2017 Ramblers Hikes Page 3


The Ramblers are Carolyn Amicone, Julie Hornback, Wes Thiessen, Don McClellan, Sue Wirt, Elsa Sweeney, and Dick Estel, former colleagues at the Fresno County Department of Social Services. Every month or so we get together for a short hike, good conversation, and lunch.

Photos         Related Links         More Travel Reports

2015 and 2016 Hikes          2017 Page 1          2017 Page 2          2018 Hikes

Camp 4 1/2 Cabin          Wawona Meadow          Millerton Blue Oak Trail          Lewis Eaton Trail


Camp 4 1/2 Cabin

In some ways this was a typical Ramblers hike. In other ways it was unusual. As has happened several times this year, we started off with five people signed up, then two had to drop out, leaving us with one of our "all-boy" hikes - Don, Wes and Dick. Unlike all other hikes, we went to the low foothills on a summer day, September 19.

We wanted a low-elevation destination for members who have some problems hiking at higher elevations. Some of the most obvious choices were off-limits due to recent fires, so we decided to hike by the upper Kings River, barely above 1,000 feet in elevation. In high summer this would be an invitation to heat stroke, but we've had a cooling trend, and the high for the day of our hike was predicted to be 75 in the valley. Before the date arrived, the prediction fluctuated up and down, to 85, and finally settling on 81. Since we would start early and be done before mid-afternoon, we were certain that we would be OK. As it turned out, there was a nice breeze all the time, and we never got too warm.

Beyond the upper end of Pine Flat Lake, Trimmer Springs Road divides into two dirt roads, one on each side of the river. We parked where the paved road crosses a bridge and becomes Black Rock Road, and went up the south side. This is the area where I hiked in April, and our final destination was the same, Camp 4 1/2 Cabin, a former forest service residence that can be rented through Recreation.Gov for a rustic vacation experience.

Our walk was mostly on the dirt road, and of course, the green grass and profuse wildflowers of spring were brown and gone to seed. The river was still running good, but not anywhere near the raging torrent it was right after the big rains of winter and spring. When we reached the cabin we went down toward the river, where we found a tiny sandy beach, and a rope swing hanging from a tree that leaned over the water. After thinking about it for a bit, Wes was unable to resist, and braved the questionable looking rope to swing out over the water and back - twice. There was no "Wes on the rock" photo this time, but the rope swing was a delightful substitute.

We also looked around the cabin, but the blinds were down and we could not see in. There is a picnic table, barbecue, and propane tank outside, and the setting is very attractive, even in summer, with a number of huge valley oaks shading the area.

Since it was almost fall, I did some harvesting. My great grandson, Colton, was fascinated by buckeye trees in bloom in the spring They produce a large seed about two inches in diameter, and the trees along the road were thick with them. I picked one and put it in my pocket, but soon noticed that the seed was oozing sap from the point where it had been attached to the tree, producing a stain that provided the others with an opportunity to make crude but humorous remarks. Less troublesome were the milkweed seeds that I gathered for a friend who had mentioned she would like to grow the plant to attract butterflies. The only concern with these was to avoid also gathering the big black and orange insects that clustered on some of the seed pods.

With the extra walking around we did near the cabin, our total hike was a little over two miles. But our adventures did not end when we got back to the car. We had brought our lunch, and since it was only 1 p.m. we decided to drive up the other side of the river to where there is a small campground. There is only one picnic table, but it was under trees less than 30 feet from the river, and we enjoyed our meal, complete with some wine that I had won in a drawing earlier in the year. I hope it was the right vintage for peanut butter sandwiches.

After eating, Wes wandered down by the river. The cool, slow-running water was just too tempting, and soon he was taking a five-minute dip. After this we loaded up our stuff and started back down the road. We had a little longer drive than usual both ways - there is major construction on Belmont, our usual route, and we had to detour via Highway 180 and Piedra Road through Centerville. The section from 180 to Trimmer Springs Road is quite scenic, with a number of horse ranches, and the low hills surrounding Tivey Valley, not quite a town, but an area of ranches, homes and a country store.

