2024 Rambler Hikes Page 1

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Tesoro Viejo          Blue Oak Trail


Tesoro Viejo

Tesoro Viejo - "old treasure." The treasure in this edge-of-the-foothills area is land - previously land for cattle ranching and vineyards. Now a good portion of it is land for that invasive species, houses. Houses priced from "the mid 400 thousands," but jammed as close together as any neighborhood in the city. Fortunately, there are still a lot of acres devoted to ranching, and the old dirt access roads are open to hikers and bicycle riders.

The starting point is the City Center, just east of Highway 41 a few miles north of Fresno and the San Joaquin River that marks the border between Fresno and Madera Counties. Besides a large parking lot, the Center includes a visitor center, restaurant, fire station and sheriff sub-station. We've enjoyed several hikes t here, and did so once again on January 9th. We were ten strong, more than half of us visiting the place for the first time. We had two new members who had a good time and plan to go with us again, Susan Silveira and Laurie Fitzgerald, who knew Wes from years ago on the valley's west side. After being absent for several months, Carolyn Amicone made a rare and welcome appearance. Other more regular members of the group were Wes Thiessen, Don Bandoni, Ardyss Webster, Sue Wirt, Bruce and Susan Vasquez, and Dick Estel. Don McClellan joined us for lunch after our outing.

After parking at the City Center, we drove in three cars about two miles on mostly dirt roads to the Kissing Gate, which marks the start of our hike. (Wes will have more to say about the gate later.)

All the hikers except Wes Cultivated fields and open land below the trail, near the river

The predicted high was a chilly 52, and even cooler for our 10:30 start time, but it was sunny and very comfortable, and I'm pretty sure it was warmer than the forecast. Most hikers wore only one outer layer, and those who went with more took them off or wanted to.

Recent rains have brought forth new green grass all over the hills, but the flowers have yet to appear. The scenery does not include a lot of trees by the trail, but there are many rock outcroppings, and as the trail rises up from the flat land below, impressive canyons appear, leading down to the San Joaquin River, a short distance south and a few hundred feet below our route.

Ramblers on the trail One of the rocky drainages south of the trail


Although the City Center is in flat San Joaquin Valley territory,  the dirt road to the trailhead rises up slightly, and the trail itself goes up and down in what is decidedly hill country. To the north of the area are table top hills, with rocky tops of cemented river gravel (natural, not man-made), and similar outcroppings line the trail and the drainages that lead off toward the river. The river came into view about half way through the walk, and the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountains were visible to the east.

Starting the steep climb back up from the river Another mini-canyon lined with rocks
consisting of cemented river gravel

About eight tenths of a mile from the start of the trail, it goes down fairly steeply to the river. Sue and I chose to take advantage of a bench at this point, while the rest of our group made their way down the hill, where they were rewarded with the sight of a large slab of granite with an array of Indian grinding holes, also known as bedrock mortars. These were also in evidence in the cemented gravel rock near where Sue and I rested.

The original residents processed acorns here Ardyss prepares to leave Sue and Dick at the resting bench

Sue and I discussed many things while we rested, and probably solved a few of the world's problems, if the world would just take our advice. Soon we saw the rest of our group making their way back up the hill. From where we waited we could see some of the large, fancy homes on "Pill Hill," so called because a number of doctors live there. This area pre-dates and is not part of the Tesoro Viejo housing tract.

We got back to the City Center and headed for the AXIS Coffee Bar & Eatery, where we found Don McClellan waiting for us. Don loves to hike, but has had mobility issues for some time. We enjoy his company and are always happy when he can be part of our outing.

We had an excellent lunch at the "eatery," sitting outside to enjoy the mid-50s sunshine.

A house on Pill Hill Ramblers at lunch: Dick, Don McClellan, Ardyss, Bruce,
Susan V, Wes, Carolyn, Don B, Laurie, Susan S, Sue W

I'll let Wes provide his perspective:

The start of 2024 found the Ramblers at it again, this time hiking the hill country of Madera County . Although houses by the hundreds are being built every day on the north side of the river, we found prairie land open for the wandering. Ten of us climbed into three SUV's to travel dirt roads to the Kissing Gate and the start of our hike. I have no idea why it's called the Kissing Gate since you are not required to lock lips to enter. Although we might try it sometime (LOL) The two-mile (round trip) hike lead us up to an overlook of the San Joaquin River . Some of us continued the hike down to the river itself to walk among the native grinding holes.

