancy Kings River
Buena Vista Trail Generals Highway More Buena Vista Photos
Grant Grove Restaurant Grant Grove Village Buck Rock Fire Lookout

Bush lupine on the ridge

Valley of Hughes Creek

Wes channels his inner 14-year old

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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
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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)
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Adventures of 2016 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2016 Page 1
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Adventures of 2017 Part 4 Hiking and Hockey
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Adventures of 2018 Part 4 Parkfield Bluegrass 2018
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Utah National Parks Rambler Hikes 2019 Page 3
Adventures of 2019 Part 3 Parkfield Bluegrass 2019
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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 May 2, 2023