It was up to Wes to provide some final comments on this trip:

Then there were three. When we planned this hike, we anticipated five Ramblers strolling along the Upper Kings River. Only three guys were able to make the journey. But what a journey! We drove to the last bridge beyond Kirch Flat which leads to Balch Camp. We then walked a mile or so along a gravel road to a cabin which Dick had hoped to rent for a family vacation this past Spring. Unfortunately, mud slides and severe rain called a halt to that adventure. We found a trail leading from the cabin to a beautiful beach on the Kings River. And there was a tree along the shoreline with a swing attached. The child within me couldn't resist it. Yes, I swung full force over the river with great joy. Some might say that at 68 years of age I'm revisiting my childhood. Let them talk. Better yet, let them eat cake.

--Dick Estel, September 2017

Camp 4 1/2 Hike Photos


Wawona Meadow

Although we didn't get a full turnout for this October 26 hike, we had the pleasure of Carolyn's company for the first time since March. The others were Wes, Don and Dick, and we all drove up from the San Joaquin Valley to Wawona, a few miles inside Yosemite National Park at the 4,000 foot level. We have hiked the full four-mile loop around the meadow in the past, but had decided to just go about a mile in, then return. Because of recent health issues, Don was not up to even that distance, but went with us for a half mile or so, then returned to the Wawona Lodge, where he sat out on the lawn reading, surrounded by cedars, pines and sequoias.

On the trail we also enjoyed the magnificent forest country, as well as views of the meadow. The fall weather had turned the dogwood leaves to pink and red, and Wes was beside himself, trying to photograph every tree. Leaves from the dogwood as well as other deciduous trees carpeted the trail, offering a colorful mosaic. The dark green of the evergreens provided a perfect background for the yellow leaves of the black oaks and the multi-colored dogwood.

The weather was kind to us - it was cool but warm enough for comfortable walking, with a very slight breeze from time to time. We met a half dozen or so other hikers on the trail, all lost in the wonder of it all.

When we got back to the lodge and roused Don from his reading, we went inside for a great lunch, indulging ourselves with a sinfully delicious dessert, despite the fact that our stomachs were full. There's always room for ice cream or chocolate cake!

Driving up and back down Highway 41, we went past the site of the recent Railroad Fire, which burned over 12,000 acres south of Fish Camp, including parts of Nelder Grove Sequoia area, the Sugar Pine Railroad property, and the little communities of Sugar Pine and Cedar Valley. In some areas there was complete devastation; in others, only a few trees were burned, and some places were untouched. The loss of buildings was minimal, but access to a large area of the national forest is barred for the next few months at least.

As usual, Wes offered a perfect summary of the day:

Today my Ramblers Hike Group drove to Yosemite National Park to catch sight of the fall colors. Teri reminded us that there are lots of deciduous trees in and around Wawona. And we were not disappointed. We hiked along the Meadow Loop Trail which circumnavigates the golf course. The trail is hidden in the forest covered with a canopy of evergreen trees. Along side these green giants, there are oak and many dogwood trees. The sun was bright and filtered through that canopy to alight the color of the fall leaves of these amazing trees. It felt like we were walking through a Christmas Tree Lane created especially for us. Catching our breath over and again, we finished our hike with a delightful lunch at the Wawona Lodge. I don't care what they have to call it, it will always to the Wawona Lodge to us. It was way too good.

--Dick Estel, November 2017

Wawona Photos


Millerton Blue Oak Trail

With the arrival of cooler weather it was time for the Ramblers to choose a low-elevation destination for our late November hike. In January I had purchased an annual pass for the California state parks, but had not used it since then. So we decided to hike the Blue Oak Trail at Lake Millerton State Park. We could enjoy a stroll along the lake, get my money's worth from the pass, and possibly see one of the eagles that are known to nest in the area.

Wes, Elsa and I met at my house on November 28, and Wes drove us to Friant, a small town on the San Joaquin River, just below Friant Dam. Here we met Don, and drove the short distance to the park entrance, followed by a mile or so of winding road to the parking lot at road's end. The excitement of the first part of our hike is best described in the traditional post-trip comments Wes includes when he shares a few of his photos:

Is there a law against having too much fun? If so, Dick, Don, Wes and Elsa were guilty of all charges. We drove to the South Shore of Millerton Lake to hike a portion of the Blue Oak Trail which follows the shoreline to Winchell Cove. We were hoping to see eagles which nest in those mighty oaks. Although we didn't see them, we were entertained by red tail hawks soaring overhead in combat fashion. It was fascinating to watch them dive at each other perhaps honing their hunting skills. But most interesting was our encounter with a bobcat. As we started our hike, the bobcat scampered out of some rocks and strolled on the trail ahead. It took us by surprise to see a cat at least five times larger than my beloved fat tabby. As we rounded the first bend in the trail, we spotted him again up the hillside. This time Dick was ready with camera in hand. You'll have to wait for his full report to see that rare animal.

