Nearly a year after we first entered COVID shutdown, Grandma H, Laura, Zephyr and I ventured to the Merced River Trail at the end of the Briceburg Road off of HWY 140. Normally, we breeze right past this location on our way to Yosemite and none of us had ever actually hiked this section of the river. It turns out that late February during a very dry year is actually the perfect time to explore this old Yosemite Railroad grade that is half great gravel road and gentle single-track that picks its way around rockfalls that occurred in the past 75yrs since the railroad's demise. The trail goes all the way to the confluence of the N. Fork Merced for a round trip hike of about 5.5 mi, but seeing that there were so many newts to discover in Hall Gulch, we only made it to a recent small rockfall about 1.5 miles from the parking lot. I bet this area has spectacular wildflowers in really wet years!
The trail also walks past the remnants of the Mountain King Mine, and I for one could not tell just how extensive the operation had once been a century ago. There are several interesting accounts of miners dying by asphyxiation in the mine shafts due to failure of a water flume that powered an air blower used pump fresh air deep into the workings.
Lucky us! We were able to return to the cabin in Twain Harte during the start of our Xmas break. We had the luxury of isolating far away from folks while enjoying the paltry snow near Dodge Ridge (hello La Nina drought) and the amazingly warm December day in Yosemite Valley that preserved a bit of hoar frost from the previous evening.
In an attempt to find some isolated happiness and joy during our week-long Thanksgiving break, we decided to spend the first five days of our vacation at the family cabin in Twain Harte and use it as a base camp to explore out-of-the-way trails. New to us this trip were hikes Lily Lake and Carlon Falls. We also visited the northwest shore of Lake Eleanor for the first time after having visited the south shore several times in the past. We ended the week with a trip
A socially-distanced, very long day-trip to Leavitt Lake with a brief hike over to Ski Lake. Fishing was not the best (8 others fishing Ski Lake!) but the hike and the views were glorious. It was 72F at 9600' in elevation and allowed me to be in shorts and short sleeves all day. I also got to spend some quality time with Z on our hike to Ski. He did such a great job going up and down steep slopes that were covered in loose scree in some areas.
The road to Leavitt has really deteriorated over the past decade and only high-clearance 4x4 trucks can make the journey. Even our Subaru wouldn't make it these days.
We took a much needed break from reality by staying at our cabin in Twain Harte over the weekend. Highlight of the trip was our 4X4 journey up to Kavanaugh Ridge off of the Green Creek Road near Virginia Lakes. The road ends at 11,000' and overlooks the Hoover Wilderness and many lakes several thousand feet below. The wind was blowing well over 50mph during our visit, but on a calmer day it would be an epic picnic spot. The K.R. Trail should only be attempted by high-clearance 4x4 trucks or SUV's. We parked our Subaru Ascent at the trail sign and piled into Grandpa's Frontier for the final three miles to the top.
We squeezed-in three socially-distant hikes before school started. Emma Lake, Double Dome Rock and Horse and Cow Meadow. It's been a very long year. The geologizing, hiking and fishing was refreshing after a summer of vigorous work. We only saw six people total on the trails over our three days! Details about each hike can be found in the photo journal.
Finished a little family project last week: "The Best Hikes and Adventures from the Laffin Cabin". It will find a place on the bookshelf in our rustic WWII-era family cabin in Twain Harte. There are 26 adventures along SR 108 for my relatives to explore when staying at the cabin.
The Bennett Juniper is the oldest and largest known juniper of its species. Twelve and a half miles of forest service roads will put you at the doorstep of this protected 80’ tall behemoth that is estimated to be over 4000 years old! Two minutes of walking on a well-graded trail will put you in the shade of one of the most magnificently gnarled trees you’ll ever see.
Once you visit the juniper, return to the spur road and turn left instead of returning to the main 5N01 road. Take the small spur north about a half mile to its cul-de-sac end and enjoy a lunch while taking-in the glorious views of the Dardanelles and the Stanislaus River canyon. This lunch spot sits on a volcanic mudflow deposit that bulldozed some trees as it covered this area 10.5 million years ago. As a consequence there are many small pieces of very white petrified wood scattered about the hillside. There are worse ways to spend 30 minutes than perusing a hill for ancient forest bits. Please only take photos, though.
For specific directions and more info on the tree, visit the SAVE THE REDWOODS site.
Zephyr, Laura, Grandma H and I went for a lovely short hike to May Lake, taking advantage of the short drive afforded to us by base-camping at our Twain Harte cabin. Knowing that our Yosemite Pass was a precious commodity during the Time of COVID, we wanted to make sure we got at least two hikes completed this summer in Yosemite. The hike to May Lake is short and steadily climbs 500' in just over one mile. Normally extremely busy during the summer, COVID had reduced the number of folks in the area to late-autumn numbers. It was very peaceful and quiet and with an anomalous low pressure system overhead, the temp only reached 55 degrees with a breeze and no mosquitos.
The lack of crowds also was apparent in the results of our fishing. Z caught a lovely 13" brookie, got excited and called it a day with his goal of catching a fish having been accomplished. I went on to catch and release another 10 brookies (10-12") in the next 30 minutes. It was a lovely, perfect day. And oh yeah, the geology here is first rate!
Our first visit to Yosemite during the time of COVID. We were able to score one of the 1500 limited park entry passes online. This was an exceptionally long day-trip that left Turlock at 7:30am and returned home at 9:45pm. My dad and I were able to reach the fishing hole I wanted to share with him, but encroaching lightning limited us to 10 casts and several missed strikes. We ate a TO GO order from the Whoa Nellie Deli on the Mono Lake bluff and headed home over Sonora Pass where the temperatures were 50 degrees cooler than Turlock!
Ryan J Hollister - Geoscience & EnviroSci Educator, Avid hiker, Landscape photographer, WildLink Club Advisor, Central Valley Advocate.