friend Janell and I hiked at San Joaquin Gorge (Squaw Leap)
in the spring of 2012, we
realized that the new trail that runs south and west from the trailhead
apparently goes all the way to Sky
Harbor, a development on the south side of Millerton
Lake. This area is reached via Sky Harbor Road, which leaves Millerton Road
right next to the Table Mountain
Casino. It’s about six miles to
the end of the road, marking the start of the South Finegold Day Use
Area, part of the Millerton
State Recreation Area. (Millerton Lake is on the San
Joaquin River, which in this area is the border between Fresno
and Madera Counties in California.)
I had already researched this trail and learned that it is 14 miles
from the Finegold trailhead to the San Joaquin Gorge trailhead,
meaning there is very little likelihood that I will ever hike the
entire trail (some sources say 11 miles, still beyond my capacity). The recommended way to do this route is to have a car
at each end, and hike from the Gorge to Finegold, which gives you
more downhill hiking.
October 8, 2012, I made my first hike from the western end of the
trail. The beginning of the trail
is quite steep in places, and
the section that I walked was almost all up hill. Once I got settled
in, which I define as “my leg pain is distracting me from my back
pain,” it was fairly comfortable walking. Of course, I stopped a
lot of times to rest and take
pictures. Eventually I reached a
saddle where there were trails going in five different
directions. I expected the trail to more or less parallel the lake,
but what looked to be the main river turned abruptly north, and the
main trail turned abruptly south. There appeared to be a small creek
entering the lake from the south. Two of the “trails” were just
narrow paths to a viewing place, and the other went east up to the
highest point of the ridge.
At this location there was lake on both sides of me, so it was
obvious that if the ridge trail kept going, it would go into the
water. I thought that the water on the east and south must be the
Finegold Creek branch of the lake, but a look at the map revealed
that what I thought was the northern section of lake was actually the
continued up the ridge to a “trail closed” sign where I could
see that that the water did indeed go through a very narrow gorge on
the other side, east of the trail junction.
quite a bit of time here, since the main trail started down the
other side of the ridge, and I
did not want to do anymore uphill hiking on the way back. I did get
a lot of exercise at this spot trying to take a self-timer photo of
myself. With no tripod, I set the camera on a rock, but it took
about five tries to get it aligned so that I could trip the shutter
and walk briskly up to the spot where I wanted to stand. The first
four photos showed the surrounding terrain, but I was either outside
the frame, or only partly in it.
The trail is steep and rough enough that going down requires careful
walking, so it was almost as much effort as up hill, but a bit
easier on the lungs. The weather has been nice, and it was between
70 and 80, with a nice breeze a lot of the time. The terrain is very
steep and rugged, but the trail is wide and does not present any
danger to hikers who exercise normal caution. The vegetation is
dried grass with lots of blue oak, bull pine, and some live oak,
plus the usual shrubs and small plants. Although I did not see any
wildlife except birds and squirrels, there was plenty of evidence of
larger animals on the trail, another good reason to watch your step.
The trailhead itself is a day parking area with a boat ramp, picnic
pavilion and restrooms, with a $10 fee for parking. However, the
gate was locked, so I parked along the road just outside the gate,
adding a few hundred yards to the walk. The Sky
development ends about a quarter mile before the parking area, but
there are at least 20 big houses visible across the lake on the Madera
When I got back to the trailhead I was a bit disconcerted to realize
that the sharp bend in the lake that marked my farthest point was
about two minutes by motor boat from the parking area. What I missed
in horizontal distance I made up in elevation change. According to
the Millerton Lake topographical
map, the elevation is about 600 feet above sea level at the start, and
1200 where the trail crosses the ridge.
a fall and spring hiking area; walking it on a 100 degree summer day
would be an invitation to heat stroke and dehydration.
way home I stopped at a produce stand and got some grapes. When I
arrived back in Clovis, I went to El Pueblito for a big Mexican dinner topped off with two
vicodin for dessert.
often happens when I discover a "new" recreation area, I
returned to this location two more times in the next few weeks. On
October 29, a day even warmer than my day of hiking at the beginning
of the month, I drove out to the trailhead. I did not plan to do any
serious hiking; instead I walked over to the picnic pavilion, about
a quarter mile from where I parked, and sat there reading for a
while. The path to the picnic area had a fork going up the hill, so
I decided to explore that.
