2024 Rambler Hikes Page 2

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San Joaquin Gorge SJR Trail         Sycamore Wildlife Area          Bass Lake Dam          Ahwahnee Hills


San Joaquin Gorge - San Joaquin River Trail
(Photos by Wes, Dave & Dick)

For our first Ramblers hike in April, we went to a familiar place, the San Joaquin River Gorge Management Area. From the parking area you can hike down to the San Joaquin River (the Bridge Trail), or west on the San Joaquin River Trail, which parallels the river but is high above it. It goes 14 miles to the Finegold Picnic Area at the end of Sky Harbor Road by Lake Millerton. We don't walk that far.

Instead we make this an out and back hike, and go as far as we want, then turn back. In this case, we went a little over a mile each way, a pretty good workout for an older group of hikers on a warm day. Our group consisted of Wes, Don B, Ardyss, Susan S, Laurie, Dick, Dave and his daughter Megan.

The Ramblers at the start of the trail This spot does not look that steep, but loose rocky dirt makes is a bit tricky

As we prepared to hike, we were met by a ranger with the Bureau of Land Management, who proceeded to give us some helpful information (much of which most of us already knew). He explained the fee policy, $5 per car but no cost to those who had a Federal recreation pass; $10 for camping or $15 at sites with two picnic tables. He also advised us to stay on the trail - "you can see snakes on the trail, but not in the tall grass." Two members of our party were new to the area, I have been there well over a hundred times, and the rest have made a good number of hikes there. I did not mention that in all my time there, including backpacking and camping, I have seen only two snakes, one of them dead and one alive but not a rattler.

Hiking west with wind-blown clouds above It was still bright green everywhere

The grass is still fully green and the flowers beautiful, but not truly spectacular. Most of the usual species are represented, but in small numbers, with no big splotches of color. There are a number of places on the road in to the area where many bush lupines grow, bur with the exception of one small "forest" of brilliant blue blooms, most had already gone to seed. This was also true of many of the low-growing wildflowers along the trail. Nevertheless, we enjoyed every blossom, and have no complaints.

There were quite a few good size patches of mustang clover. They were too far off the trail for me to photograph, but Wes managed to get a good shot. The yellow harvest brodiaea was out in good numbers, and of course, we saw that old favorite, "unidentified."

Mustang clover Harvest or golden brodiaea


The temperature was warm but not too hot, and we finished our hike before it hit its peak. We did take a few short jaunts off the trail, mainly where the grass was short. Snakes may have seen us, but we did not see them.

Formerly Squaw Leap, this mountain is now San Joaquin Butte Megan on the trail

As we usually do when hiking at the Gorge, we finished our day with a delicious lunch at Velasco's Mexican Restaurant in Prather. I don't know about the others, but when I got home, I made up for missing my nap, realizing I had to rest up for the next Ramblers hike, only four days away.

--Dick Estel, April 2024

More Photos

Sycamore Wildlife Area
(Photos by Dave & Dick)

The Ramblers hike schedule calls for two hikes each month in March, April and May, and maybe February if spring weather comes early. This ambitious program sometimes means two hikes close together. In the case of April 2024.only four days separated our two hikes, which partly contributed to the diminished attendance at the second one. After eight Ramblers hiked at San Joaquin Gorge on April 18, only three made the April 22 hike. Another Rambler, Dave Smith, was in the area, but for some reason, did not connect with Dick Estel, Susan Silveira and Laurie Fitzgerald.

Dave DID send us a link to photos he took of scenes along the road including Pine Flat Lake, the flowers, cows, and man-made artifacts.


Where Trimmer Springs Road starts up from the valley into the foothills This old shed along the road invites photographers

Our destination was the Sycamore Wildlife Area, which is an official name, not one of the famous made-up designations that I create for places that seem to have no name, but need one. It consists of two former campgrounds and a former picnic ground between Trimmer Springs Road and the lake, all within a mile of each other about 45 miles from the Fresno-Clovis metro area. (Full disclosure: I am measuring from my house in Clovis. If you live west of Highway 99 in Fresno, you'd add about another ten miles).

I camped at this location a few times in the 1980s, but the camps have been closed for decades. However, foot travel is encouraged, and the old campground roads make for easy walking, with limited up and down.

