Banner Peak in the Ritter Range

Cabin 17 - our mountain home

This is NOT a good passing spot

Mono Hot Springs Campout

 

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In both 2012 and 2013 my daughter Teri and grandson Mikie spent a week at Mono Hot Springs, deep in the Sierra on the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. This year I joined them for two nights.

The "official" way to get there is to follow state Highway 168 from the Fresno-Clovis metro area up  through the foothills and eventually to Huntington Lake, at 7,000 feet. From there you drive up and over Kaiser Pass at 9,100 feet, then on to your destination on a narrow, winding road. How narrow? It's a one-way road after the first few miles above Huntington. It's a three-hour drive, but the last 17 miles takes about an hour. From the end of the two-lane road (about five miles past the lake), I saw only one place where two cars could pass with both of them staying on the pavement. There are plenty of places for one car to pull off onto the shoulder, allowing the other car to barely squeeze by. There's no guarantee you'll meet the other car at one of these spots, which means that someone has to back up until they can get off the road. I have to wait five or ten years between trips up there, until I've forgotten just how bad the road really is. The top speed is usually about 15 MPH, although I was able to go 20 MPH a few places. Lots of places you need to slow down to 5 MPH or less. Blind curves, steep drop-offs, and rocky banks combine to make it the most challenging road I've ever driven. Needless to say, it's not recommended for motor homes, although some (foolish) people do take small travel trailers. I wouldn't even consider doing that. How narrow? It takes a 250 word paragraph to describe how narrow.

Regardless, the trip has its rewards. In several places there are views of the Silver Divide and parts of the Ritter Range. At the top of the pass are the graves of three dogs from Jerry Dwyer's sled dog team. Jerry delivered the mail throughout the winter months to the men working on construction of the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project in the 1920s. A one-mile dirt road leads up from the top of the pass to the White Bark Vista Point, where you get a dramatic view of the Silver Divide. This road is also the northern end of the Dusy-Ershim 4-wheel drive trail, considered the most difficult such road in the United States.

Just below the pass on the eastern side you go by a huge meadow, which is still very wet and bright green in early July. I camped in this area many years ago, and I remember it was cool enough that I had to sit in the sun while reading. During this trip it was 80 degrees at this location, just below 9,000 feet (the valley temperatures were reaching 110 each day during the week).

Throughout the trip you pass through evergreen forests that change from ponderosa pine and cedar at the lower elevations to red fir, lodgepole pine, juniper and Jeffrey pine higher up. And you get to experience ear-popping changes in elevation, from a few hundred feet in the valley, to 9,100 feet at the pass, then down to 6,500 at Mono Hot Springs.

About half way through the stressful, slow, one-lane section I realized that Sunday was not the best day to be going in, because a lot of people were coming out. It seemed that I never went more than two minutes before meeting another vehicle, and it was almost always I who had to back up, just because the most readily available turnouts were closer to me.

About 17 miles from Huntington the road divides, with the right fork going southeast to Florence Lake and the left going to Edison Lake. The Hot Springs resort and campground are about two miles from this junction toward Edison.

I got started from home about 9:30 on June 30, and arrived three hours later, just in time for a light lunch. Mikie went to the river to fish, and Teri headed for the swimming pool. I went with her to learn the layout of the area and to see the river. Although people swim anywhere in the river, there is one very good spot, which fishermen avoid, that is the main "swimming hole." While Teri cooled off, I walked back to the cabin and did some reading.

When Teri returned, we set out to see how Mikie was doing, walking along the road that parallels the river going downstream. We came to his favorite fishing spot, where he reported not much luck. While we were there, his lure got snagged, so he waded in to retrieve it. Teri soon followed to help him, and they ended up dragging out a large handful of tangled branches. The effort was worth it, since Mikie went after one lure and came out with three.

The National Hockey League draft was held that day, and Mikie's favorite team, the Colorado Avalanche, had the first overall pick. The two highest ranked players were considered pretty much even as to who was number one, so there was much speculation over who the team would choose. I took my iPad, hoping to get a signal, and Mikie had his iPhone. As it turned out, there was wi-fi at the store, so we walked over there to see what was going on. Once we got the connection, we were able to keep it at the cabin, so we checked in frequently during the afternoon as the draft progressed, something John Muir never contemplated as a wilderness activity.

Besides being a camping trip, we had decided this would be my Father's Day celebration and Teri's birthday dinner. She planned to barbecue the next day, so for our first night, we went to the River Rock Cafe, which proved to be a very good little restaurant. Although they did not serve fries, most dinners, including burgers, came with a trip to the salad bar, and it was as good as any salad bar I've seen except for Sweet Tomatoes.

