2018 Ramblers Hikes Page 1


The Ramblers are Carolyn Amicone, Julie Hornback, Wes Thiessen, Don McClellan, Sue Wirt, Elsa Sweeney, Ardyss Webster, and Dick Estel, former colleagues at the Fresno County Department of Social Services. Every month or so we get together for a short hike, good conversation, and lunch.

Photos         Related Links         More Travel Reports          2017 Hikes         2018 Part 2          2018 Part 3

River West          San Joaquin Gorge          San Joaquin Gorge Again


River West

2018 marks the fifth year of Rambler hikes, although we only did four hikes in 2014, with a three-month break between the first and second outings. Since then we have been out on the trail a total of 45 times, although one outing was mostly driving in the rain, with a quick jaunt on a trail for ten minutes between showers. The group has grown from the original four to the seven listed at the top of the page, with occasional guests. We almost never have more than four or five members on any one hike, but everyone gets in on a few trips each year. Dick and Wes can claim perfect attendance. 

For the first hike of 2018, Wes, Carolyn and Dick met at a shopping center in northwest Fresno on January 10, and walked down a pedestrian-only road to the San Joaquin River bottom, an area known as River West. The property has been controlled by the San Joaquin River Conservancy for 15 years, with the intention of developing an extension of the existing Lewis S. Eaton Trail. The delay has been mostly over where to allow access. The river bluffs are occupied by upscale shopping centers and homes, and the owners have resisted allowing access through their neighborhoods, or even the idea of such activities on public land within view of their property. Recently a decision was made to build the access road near where we parked at Palm and Nees Avenues, with the City of Fresno contributing financially to construction and maintenance. (Note: As this is written the website makes reference to several alternatives, but the vote has been taken and alternative 5b chosen.)

But all this was far from our minds as we descended the old road and began walking along the river among trees and bushes. First we went west or downstream, stopping to chat with two men who were fishing. 

Wes had scouted the area twice recently, once on his bicycle, and had noted that there are some homeless people in tents, usually almost hidden in clumps of brush. Although we saw one tent and a sign that said "sidewalk closed," the only people we encountered were fishermen and fellow hikers or joggers.

A short distance past the fishermen the "Sidewalk Closed" sign gave warning of a homeless camp area that did not welcome any disturbance. We took an alternate route, but soon found our way blocked by trees and brush, so went back toward the east. Eventually we came to a place where the trail goes all the way around a large pond, separate from the river. We took the clockwise route, eventually reaching a spot where we could see a dozen or so egrets along the bank or perched on old fence posts in the water. We took our group photo there, then turned back, but took a different road up the bank, one that ran parallel to our downward path. From here we had a nice overall view of the area below. For a few moments it looked like our way back to the shopping center was blocked by the fence that ran along the side of the road, but we came to a place where it had been cut apart, and we were soon back in "civilization."

By good fortune we were parked right in front of Popolo's Pizza, so we didn't have to use up any brain power deciding where to eat. They have a very reasonable  lunch special featuring a large pizza slice, with soup or salad as an option. "How large," you ask? Carolyn and I took half our pizza home with us.

Although we could have walked another mile or so by going all the way around the pond, we did manage a 2.2 mile hike, pretty much the norm for most Rambler hikes. Our only regret was that none of the other members of our group were able to join us. Wes summarized our adventure as follows:

On January 10 a small contingent of Ramblers braved the elements to explore River West, that part of the San Joaquin River west of Highway 41. We started this trek in a light mist with cold temperatures. But the rain soon dissipated and the temperature moderated to the extent we could remove our gloves. We followed the trail along the riverbank until we saw a large sign near a homeless encampment stating: "Sidewalk Closed". We had fun speculating where the homeless found or stole such a sign. We showed respect (or fear) of that encampment and turned around to walk east near a fishing pond. We found great promise in this area when developed as part of the larger Eaton Trail. But don't hold your breath, since the conservancy has owned this property for 15 years without movement. Who knows, we may live to see a beautiful riverbank below those towering bluffs. In the photos below we have tried to avoid the trash and deserted encampments to show you the amazing potential of this riverbank.

--Dick Estel, January 2018

River West Photos


San Joaquin River Gorge

Hiking - "I don't like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not hike! Do you know the origin of that word 'saunter?' It's a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, 'A la sainte terre,' 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them."

- John Muir

This is a philosophy enthusiastically embraced by the Ramblers, and whether our group be small or full strength, we like to move slowly through our surroundings, noting not only the giant trees and massive mountains, but the smallest flower or creature. Our latest outing was one with a small contingent, as Wes mentions in his post-hike email:

Some of you may have watched the television sitcom, Two and A Half Men. Today the Ramblers channeled that comedy with one of our own. Initially we planned for six Ramblers to participate in this hike. One by one this number was whittled down due to illness, disability or family commitment. In the end, it appeared just Dick and I would be hiking. But stepping in to save the day was five-year old Colton, Dick's great grandson. When I heard Colton would join us in the hike, I wondered if he could keep up with the adults. Halfway through the hike my thought changed to: "Will this old man be able to keep up with Colton?" He was like a trail blazing rocket man leading the way. At some point his tanks fell empty and he needed many rest stops to make it back to camp and a pizza lunch. Along the way Colton was very entertaining, marking a big X where hidden treasure could be found and giving orders about which trails to take. In short, our 2 and 1/2 man hike was a hoot!

It didn't rain during our hike but the sky was dark and threatening. The sun tried hard but couldn't quite shine through the clouds as you will see in some of the photo images. We were able to see small clusters of traditional wildflowers. But the predominate flower was found on the buck brush which was blooming everywhere.