 We had to take care since the cattle had left piles of cow pies hidden under fallen leaves. Some of us stopped to talk with a modern-day cowboy tending the herd of 150 "doggies." No, he wasn't riding a horse nor carrying a six shooter. In fact, he was mounted on a quad ATV, accompanied by his faithful dog. He was carrying a roll of barbed wire for fence mending.

  Walk with us in this two-minute video on the lone prairie. But watch out for that gooey cow pie!.

Wes & Dick, January 2024

More Photos

Blue Oak Trail
(All photos by Wes Thiessen)

DICK: This was the hike that refused to be canceled. We're having another very wet winter; not like last year but close. So as hike dates approach, we obsessively check the weather forecast. On the preceding weekend, February 7 looked good, but each day's forecast kept getting worse. Finally, the day before, I officially canceled the hike.

Even so, a few Ramblers decided to chance it. I thought, "when they are a mile out from the trailhead and it starts to pour, I will laugh and laugh." I should have kept these thoughts to myself, but no, I had to email Wes. With just a very brief tiny sprinkle, the five undaunted Ramblers had the last laugh. Sue didn't go as far as the others and didn't experience any rain. Of course, I was actually glad for them.

WES: The 7th was a lucky day for the five of us who hiked the Blue Oak Trail at Millerton Lake this past Wednesday. I don't follow numerology but perhaps 7 is the perfect number. The forecast was for heavy rain throughout the day. Leader Dick wisely cancelled the hike for the protection of the group. He then private messaged a few of us saying "if you like getting caught in the rain, go for it." And so we did, finding little wind or rain. In fact, it was the perfect day of hiking. Here is the first image we saw getting out of our vehicles.

Millerton Lake, near the trailhead Rising and lowering water levels create parallel lines in the sand

DICK: We've hiked the Blue Oak Trail a number of times, most recently in January  of last year. It runs parallel to the lake's high water line, and goes to a marina at Winchell Cove, another place to access the trail. On one of our hikes, we placed cars at both ends of the trail to avoid having to double back, but this eats up a lot of time, and we have not repeated this approach.

A rocky shoreline Dramatic clouds above a driftwood-filled cove

The five adventurous Ramblers were Wes Thiessen, Sue Wirt, Don Bandoni, and Bruce and Susan Vasquez. Wes's photos show them as happy hikers under the cloudy-bright skies.

WES: This was an "out and back" hike of near three miles. We practically had the lake to ourselves. We all walked as far as desired in such a peaceful paradise. Hike with us of a few minutes and enjoy this relaxing trail. The background music is the theme song of the Ramblers.

Sue, rambling Susan in purple
Bruce is happy to be out on the trail Don pauses and poses

DICK: Although a bit less adventurous than he used to be, Wes still managed to find a safe perch for the traditional "Wes on the Rock" photo, that goes back well before the formation of the Ramblers. Also in keeping with tradition, the hikers built up an appetite, which they satisfied at the Blue Oak Grille at the nearby Table Mountain Casino.

At last - Wes on the rock! Lunch at the Grille - Wes, Sue, Susan, Bruce, Don

Did I regret not joining my fellow Ramblers on this hike? Only a little bit. I've hiked this trail a number of times, with the Ramblers, with other friends, and by myself. Although there is always something new on every hike, I felt comfortable missing this one.

--Wes & Dick, February 2024

More Photos







Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window)
(Photos by Wes & Dick)
Tesoro Viejo         Blue Oak Trail
Tesoro Viejo
Wes and Carolyn pose by the sign So do Laurie, Susan S, Susan V, Bruce and Don B Making the steep climb back up from the river
Some local residents The view from the trail
(Friant Dam in extreme right center)
It's OK folks, they're married
Blue Oak Trail
A great place to enjoy the view Solitary boatman Astute detective work tells us Don took this photo
Related Links
Tesoro Viejo Tesoro Viejo Video AXIS Coffee Bar & Eatery
San Joaquin River Kissing Gate Explained Another Video
Blue Oak Trail Video Blue Oak Grille Millerton State Recreation Area
Blue Oak Trail    
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Updated February 13, 2024