the end of September and the beginning of October 2007, I was in Mariposa
for a longer time than usual, three nights. Although my trips up
there were mainly to work on cleaning out my late parents' house, I was in a “Mother
Lode” mood from my recent trip down state highway 49 (see Bluegrass
in the Foothills 2007). I decided to do a little touring in the
Mariposa area, checking out some places I had driven by dozens of
times throughout my life, but hadn’t really visited.
the early Gold Rush days, Agua Fria
was a bustling city of several thousand, and was the first county
seat of Mariposa
County. Today it is marked by a “point of historic interest”
there is nothing whatsoever left of the town. In fact, the area
where the markers are located is in a rather narrow creek canyon,
and I’ve always wondered where the town was.
west on Highway 140, the markers (there are actually two of them)
are about four miles from town. Just past the markers is Agua Fria
Road, which cuts across from Highway 140 to Mt.
on Highway 49. And about a quarter mile in from 140 is another sign
which marks the actual town
site. Here the creek valley is about 200
yards wide and completely flat – a great place to put a gold rush
Agua Fria Road
is narrow and winding, but not steep, and is a pleasant drive of
about two miles.
was also a key mining town, and the site of a major hard rock mine
which operated well into the 20th Century. Both town and
mine were originally named Princeton, and though the mine is gone, a few houses, a restaurant, and the
county airport keep the town going.
two miles north from
is Mt. Ophir,
the site of what we always knew as the
mint. It was actually a small community, surrounding a mine. We were
always told that during the gold rush, this was the site of a mint
which produced octagonal $50 gold pieces. In honor of this, 8-sided
gold-colored "coins" were
created and sold as souvenirs during the courthouse centennial in 1954.
One side depicted the court
house and the other a printing
press, saluting the 100th anniversary of the local newspaper.
recently the “mint” status of this operation has been called
into question (you can check the sites listed below if you want). I
Radanovich, who replied as follows:
best that we can make of the story is that eight sided ingots were
poured in the smelter of the office building at the
mine for shipment to the Moffett Mint in
San Francisco. No actual coin was struck at the mine. In fact I have not known of
any mine smelter that actually struck coinage. A mark was struck on
the ingot to tell of its supposed fineness, that is the percentage
of pure gold. Other than that, nothing else is known for sure. The
size, worth and shape of the $50 slugs do not seem to be in
question, only whether they were used as "coin," which
information on the website seems to indicate. Remember, placer gold
was used as a medium of exchange without any standards of
crumbling rock walls of a building, and some other rock work nearby,
are all that is left of the
operation. The building is said to have been a store owned by a
member of the Trabucco
family, who were merchants in several area
towns. Their involvement in local commerce did not end till around
walls present at
are reportedly made of
quarried slabs of schist set in mud mortar.
I grew up in
Mariposa County, and have visited there probably once a month or so ever since, I
had never before stopped at Agua Fria
Mt.Ophir, and I drove across on the
Agua Fria Road
for the first time a year or so ago, without stopping. Now I’m
ready to be a tourist in my own home town and check out some other
things I’ve missed.
Stormy Night at Grant Grove
has many claims to fame, the most dubious of which is that it is the
second smoggiest place in the country. But when a breeze or a
rainstorm cleans the air, you get a nice view of the
mountains to the east. Driving around running errands in late
October of 2007, I noticed the view, and asked myself, why I don’t go
there? So I did.
my normal modus operandi, I made a reservation at the John Muir
National Park, and on October 29 took off by car for the 55 mile drive up state
Highway 180. I’ve been in the park many times, but had not been
there for at least ten years.
the planning period the weather had been perfect – highs in the
mid 80s in
Fresno, and no clouds in sight. Of course, as departure time approached, a
storm threatened, but it was expected to be light and short. I did
have a few drops of rain going up the mountain out of the valley,
and in fact had drops of rain off and on all day, but nothing to
cause a problem.
180 goes east through fruit orchards and farmland, and crosses the
Kings River at Centerville, turns south at
Minkler, then makes a
sharp left to the east, going through low foothills. As the road
starts uphill, on the right there is a little tongue of the valley
that goes in between some hills, and because it is relatively protected, it
is the site of an extensive citrus
orchard. The road climbs rather
steeply, then levels off and drops gently down into Squaw Valley, which is a small village surrounded by cattle country.
true uphill climb starts a few miles past here, winding up through
brush-covered hills, gaining elevation quickly and taking you into
pine covered mountains. The entrance to
is close to the 6,000 foot level, and is guarded by a hoary old
redwood called the Methuselah
Tree. Apparently the National Park
Service is concerned about this tree falling down, since they have
removed the entrance station and parking in the area is prohibited.
National Park is divided into two sections, Cedar
Grove and Grant Grove, plus many acres of backcountry wilderness.
