If you read my backpacking
report, you may recall that I made a number of trips to
Squaw Leap, now called San
Joaquin Gorge, a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property on the
San Joaquin River just upstream from Millerton Lake. A lot of those
trips were overnight, but more of them were day hikes. There were
some years when I hiked there four or five times during the spring,
and many years when I didn't go there at all. I seem to have started
a new phase of making that one of my regular destinations, with four
trips this year (so far).
there from Fresno you go up Highway 168 or Auberry Road into the
small town of Auberry,
take Power House Road north of town, and take a left on Smalley
Road just where Power House goes over a ridge and starts down to the
river. Smalley Road leads in to the Squaw Leap campground and parking
area, about five miles downhill.
leads down to the river where there is a footbridge, with several
trail choices available on the north side. When I first heard of the
place, the bridge had just been built, so I made a trip in there,
probably about 1978. It wasn't long before I did a backpack trip,
and discovered a couple of nice camping spots. When I walk in, I
usually go past the bridge, up hill a ways on the River Trail, then off the trail to
what we call the L/S
Expedition camp site.
my early visits to the area, a new power house was being constructed
about a mile downstream from the bridge. What is now the campground
was then the staging area for construction, with material storage
and office trailers. There was a lot of traffic with workmen coming
in every day, and security lights visible from the other side of the
canyon where we camped.
the project was completed, the work area was converted to a group
camp area, with an equestrian camp nearby. Next to the main parking
lot are about six campsites (there were none in the early days). And
best of all, there are some new trails on the south side of the
road, away from the river. Trails that do not drop down to the river
bottom, requiring a difficult hike out. Trails that actually have
downhill as you return to the trailhead. There's also a visitor
center that opened in the last two or three years.
we didn't even know about these new trails when we made our first
2012 hike on February 4. I was joined by my frequent hiking, camping
and bluegrass companion Janell Sidney. We had chosen this date
because it was late enough that there should be wild flowers, and
early enough to be nice and cool.
The weather was
in fact perfect for
hiking Ė about 65 to 70 degrees, with just a few small clouds.
There were a lot of people there Ė the parking lot was basically
full. As we started down the trail, about eight people on bikes
The results of the lack of rain this year were
obvious in the lack of wildflowers Ė we saw one popcorn flower and
about five fiddlenecks the whole day. Small creeks that should be
running good were just at trickle. We had a very early rain that got
grass and broad leaf plants started, but then it was dry for the
next two months or more, so the plants did not grow well. We got
some good rains late in the season, and had a fair wildflower
display, but our experience this trip was typical for the foothills
this year in terms of flowers.
We went in to the L/S
Expedition camp site, where we rested a while and had a snack.
Hiking out was, as always, more difficult than hiking in, but we
made it OK.
When we got back to
we went to Sweet Tomatoes, a salad, soup & pasta bar, for dinner.
than a month after my earlier hike with Janell, I made another trip to Squaw Leap, this time with
my grandson Johnny, his wife Brittany,
and one of their German Shepards, Sidney. The weather was a little
warmer than when Janell and I went in early February, but very nice
for hiking. We saw more wildflowers in the first 100 feet than
Janell and I saw on our whole trip, but not nearly what there should
dogs on a hike cover two to three times as much distance as the
humans with them, since the dogs tend to make many side trips
exploring interesting smells and sounds. However, Sidney seemed to
have a comfort zone of about 15 feet, and never went much more than
that away from Johnny or Brittany.
last time, we also
went to the L/S camp site, then worked our
way northeast from there to an old fire road, and up to where
Johnny and I camped in about 2001. This road was never intended for
hiking, or for two-wheel drive vehicles for that matter, and there
is one very steep section. Going up it this time was a little easier
than 11 years ago, when I was carrying a heavy backpack.
road goes up and down and around a hill or two and connects with the
trail, but at one point what we thought was the trail proved to be a cow
path. However, we soon found the actual trail and headed back to
the bridge, then up the hill to the parking lot. Instead of going
directly back to Fresno, we took Millerton Road toward the dam and
into the town of Friant,
where we had an excellent lunch at the Dam Diner.
Tuesday while all my hiking companions were working, I drove the truck to Squaw Leap,
with my bike in the back. I did a very little bit of bike riding,
mainly from the parking area to the Visitor
For the first time in my life I drove down the road past
the parking area. About a mile down the road is the site of the new
power house, built in the early 1980s. There is a parking area here,
and a new trail that goes down to the river. Itís a much shorter
drop to the river from here than the route from the main parking
area. I went down the trail part way, but it
looked quite steep at the bottom, so I headed back to the parking
area. From here I walked a little ways on the other new trail. It
goes south from the parking area, then runs along the bottom of the
ridge there, and from the map, it looks like it goes quite a ways
down past the upper end of Millerton
After some sitting and reading, I headed home.
About a mile up from the parking area I stopped and picked up some
bull pine (AKA digger pine) cones. These are much different in
appearance from the bull pine cones around Bootjack where I grew up. They are longer, and the
scales are long and slightly twisted.
On my way home I stopped for lunch
once again at the Dam
Diner in Friant, where I had an excellent hamburger.
Janell and I went hiking again at Squaw
Leap on April 21st, my fourth trip there this year. Along
the road on our way in we saw a wild turkey.
Johnny and I had seen one years ago, but I had not seen any since.
We went past the main parking lot about a mile and on to the lower
trail, which starts near the new power house. As I had done on March
27, we walked down the trail a short distance, but itís a quick drop to the river, and we did not want to have to do the steep
return trip, so we soon headed back to the car.
After admiring and photographing plants and flowers and the
general, we went to the main parking lot, and went down the new
trail, which I call the South
Trail, since it heads south from the
trailhead. Actually, after going south a few hundred yards, it turns
west and more or less parallels the ridge to the south and the river
to the north. It goes up and down quite a bit and into or close to
the lower parts of the ridge.
Along the way there were lots of wildflowers, although some species
I saw a month ago had finished blooming, especially redbud
lupine. There are also range cattle on the property, but they pretty
much mind their own business. They donít freak out and run when
you approach like some herds, but they drift away if you get too
we probably walked twice as far as I had on March 27, we didnít
get anywhere near the end of the trail. A map posted at the parking
area shows that it goes way down past the upper end of Millerton
Lake, and thereís a good possibility
it connects with a trail out of Sky
Harbor, a residential development on the
south side of the lake. We could see a table top mountain which we
believe is right above Sky
Harbor, and it was obviously a hike
miles. It would be a good hike if you could have a car at each end
of the trail, and just go one direction.
We climbed a small hill just off the trail and made that our
turnaround point. We had gained some elevation and had a good view
down the river and across to Kennedy Table on the north side of the
We headed back to the parking area, enjoying the fact that the
finish of this trail is downhill. We stopped at the Dam Diner, but
it was closed, so we went to Five
Guys Burgers & Fries in Fresno
Estel, May 22, 2012