Actually I was not as ready as I should have been, since the kitty took off at high speed when he realized we were approaching. So the picture is an outline of a bobcat quickly going over the ridge above the trail. Still, this rare sighting was the highlight of the hike.

On past hikes we have placed a vehicle at each end of the trail and hiked the entire two mile route. This time our plan was to go about a mile from the state park trailhead, then turn back. This took us to a tree that is a documented resting place for eagles, but they were absent this day. After taking our usual group photo at this point, Don stopped for a rest. I walked on a little farther, and reached another good resting place. Elsa and Wes are a bit more energetic and decided to continue on to a point of land which is the start of the final stretch to Winchell Cove. I had a snack and took some photos, then walked back to where Don was. We soon spotted the others making their way back toward us, and we completed our walk together.

At two places we stopped for the traditional Wes on the Rock photo. Already decked out in reindeer antlers, he had another surprise for us as he juggled three tennis balls while posing for his photo. During their explorations Wes also got the first ever "Elsa on the Rock" photo.

Where we met Don is a little shopping center which includes a Pizza Factory, where we have eaten in the past. I've patronized them in a half dozen small cities and towns around Central California, and have never been disappointed with the food. When we finished our lunch and went out to our cars, we found that our adventures were not over - Don's truck would not start.

The first suspect was the battery in the remote, so he switched with Wes who had the same battery, but this did not solve the problem. Don had left a window down, so he was able to get into the truck, but without being able to unlock it with the remote, the alarm would not shut off. We ended up driving him home, a short three miles. Since we had been unable to determine the cause of the problem, his plan was to call for roadside service.

Despite this one glitch, it was a delightful day, with views of the mountains and nearby foothills. The lake was down quite a bit but nothing as low as it had been during the recent drought years, and provided plenty of nice vistas.

I'll let Wes finish his comments:

I guess I should confess to having the most fun. I donned reindeer antlers as my head gear and juggled tennis balls while atop a high rock. If there is a fine, I'll happily pay it. It was a great day with mild weather and beautiful views of water and shore. Please join us next time if possible. Who knows, you may be caught breaking that law as well.

--Dick Estel, December 2017

Millerton Blue Oak Photos


Lewis Eaton Trail

For our final hike of 2017, Don, Sue, Wes and Dick met at the parking lot trailhead for the Lewis S. Eaton Trail, which parallels the San Joaquin River north of Fresno. Wes and Don have a lot to say about this outing:

The Ramblers finished the hiking year with a gentle walk along the Eaton Trail leading to the Coke Hallowell Center for River Studies. The trail follows a chain of old gravel pits which are being converted into ponds for bird and wildlife habitat. The day presented with clear skies and little wind. The surface of the pond waters offered reflective views of the landscape. We did see wildlife including rabbits and a variety of birds (including Red Tail Hawks). Once again we had no sightings of the American Bald Eagle which are rumored to nest in this area. It was a special way to end the year with good friends chatting and walking with each other. We look forward to all of you joining us in 2018. 

P.S. One of the last water images shows a raft of ducks linked while performing a some kind of "circle dance". Can anyone tell me what this means? Courtship? Mental illness?

Don soon came up with an answer:

What I found at Azcentral.com: 

QUESTION: We have a little pond in our neighborhood where ducks congregate this time of year. I have noticed a peculiar behavior of these birds on the coldest mornings and presumably also on cold nights. They swim continuously in a tight circle almost touching each other. This behavior must be to warm themselves. Do you know what the mechanism is for warming shared body heat, the water temperature or something else?"