Entrance via Highway 180 takes you into the Grant Grove section,
which is immediately adjacent
to Giant Sequoia
National Monument. The entrance to Sequoia National Park is several
miles to the south on the General's
Highway; the two parks are jointly administered. Grant Grove is a medium size grove
of sequoias and the location of “the nation’s Christmas tree,”
the General Grant (the park originally had the same name as the
entrance station is now located in
Village, which includes a store, restaurant, visitor center and the lodge
where I stayed. Check in time was
Grove is the only other road-accessible part of the park, and is about 35 miles into the
Sierra from the Grant Grove section. The road passes through
National Forest, part of which is also the recently created
National Monument. Heading south and east from Grant Grove, the road soon begins the
steep descent to the
Kings River. Along the way I stopped and hiked up a small hill, hoping for a
better view. I could see across to
Mountain, which rises to almost 10,000 feet. With the river below at about
3,000, it is the deepest canyon in
hills obscured the view into the canyon, so I continued my drive on
down the mountain. When the road seems to have reached bottom, it is
actually still about 100 feet above the river, which runs through a
narrow gorge surmounted by steep, rocky hills. A short distance
further the road reaches the actual river level, and parallels the
river the rest of the way to Cedar Grove.
area is a glacier-carved valley similar to
Yosemite, but with no significant water falls, and without the high rock
walls. Instead the rock in this area appears to have had multiple
fractures, creating slightly sloping walls with no big granite faces
like El Capitan
or Glacier Point in Yosemite.
also lacks the crowds of its more famous neighbor to the north,
making a visit there a peaceful experience even in the summer time.
In late October, I often drove for a mile without seeing another
car. I stopped at one of two waterfalls in the area,
Falls, which drops perhaps 25 feet, then took a dirt road that goes down
the south side of the valley close to the river. Here I stopped, got
out my lunch, magazine and lawn chair, and enjoyed a solitary half
road eventually comes out through a residential area and rejoins the
main road at the very entrance to the valley. On the way, I saw a
bear strolling down the road in front of me. As soon as he realized
I was behind him he took off at a gallop, then headed up the bank.
Village, stopping a number of times to take pictures. Along the way, signs
of fall were everywhere. Many black oaks grow between about 3,000
and 6,000 feet, and in several places the breeze combined with trees
that were down hill from the road to create the impressing of leaves
falling up. I also noticed hundreds of buckeyes on the road,
red-brown, golf ball size seeds from a tree which is very common to
area below about 4,000 feet is also home to thousands of yucca
plants. Although they bloom in the spring, the flower stalks were
still in evidence on many plants.
still in the national forest, I took the dirt road into
Basin. This was one of the largest redwood groves in the Sierra, but in
the early part of the 20th century, thousands were cut
down. Sequoia trees are very brittle, and many of the trees
shattered as they hit the ground, rendering them useless for lumber.
Although several different companies operated here for around 20
years, not one of them made a profit for their efforts. The basin is
now home to hundreds of large stumps and big log sections lying on
the ground. The story of this operation is told in an excellent and
well-illustrated book by Hank Johnston, They Felled the Redwoods.
checking into the lodge, I wanted to drive up to nearby Panoramic
Point, which offers a view of the high Sierra peaks. Although I’ve
been visiting these parks since the 1960s, I did not know about this
location until my younger daughter and her husband worked in the
park in the late 1980s.
about a two-mile drive, all uphill on a narrow, winding paved road,
followed by a 300 yard walk. Driving up
the road, I saw two deer. Throughout the day there had been a few
drops of rain now and then, not enough to even get wet in, but as
soon as I got to the parking area, large cold drops started falling.
Realizing (or rationalizing) that all I would see would be clouds, I
decided to postpone this walk, and headed back down hill.
had dinner in the restaurant, then settled in for the night. Not
long after that the real storm began, and we had a good hard rain
for two or three hours.
next morning started out bright and clear, so I headed back to
Panoramic Point. With a night’s rest, the trail was quickly
conquered, and I was very glad I had returned. There were a few thin
patches of snow along the trail, and the view of the high peaks was
spectacular. I had caught glimpses of them from various locations
the day before, and they were bare rock; today they sparkled with a
layer of fresh snow.
checking out of the motel, I visited the gift shop. I have a couple of friends
still working who do their “traveling” via souvenir magnets that
another retiree and I bring them, so I picked up a couple of those.
next stop was Grant
Grove. From the parking lot there is a short
loop trail that goes up to the General Grant Tree, passing numerous
other large redwoods and a fallen log that you can walk through.
There is also a longer trail that goes up the hill above the Grant
Tree, but I decided that the shorter trail was enough for me. By the
time I left this area, low clouds or fog had drifted in, and soon
the tops of the biggest trees were nearly hidden in the mist.
my way out I stopped at the old entrance station (parking
illegally), and walked a few hundred yards to the Mark Twain
This tree was cut down in the 1800s, cut into sections, then
exhibited in the east, to prove to skeptical folks back there that
the tales of California’s giant trees were true. Although the goal
was worthy, the destruction of this magnificent tree for any purpose
could not be justified, and would be unthinkable today. Next to the
stump is a plaque with an amazing photo of the tree as it fell. This
photo also appears in They
Felled the Redwoods.
I had finished this short walk, I headed for home, vowing not to
wait another ten years before my next return.