The next day I got up around 8, did my morning exercises and went for a walk. I went out to the main road, about a quarter mile, mostly up hill, where I discovered that a number of people were camping away from the official campground. When I got back, I had a bloody Mary and read a while until breakfast time.

Teri fixed an excellent breakfast of bacon and potatoes, and after we cleaned up, everyone went their separate ways. Mikie went fishing, and Teri went for a long walk down a trail to  nearby Doris Lake, a little over a mile one way. I took a short walk around the back side of the resort, up into the rocks, and back out to the resort road, seeing a number of squirrels and chipmunks along the way. After I got back, a storm came in, but we had just a few light drops. However, when she returned, Teri said it had poured down where she was, and she got soaked. The weather was warm enough that this was not a problem, and she was dry by the time she got back.

I have been making popcorn the old fashioned way for about a year, and brought the equipment and ingredients, so we had an early afternoon snack, and everyone agreed with my finding that it's way better than microwave popcorn.

The rest of the afternoon was spent being fairly lazy. Mikie has become a big fan of Stephen King, and was reading It, an ambitious thousand-page project, so we all spent a lot of our time reading. In the evening Teri started the barbecue, and we had good steak dinner. Along with our steak, we all got a small sample of trout, caught by Mikie that same day (by the end of the week he had caught a total of 18, well below last year's harvest of 30).

Early that afternoon we had observed a lizard sitting on a rock outside the kitchen window. We kept checking back, and he stayed in that spot for at least three hours.

That night we were treated to a distant lightning show with plenty of thunder, but again with very little rain. Teri and I sat out on the porch and watched the show, but Mikie was still deeply immersed in the world of Stephen King.

I went out to look at stars during the night and discovered a fresh mound of dirt right by our doorstep, where a squirrel had been at work. There was no hole, and no sign of the little workman, so it was probably his clean-out tunnel, or adit as the hydro project builders would call it. (An adit in this case was a tunnel used to remove dirt and rock from the shafts that were drilled to carry water from the lakes to the power plants.)

The next morning everyone got up when they felt like it, and I again did my walk up to the main road. After a leisurely breakfast I started packing up, and got started for home around 11. Teri's mother was going to arrive later that day, bringing one of Mikie's buddies. Although it was warm and sunny when I left, there were dark clouds to the west, and I had a few miles of rain as I approached Kaiser Pass. It was hard enough that I had to set  the windshield wiper to continuous action for a while, but the main effect was to make it much cooler. Although it was no longer raining at the top of the pass, the ground there was very wet and there had obviously had a hard, quick storm.

Besides the nice cool conditions, there was another positive note - I met far fewer cars coming out, and for the most part, we seemed to meet in much better places. There was one time when the driver of a pickup coming in had to squeeze off the road, while his wife made sure he was not scraping the rocky bank, and I had to get my right wheels off the road next to a steep drop-off, but we made it, with probably three inches between our vehicles.

Farther down the road, below Huntington Lake, I had a few more drops of rain, so I held out the hope that it might be cooler at home. However, it was 85 degrees at Shaver Lake, 100 at Prather, and the temperature rose quickly after that, hitting about 105 by the time I got home.

Although the road is stressful and daunting, the surroundings make the journey worthwhile. The area is surrounded by huge granite boulders, with many species of trees and wildflowers. Sitting at the side of the cabin, we had a view of granite domes and peaks to the east.

The cabin was quite nice for such a remote location - not fancy, but a good size and well-equipped. It had two bedrooms, one with twin beds, and the couch was a fold-out futon. The kitchen was a separate room, with a wide entrance to the living room. There was a full-size refrigerator, and battery-operated lights; no other electrical power was available. The bathroom did not have a sink, so we washed in the kitchen. There are smaller cabins, which Teri and MIkie had last year, with a bathroom (including sink) and one large room for sleeping, living and cooking. The cabins are equipped with cooking utensils, dishes and silverware, and towels were provided.

When I'm gone I set my thermostat in the mid to high 80s so the house won't be unbearably hot when I return, but the unit won't run constantly. I brought it down to 80 as soon as I walked in, but four hours later it was only down to 84, and it stayed there to the point I was ready to call a repairman. However, after it got dark the temperature finally began to slowly drop, and it's been working fine since then. Apparently transferring all the hot air from a two-bedroom condo with vaulted ceilings on a 105 degree day takes a very long time.