If you're looking for the place, there is a large sign at the first camp, but none at the other two. The second is about a half mile or less past the first, and the third is literally just around the first bend from the second.

For our hike on this outing we went first to the #2 spot and made our way around the gate. Almost immediately we spotted four or five species of wildflower, including a good number of globe lilies, fiesta flowers, purple brodiaea, baby blue eyes and others. We also found what I've come to realize is a normal situation for foothill wildflowers, a few examples of species that are the first to appear, like fiddlenecks and blue dicks. It's as if  they hang around to say, "Hey, remember us? We used to be a big deal"

Globe lilies like secluded, shady areas Fiesta flowers

Once you walk in about a hundred yards, the trail (or old road if you prefer) is a loop that goes through typical foothill terrain - gentle ups and downs, live oak and blue oak, bull pines, manzanita, and numerous smaller shrubs and plants. The lake is the fullest it's been in several years, with still water backed up under the bridge over Sycamore Creek, a rare sight. 

The only wildlife we have seen on all our visits is birds and squirrels but there is plenty of domestic life. It is cattle country, and there were cows on the road in the first camp. We had to watch our step dodging evidence that cattle had also roamed the second camp. As we finished our hike, about five of the beasts crossed the road ahead of us.

The very edge of the Sycamore Creek branch
of the lake, just upstream from the bridge
The Sycamore Creek branch is at the right in this photo

It was our intention, or mine anyway, to walk through the old picnic ground, but the ladies had a prior commitment, so once we finished the first section, we said our goodbyes at our parking spot. I drove on to the picnic ground, carried my chair and lunch about 50 yards past the gate to a shady spot, and enjoyed my lunch with a view of more flowers and the lake. By the time I finished, it had become quite warm, but I wanted to check out one other feature. In 2020 we had spotted an eagle's nest with young birds in it, and I had taken a number of photos, including one showing one of the parents keeping watch in the top of a nearby pine tree, squawking all the time I stood on the trail.

This time I saw the nest, but no birds. However, I enjoyed this final part of the day's outing, and also stopped a few times on the way home to photographs flowers that grow by the road but not along the trails. At one point a hawk flew in front of my truck, no more then ten feet away as it passed. It was very low and I could see the bright red top of its outspread tail.

--Dick Estel, April 2024

More Photos

Eagle's nest near Pine Flat Lake A cluster of foothill gillia
Bass Lake Dam
(Photos by Wes & Dick)

Wes said, "'Life is what happens when you're making other plans.' We planned to hike at the Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park on May 7, but found it closed. We all eventually decided to explore the Bass Lake area. We stopped along the way to record the lovely dogwood blooms.  We then hiked part way across the dam. It turned out to be a lovely day for us."

Four of us went to Ahwahnee, and conferred after being shut out. Dave decided to go on alone and explore other areas. That left Wes, Jackie and me (Dick) to complete the "official" hike.

Cedar tree provides a perfect companion for  these dogwood blooms Jackie, Wes and Dick on the Bass Lake Dam

At one point, as we were admiring one of the hundreds of dogwood trees along the road, we spotted a little waterfall, hidden back in the trees and bushes away from the road. Of course, we were obligated to stop, and Wes made his way down to the creek for a better shot, but couldn't really get as close as he would have liked.

Although Wes is a dogwood nut, there were other flowers which caught my eye. None were as big or showy as the dogwoods, but they served their purpose, both for the plant and for my own addiction to trying to photograph the smallest of flowers.

Off Road 222, a hidden waterfall The view is enhanced by the dogwood near the road
Bleeding Hearts Wild Rose

When we got to the dam, we were rewarded with views of a brilliant blue lake, big fluffy clouds, tree-covered hills, and perfect temperatures. Wes took a solo detour down to the base of the dam, not realizing he would have to bushwhack through a short brushy area where there was no clear path. When he climbed back up out of the canyon, we realized he was carrying one of the longest selfie sticks known to man.

A perfect Bass Lake photo Wes returning to the top of the dam
Clouds over Goat Mountain A close look at those dramatic dogwood blossoms

We returned to Wes's Subaru SUV and started down hill from the dam toward the village of North Fork. We stopped briefly at Manzanita Lake, a PG&E property favored by day visitors and ducks. The latter had eagerly welcomed Dave when he stopped there earlier, but were disappointed that he had not brought lunch for them.