Draws Crowds Even in the Cold
was about time for another trip to Mariposa, so I decided to take
the long way around, going through
National Park, and visiting Glacier
Point. From Fresno this means heading north
on California Highway 41 into the park, passing through the lower
end of Yosemite Valley, and going west on Highway 140 to Mariposa.
road to Glacier Point leaves the main road between the valley and
the entrance, about 20 miles from the latter. The point is at the 7,200 foot elevation, right on the edge
of the cliffs surrounding Yosemite Valley, and offers probably the best view of the high country and the
valley that you can get without hiking.
road closes when it snows, but we’ve had very few storms so far.
There was probably some snow at the end of October, but it’s long
gone everywhere below the highest peaks. Parking is difficult at
Glacier Point in the summer, but there were plenty of spaces when I
arrived about 12:30
on November 25, 2007. Even so, it seemed that there were a lot of people there.
you have never been to
Yosemite, words and pictures cannot capture it, and if you have been, your
own memories are better than any words I can offer, so I will keep
this report brief.
was overcast and quite cold, but the clouds were high and did not
hide the mountains. I wore four layers and a warm cap, and was quite
comfortable. I have taken so many photos at Glacier Point in the
past that it would seem there is nothing new to photograph. However,
the last two times I was there I have tried to find some different angles, and
I still took a photo of Half Dome for the 40th time or so.
had a very dry winter last year, so the streams in Yosemite are at
an all-time low. I've been to Glacier Point in November before, but
I have never seen the two big waterfalls on the Merced River, Vernal
and Nevada, so low.
spent about an hour there, then headed down the road, which drops
three thousand feet into Yosemite Valley, then west toward Mariposa. On the way I
stopped at Washburn Point, about a mile from Glacier Point, and 200
feet higher. This place gives you a different view of things. Half
Dome is almost in profile, and you seem to look straight down on North Dome
if you have been to
Yosemite, you may not have seen the Ferguson Rock
Slide, which is worthy of
mention. The slide began in late April 2006, following an unusually
wet winter, and blocked several hundred feet of Highway 140 on the
north side of the river, about 20 miles below Yosemite.
material was removed and a rock barrier erected, and the road reopened,
but within twelve hours additional material fell and the road was
closed again. The slide remained active for many months, and the
road remained closed during this time, a devastating blow for the
town of Mariposa, which is highly dependent on tourists passing through to Yosemite. In addition, children from
who attend school in Mariposa were forced to go through Oakhurst,
more than doubling the commute length. The same problem applied to
people working in Yosemite
but living in Mariposa.
the end of July a temporary bridge was installed, and limited
one-way escorted traffic was allowed through the route. Several
weeks later a second bridge opened, and one-way traffic, controlled
by a light, was permitted for vehicles 28 feet in length or less.
The temporary road lies on the old Yosemite Valley Railroad grade.
this helped, it still did not bring things back to normal. Lots of
tourist traffic into Yosemite
is via bus, and large buses cannot cross the temporary bridges.
Several options are under discussion for a permanent fix, the latest
of which is a high viaduct over the area. This is the cheapest and
quickest method, and probably the best. Other options include
abandoning the road and building a tunnel, a long and very expensive
proposition. The earliest possible target mentioned is usually 2010.
(September 2013 update: The issue is still not resolved, although larger
temporary bridges now allow bus traffic. It now appears that a rock
shed is the most likely option. This timeline
shows what's happening and when.)
could not take pictures, because no stopping is allowed on the
detour, but some of the links below have photos.
down Highway 140, I stopped at Briceburg, where the highway leaves
the river. When I was a kid we came to this area for fishing and
swimming, and the old suspension bridge that crosses the river is
still in place. After crossing, you can follow the old railroad
grade downstream to several nice spots. When I was going there we
just called it “Briceburg,” but now it is the Merced River
Recreation Area, with several named campgrounds downstream about two
to three miles from Briceburg. The area is administered by the
Bureau of Land Management.
finished my 160 mile trip to Mariposa just as it was getting dark;
ate dinner at the Miner’s Inn, and headed for the house to get to work.
(pictures open in a new window)
Agua Fria Town Site sign
Location of Agua Fria
Mt. Ophir Sign
Rock wall at Mt. Ophir
"coins" honor the Mariposa Courthouse and Mariposa Gazette
newspaper's 100th year
View east from Mt. Bullion
Orange orchard by Highway 180
Thick grove of live oaks in Sequoia
South Fork of the Kings, about a half mile above the confluence with the Middle Fork
Marble Mountain above the river
Roaring River Falls in Cedar Grove
A study in gray, green and orange
Big stump in Converse Basin
Abandoned log section in Converse Bsin
View from Panoramic Point, above Grant
The General Grant Tree
A closer view of the General Grant
Redwoods by the Grant Grove
The Mark Twain Stump
Top of the Mark Twain
Mist in the forest
Vernal & Nevada Falls, almost dry,
North Dome & Basket Dome from
The Overhanging Rock (people used to
pose on this, but it's discouraged and illegal)
Half Dome, classic view from Glacier
From Washburn Point, Half Dome is
nearly in profile
Suspension Bridge at Briceburg on
Remains of trestle on Yosemite Valley
Holly berries add a touch of holiday
color to the foothills