There are some good pictures of the road here, despite a few inaccuracies; and here is the best information I could find on the dog team. This is another good summary of the hydro project, although the information on the dog grave location is wrong.

--Dick Estel, July 2013

 

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

 

Huntington Lake

Rancheria Falls above Huntington At the top of the pass
Huntington Lake Rancheria Falls above Huntington At the top of the pass
   
The graves are marked with piles of granite rock Panoramic view of meadow east of the pass
The graves are marked with piles of granite rock Panoramic view of meadow east of the pass
    
A section of the meadow The Silver Divide
A section of the meadow The Silver Divide
   
Getting close to the destination Arriving at the resort Store and registration office
Getting close to the destination Arriving at the resort Store and registration office
 
A featured menu item is buffalo burgers Teri floats on the old swimming hole Mikie's favorite fishing spot

A featured menu item is buffalo burgers

Teri floats on the old swimming hole

Mikie's favorite fishing spot
 
Hoping to catch a big one Going in to rescue his lure Mom helps Mikie retrieve his lure from a tangled branch
Hoping to catch a big one Going in to rescue his lure Mom helps Mikie retrieve his lure from a tangled branch
   
Triumph - three lures rescued One of the small cabins Cabin 17 - our mountain home
Triumph - three lures rescued One of the small cabins Cabin 17 - our mountain home
     
   
One of Teri's favorite activities Yes, this narrow trail is the main road in to Lake Edison Huge boulders make a dramatic backdrop to this meadow
One of Teri's favorite activities Yes, this narrow trail is the main road in to Lake Edison Huge boulders make a dramatic backdrop to this meadow
   
The dome visible from our cabin Mountains to the southeast A storm provides dramatic lighting
The dome visible from our cabin Mountains to the southeast A storm provides dramatic lightning
   
Junipers thrive in rocky areas Harsh winters keep the trees "pruned" Exposed roots across from our cabin 
Junipers thrive in rocky areas Harsh winters keep the trees "pruned" Exposed roots across from our cabin 
A perfect dining area for squirrels Wild roses grow in hedges all around the resort Dramatic blossoms like this add to the experience
A perfect dining area for squirrels Wild roses grow in hedges all around the resort Dramatic blossoms like this add to the experience
   
Teri's birthday gift - just like the lunch box she carried on the first day of school Mikie checks the latest NHL draft results Squirrels and chipmunks abound in the area
Teri's birthday gift - just like the lunch box she carried on the first day of school

Mikie checks the latest NHL draft results

Squirrels and chipmunks abound in the area
 
Lizard poses on the pavement River crossing just south of the turn-off to the resort This is NOT a good passing spot
Lizard poses on the pavement River crossing just south of the turn-off to the resort This is NOT a good passing spot
 
Banner Peak in the Ritter Range Panorama of the Ritter Range
Banner Peak in the Ritter Range Panorama of the Ritter Range
 
Related Links
 
Mono Hot Springs Camp Florence Lake Edison Lake
Big Creek Hydro Project More about the project Huntington Lake
White Bark Vista Point Dog Team White Bark Vista Point Photos
Kaiser Pass Road More about the area California's worst roads
High Sierra Pack Station Highway 168 Jeffrey pine
 
Getting close to the destination

Mountains to the southeast

One of Teri's favorite activities

 
Travel Reports
   
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Before 2002
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1961 Monterey Jazz Festival Bluegrass Odyssey
   
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2002
Journey of 2002 (Ohio & Back) Logandale & Utah Parks 2002
   
2003
Arizona & Bluegrass on the River 2003 Grand Canyon & Logandale Bluegrass 2003
Parkfield & Huck Finn 2003 Early Frog Camps (2003-2005)
   
2004
Paso Robles & Parkfield 2004 Road Trip 2004 (Ohio & Back)
Bullhead City Bluegrass, Mesa, Superstition Bluegrass 2004 Bluegrass in the Foothills 2004
   
2005
Arizona-Southern California 2005 Huck Finn Bluegrass 2005
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Parkfield Bluegrass 2005    
   
2006
Huck Finn Bluegrass 2006 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2006
Rock Creek Non-Camp Stargazer Rock Camp 2006
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Bluegrass in the Foothills 2006    
   
2007
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    
   
2008
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     
   
2009
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
2010
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
   
2011
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
    
2012 
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
  
2013
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
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   
 
2015
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
  
2016
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
     
2017
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)
Other
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Butch's Blog Walker Family Trips
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Updated July 13, 2017