Wes, Jackie and I enjoyed a delicious lunch at the North Fork Pizza Factory, dining on the back patio with a view of the surrounding countryside. Our return trip took us through scenic foothill country on Road 200 out to State Route 41, and back to the big city. We were fully satisfied with the change in plans, and will finally go to Ahwahnee Park on our second hike later in May.

--Dick Estel, May 2024

More Photos

Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park

In this case, the second time was the charm. After missing out earlier in May due to "winter" hours, five Ramblers made the drive to the tiny village of Ahwahnee on Highway 49 between Oakhurst and Mariposa, and strolled through the oak covered territory that is Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park. Note that I said "stroll," because except for about 50 fairly steep yards at the end of the route, it's hard to justify the word "hike." Still, for the rest of this report, I'll stick with the traditional designation.

The Ramblers have hiked here a number of times, but this day's outing was a new experience for three of the five who made it. Dave Smith, Laurie Fitzgerald and Susan Silveira had never been there, while Wes Thiessen and Dick Estel were making at least their fifth visit.

Wes, Dick, Susan, Laurie and Dave Dick and Dave under the shady oaks

As I've implied, the terrain is gentle, with just a few short ups and downs. There are some big open areas, and a long stretch where the trail goes through a shady forest of valley oaks. There is a very nice creek running through the property, and a pond where we usually see turtles. Trails cross and diverge in several places, so that your walk can be about a mile and a half or over three miles. No surprise that we chose the shorter way. There are also dedicated trails for horseback riding.

An open field and some of the actual Ahwahnee Hills beyond A towering valley oak
This little creek is always a delight Wes and the pond

The weather cooperated so that we had clear blue skies, but were never too warm. The newcomers were duly impressed with the locale. And there were even a few wildflowers to brighten the drying fields.

As is our habit at this location, after the hike we went to the Hitching Post, less than a half mile from the park, and enjoyed an excellent lunch with matching service.

--Dick Estel, May 2024

More Photos






Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window) 
San Joaquin Gorge          Sycamore Wildlife          Bass Lake Dam          Ahwahnee Hills Park
San Joaquin Gorge
(Photos by Wes, Dave & Dick)
Wes and Laurie Dick takes a break with no place to sit Don B, Susan S, Dick and Wes
This clump of owl's clover grew
right next to the parking lot
A leaning bull pine Dove's foot geranium AKA woodland geranium
Clouds above the hills Bedrock mortar near the trail This lupine grows as a large,
many-branched plant with pale blue flowers
Sycamore Wildlife Area
(Photos by Dave & Dick)
A golden cup of California sunshine Shady areas had lots of purple brodiaea Close-up of a foothill gillia
One of those "daisy-like" flowers Baby blue eyes Lupine appeared mostly along the main road
Climbing brodiaea will twine around anything Climbing brodiaea blossom up close Poppy patches decorated some hillsides
This cow gave Dave the stink eye A mix of poppies and purple vetch Dave found a shady spot to stop and take photos
Bass Lake Dam
(Photos by Wes, Dave & Dick)
The dam that forms Bass Lake originated in1901 The dam has been enlarged several times, most recently in 2012 Two old geezers, enjoying the dogwoods
Wes would have a dogwood in his
living room if his wife allowed it
Black oaks are developing a new crop of leaves Black oak leaves up close
The peaceful beauty of Manzanita Lake Ducks welcome a visitor to Manzanita Lake Where it all happened
Ahwahnee Hills
(Photos by Dave, Wes & Dick)
Chamomile blossom Blackberry blossom A few late poppies grace this old fence
A stately valley oak A number of bridges add to the charm of the place Dave created this nice sepia
tone picture of the old barn
Big Brother (Wes) is watching you! Wes and Laurie, holding her ever-present bouquet Hiking past an open field,
Dave hopes for some shade soon
Related Links
Wes's San Joaquin Gorge Video Dave's San Joaquin Gorge Photos San Joaquin River Gorge Management Area
San Joaquin River San Joaquin River Trail Bureau of Land Management
Dave's Pine Flat Photos Pine Flat Reservoir Sycamore Creek
Bass Lake Manzanita Lake Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park
North Fork CA Ramblers First Ahwahnee Hills Hike Large Group at Ahwahnee Hills
Hitching Post Restaurant    
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Updated May 31, 2024