I had driven up the previous day, and my daughter brought great grandson Colton who would spend two nights with me. Colton had hiked as far as the Big Burl during our Thanksgiving at the Gorge, but was willing to keep going past that point, especially since it required a creek crossing just down the hill. There was enough water that we had to step on rocks in the creek to get across, and Wes offered to help Colton, who was wearing tennis shoes. Colon scoffed at the idea and crossed with little trouble, instinctively using his hiking pole when he had a little difficulty.

In addition to declaring rest stops and marking buried treasure, he also decreed when it was time for our snack. Not long after that he decided he had gone far enough. Wes had already planned to continue on another mile or so, a practice we have been following on Ramblers hikes for the last few months, making the hike length comfortable for everyone.

As Wes headed up the trail, Colton and I started back. It would be a slightly longer return hike than going out, since Wes had driven from our camp to the trailhead, saving us about two tenths of a mile of road hiking. We went off the trail to explore a tree that had fallen across a fence, and generally took our time. As usual, Colton spent a lot of time whacking brush and poking trees and the ground with his hiking pole. At one point he picked up several fallen blue oak branches and hung them back on the tree. In fact, our progress was so leisurely that Wes caught up with us a few hundred yards from the end of the trail, so we were spared the extra walk and got a ride back to camp.

I had brought pizza, enough for the expected 3 or 4 Ramblers, and Wes provided a veggie tray, so when we got back to the motor home I heated the pizza and we had a nice lunch. The weather was cloudy but free from rain, and our only disappointment was that so many of our fellow hikers could not be with us.

(The complete report on our camping trip, including a version of this report, can be found on line here.)

--Dick Estel, March 2018

San Joaquin Gorge Photos


San Joaquin Gorge Again

The Ramblers have faced some adversity, causing us to miss hiking in March, and to be limited to a small contingent in April. However, those of us who were able to go had a great hike on the San Joaquin River Trail on April 26. Yes, this was the same location as our February hike, but of course, conditions were different.

We met at my house at 9 a.m. and Wes drove his Highlander to the parking area for the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area. Don has had some major health problems and is not able to hike, but wanted to come up and enjoy the outdoors, sitting under a shade tree at the parking area with a book. Unfortunately, when he woke up that morning, he was not up to the drive. So Sue, Wes and I set off under a sunny sky with the temperature probably in the high 60s, and an occasional breeze as the day warmed up.

The grass was still green, though signs of drying out were noticeable. The blue oaks, which were bright green with new leaves a month ago, have darkened to their summer shade that gives them their name.

Each month brings a different set of wildflowers in the foothills, so I was hoping to see some species that had been fairly thick when I hiked this trail in May of 2017. One of the more dramatic flowers is Athurial's Spear, a dark purple variety of brodiaea, but we did not see any. On the other hand, the yellow harvest brodiaea were blooming all along the trail, and we saw a few of the lighter purple brodiaea. The highlight, however, was a small but delightful display of Mariposa lilies, both yellow and white. I had not seen the yellow variation for 20 years or more until I spotted them at this location last year, and Wes and Sue did not recall ever seeing them. Mustang clover was also getting a good start, and most likely is even thicker on the Bridge Trail.

On most of our hikes, when the less ambitious among us are ready to turn back, Wes likes to go "just a little farther," so a little more than 3/4 mile in, Sue and I started back, while Wes continued on another quarter mile or so. Since he hikes faster when he doesn't have to match my slower pace, he caught up with us about half way back, and we enjoyed the final leg of the walk together.

There were a half dozen vehicles at the parking lot, but we didn't see anyone on the trail, indicating they had gone down the River Trail, or gone well beyond our farthest point.

Wes summarized our outing as follows:

Today the Ramblers may have taken the last "low land" hike of the season. The temperature is warming and the wildflowers are fading. But Sue, Dick and Wes found great joy in hiking about two miles along a green trail. We found some beautiful Mariposa Lilies in both white and yellow colors. In short, it was a good day.

Following another tradition for hikes at the Gorge, we stopped in Prather and enjoyed an excellent lunch at Velasco's Mexican Restaurant.

--Dick Estel, April 2018

San Joaquin Gorge Photos Part II


Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window) 
(Photos by Wes Thiessen and Dick Estel)


River West          San Joaquin Gorge         San Joaquin Gorge Part II


River West

Sign at the beginning of the road Eucalyptus have been planted among the native trees Part of Sycamore Island
Carolyn and Dick on the trail Erosion from high water has exposed these roots The message here is "stay out!"
Plants grow in a quiet pool separated from the river Leaves from the valley oaks in the river bottom carpet the ground Wes getting the perfect shot
Homes on the river bluff The egrets are not concerned about the politics of river access and preservation View of the river from the road back up the bluffs
The Ramblers: Wes, Carolyn and Dick
San Joaquin Gorge
Everything is nice and green here Wes goes off-trail to get a good shot Bright green buckeyes and the distant Sierra
Buck brush was in bloom everywhere Two and a half Ramblers Colton takes a break to call Dad

The sun trying unsuccessfully to break through the clouds

A winding section of the trail We kept a close watch on the dark clouds
There's been enough rain to get some green grass started Bracing to hold up the fence also holds up this fallen bull pine He is literally hanging fallen branches back on the tree
San Joaquin Gorge 2
The trail and Squaw Leap mountain Popcorn flowers in the grass Harvest brodiaea
Kennedy Table on the north side of the river Dick and Sue on the official Resting Log The Ramblers at the Big Burl
Mariposa Lily  They also come in yellow There were still some poppies along the trail
Wes and Sue on the trail A typical view along the trail

Related Links


River West

Lewis S. Eaton Trail San Joaquin River Conservancy

San Joaquin River Trail

San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area All my reports on hiking and camping at San Joaquin Gorge (Squaw Leap)

Velasco's Mexican Restaurant

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Updated January 19, 2019