went down into the upper part of the lake bed and across a drainage,
then up the bank where I picked up a trail heading up away from the
lake. It went through a fence where there was a gate, but I did not
go any further this day, instead returning to my car via a trail
that went back to the picnic area path.
back again on November 5 with the intention of going through the
gate to find out where this trail led. I suspected that it was a
"fisherman's trail" that would generally follow the lake
shore, and allow access to the water at various locations. This was
correct up to a point, but after a short distance, the trail turned
away from the lake (up hill). Actually the first part of this hike
had a lot of up and down, but the trail became increasingly hard to
follow, and there were any number of "competing" trails
that looked almost as good as what I determined to be the
I started up a wrong fork, since the best-looking trail was blocked
by fallen trees and brush. This trail completely disappeared in a
short distance, so I accepted the need to clamber over logs and
through brush, and made my way to the clearer trail. This followed
the drainage up hill, and at this point I began hoping it would
connect with the "real" trail so I would not have to
return by the same route.
got higher up the hill it became more and more obvious that I was
reaching the top of the ridge that the main trail crosses, so when I
had to choose between a fork that continued up hill and one that
seemed to follow the contour of the land, I chose the steeper trail,
and eventually came to the "opposite" side of the
"Trail Closed" sign that marked my farthest travel on the
first hike. A few hundred feet more took me to the top of the ridge,
about a hundred yards from the saddle where the main trail comes in.
enjoyed the view and a nice rest, and tried out the panorama feature
on my new camera, getting a couple of good scenes of the lake and
table top mountains above it. These table tops parallel the river,
and I've seen them many times from the opposite side, driving up
Auberry Road, so it was nice to get a different perspective.
turned out, this latest hike of the season was also the warmest,
with unseasonable highs in the low to mid 80s the first few days of
the week. A big cool down was predicted, and indeed took place, with
the high four days later topping out at 62.
way down the trail I encountered one of my favorite foothill
tarantula. When my grandson Mikie was younger, he and I would go
out every fall and look for tarantulas, and he would take one home.
These days are behind us, but we both still enjoy encountering one
of these delightful spiders.
remember reading in the Mariposa Gazette In 1953 about Jon
(son of the famous pilot) and a diving exploration he made of Bower
Cave, in northern Mariposa County. The cave contains a large
waterway of unknown dimensions. Lindbergh did not go very far into
the cave, since he had no diving partner, and was not fully familiar
with the Aqualung, which had been invented only ten years earlier.
probably the last I heard of Bower Cave until some time in the last
year or two, when Caroline Wenger Korn, a friend who was in my high
school class, mentioned something about "trying to protect
Bower Cave," either in an email or a newspaper article; can't
remember exactly now.
I had some
vague memory that her family had owned the cave at one time, so I
sent an Email asking about it. Her answer provides more information
about the cave than I ever knew and probably more than I can
Thank you for asking about the Cave. Like you, many people have
heard of Bower
but have had no chance to see it. My family owned 860 acres
surrounding the Cave, an American Indian sacred site known as Ootin
(pronounced Oh oh tin), since gold rush times. My uncle and aunt
remained on the ranch and continued as guardians and guides to the
cave into their 90s, even after it was sold upon the death of my
grandmother. I spent summers there with them and with my father
agreement in 1991 among the Linkletter family who then owned it, the
US Forest Service, the Conservancy for Public
and a lumber company made the ranch part of the Stanislaus National Forest. The Forest Service did not have funds to protect it from vandals.
