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.
"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
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
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.
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
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
returned, we set out to see how Mikie was doing, walking along
the road that parallels the river going downstream. We came to his
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.
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.
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 (sadly now permanently closed by the Covid-19 pandemic).
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.
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
The rest of
the afternoon was spent being fairly lazy. Mikie has become a big
fan of Stephen King, and was reading It,
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).
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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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
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.
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
some good pictures of the road here,
despite a few inaccuracies. This
is another good summary of the hydro project, although the
information on the dog grave location is wrong. Specific information
about the dog team is available in a
book which may not be available any longer.
Estel, July 2013; reviewed and updated November 2020