I led an effort by volunteers to protect the Cave; my original
request, after much consultation with our County
and others, was for the
to provide at least a caretaker living on a part of the property
where there was electricity and phone service. The USFS
did that. It has been of some help. We also tried a chain link fence
although I thought some would take that as a challenge. They did,
cutting the fence, going in, spraying graffiti and worse.
last fall the Forest Service, working with us (Friends of Bower
Cave) and the Mariposa Indian Council, installed a barrier gate at
the Cave entrance. That has a good chance of keeping irresponsible
it is such a beautiful and important site. It may be the most
extensive underground waterway in the western United States. Our next goal is a set of interpretive signs that explains why it
is sacred to American Indian people and is of scientific and
historic concern. And, because it belongs to all of us it's
important to cherish and protect it. However, unless people can
visit the Cave, they have shown that they resent being kept out and
react. The stairway into the Cave should be replaced, an unobtrusive
way for elders and others who can't use the stairs should be found
to provide a way to experience being in the heart of the earth,
surrounded by a garden of ferns and wild flowers and the cascading
song of canyon wrens. An ideal would be an interpretive center with
24/7 presence and Forest Service docents. What a career opportunity
for Miwok young people--to serve as guides and interpret the Cave.
whole Bower Cave Special Interest Area is unique. Diana Pool, a
short walk from the Cave, is a beautiful site to swim with a
waterfall and nesting water ouzels. If you ever have time I'd like
to take you to visit the Cave and the Diana.
discussion at the Alumni Breakfast in September and several Emails
back and forth, we agreed on October 17 for our visit, since it
should have cooled down quite a bit by then. I left home about 9:30,
drove west across Fresno on Herndon to Highway 99, and then to
Plainsburg Road, which connects State 99 to State 140 at Planada.
From there it's a fairly short distance to the Mariposa County line,
where the hills begin. With construction causing a big slowdown the
last five miles or so of my trip, I arrived at Caroline's in
Cathey's Valley about 11:10.
a picnic basket and we took my Honda farther up Highway 140 to the
Agua Fria Road, which cuts across to State 49, bypassing the town
of Mariposa, but passing right through "downtown" Mt.
Bullion. A few miles beyond the road goes through Bear Valley, drops
down to the Merced River and the upper end of Lake
climbs back over another pass and down to Coulterville, a
once-thriving gold rush town that is the business and social center
of northern Mariposa County. After this point I was traveling roads I
had never been on in my life, and paid my very first visit to
Greeley Hill, about six miles from Coulterville.
distance beyond this, on a back road that leads off another back
road, we came to a stone monument with a plaque commemorating the
Coulterville Toll Road, the first road into Yosemite Valley. Near
the plaque, without benefit of any kind of sign or marker, is a
narrow trail that goes up hill a short distance to the entrance to
elevation in this area is probably about 3,500. There are ponderosa
pines, but also a lot of brush and dry grass. We had a warming
trend in mid-October, and it was about 85 degrees there.
without the gate, it would be dangerous to enter the cave. The entry
area is basically a hole, with no easy way down. And of course, the
cave is partially filled with water whose extent is unknown.
Caroline said we would go to a spot where there was a better view
down into the entrance, asking "how are you with poison
think I am resistant to poison oak; haven't had any for decades, but
of course, I don't deliberately touch it. Our route to the better
view was a short scramble through some rocks and brush, some of
which was poison oak, but it was easy to avoid most of it. And the
prize was worth the effort - much better views of the water and some
typical cave features on rock that has caved in during recent times.
You have to see the pictures to understand.
had rocks to sit on along with our view, so we stayed there a while,
discussing the work that had gone into protecting the cave (the
chain link fence is several hundred yards long and goes up and down
steep hills covered with trees and brush). Since the site is holy to
Native Americans, they have considerable say about what goes on there,
and they have indicated they would not object to a mechanical stair
that would allow elders to enter the cave once more.
we were ready to move on, we went back down the trail to the road,
then down hill away from the car, to the stream that crosses the
road there. This proved to be the North Fork of the Merced
and was carrying quite a bit of water considering how dry it was
last winter. We followed a trail down to the Diana
Pool, a large,
deep natural swimming pool with a small waterfall running into it.
We ate lunch here, and just sat and enjoyed the beautiful
made our way back to the car and started back home. While we walked
Caroline talked of spending time at the family home as a child; and
her aunt telling how they used to keep meat in the cave, which is a
constant temperature of about 47 degrees. There is nothing left of
the house now except a small corner of the foundation.
it was my first ever visit to Greeley Hill, we stopped there and
took a few
Just for the
record it was a 60 mile
trip from home to Cathey's Valley; 228 total round trip.
Estel, November 2012