ANSWER: Close, but no cigar. This circling behavior could have something to do with cooler temperatures, but it's not directly connected to body warming. Ducks may not be the brightest creatures on God's green earth, but this circling thing is sort of clever. Bird people aren't 100-percent sure about this, but the thinking is that by paddling around in those tight circles the ducks are agitating the water sort of setting up a rotation that brings to the surface the algae and plants and whatever else it is ducks eat. This strategy would work best in a shallow pond, such as the one in your neighborhood. That's pretty smart, you think? I wouldn't have thought of that, but then I don't eat much algae. The warming connection could be the idea that with colder weather coming on the ducks are eating more to build up the body fat they need to stay warm.

I'm not sure what I can add after that fascinating nature lesson. Perhaps just to say that the weather was ideal, although it had been a cold night. There was still frost on the grass where the side of the trail was shaded by the high bank of the river bottom. We enjoyed a nice rest and a stroll around the River Center. The buildings were not open but the restrooms and benches were accessible, and we still had fascinating exterior views of a historic farmhouse and barn. There were no rocks, but Wes made his way up an unofficial path for a view from the bank between trail and river. We took our traditional group photo on the lawn at the center.

Returning to civilization, we chose to prepare for the holiday feasting ahead by having a salad. Well, a salad plus soup and chili and ice cream and bread - all this at Sweet Tomatoes, an excellent restaurant that specializes in those foods. It was nice enough that we ate in the covered patio, but sat next to one of the propane heaters. (Sadly, the Coronavirus spelled the end for Sweet Tomatoes restaurants throughout the country.)

As we ate, we discussed future hiking possibilities, and looked forward to another dozen outings with delightful companions.

--Dick Estel, December 2017

Eaton Trail Photos


Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window) 
(Photos by Wes Thiessen, Don McClellan, and Dick Estel)


Camp 4 1/2 Cabin          Wawona Meadow          Millerton Blue Oak Trail           Eaton Trail


Camp 4 1/2 Cabin Hike


Pine Flat Lake, still with plenty
of water in late summer
Milkweed seed pod and guests Dick and Don on the road
The Kings River with the
little beach by the cabin
Camp 4 1/2 Cabin Raccoon tracks in the sand
The Ramblers: Wes, Don and Dick An idyllic spot for boyhood adventures Fortunately, we brought a boy
Rock with iron stains and lichen Red leaves of buckeye, brown hills,
and white clouds in the blue sky
Our lunch spot on the north side of the river
Still a lot of water coming down the channel Buckeye seeds are thick throughout the foothills The last bridge
Clouds above our hiking road The river where we ate lunch
Wawona Meadow
Dogwood beauty
Looking across the meadow at Wawona Dome Ripe berries, awaiting a hungry bird or bear Mossy rocks stand out against fall leaves
Wes, not quite on the log Carolyn and Dick on the trail Leaves carpeted our walkway
This old rail fence surrounds the meadow Another view of the fence A walk in the woods
Evergreen sampler: Fir, cedar and pine A perfect combination of sun and shadow Sunlight on black oak leaves
A typical section of the trail The Ramblers: Wes, Carolyn, Dick and Don
Millerton Blue Oak Trail
Bob cat making tracks for other parts Shuteye Peak in the distance
above Millerton Lake and Sky Harbor
Looking west along the shore
Wes on the rock, juggling Wes on another rock Elsa on the rock
Pincushion Peak Big branch from a blue oak Where it fell from
Those hikers in the distance are Wes and Elsa Dick, Elsa and Don Wes searches for the perfect photo op
The Ramblers: Wes, Don, Dick and Elsa A small island, framed through a rugged blue oak Looking north across the lake
Dick, Elsa and Don, seen from the beach A final rest stop
Eaton Trail
Wes on the hill Wes explores one of the many unofficial
paths that lead off the main trail
Rabbits were also out enjoying the nice day
A huge shade tree at the River Center The Ramblers: Wes, Don, Dick and Sue

Wes gets what his wife calls "one of your artsy-fartsy shots"

Palms and a pond at the River Center Old farm house and other buildings at the center Looking across the pond
Ducks doing a circle dance This plant is common along roads and
trails, but none of us can identify it
One of the old gravel pits, now providing a
scenic refuge for birds and other wildlife

Related Links



Pine Flat Lake

Kirch Flat Campground

Camp 4 1/2 Cabin Kings River Yosemite National Park
Meadow Loop Trail History of Wawona Wawona
Railroad Fire Lake Millerton Blue Oak Trail
Bobcat Friant Dam Lewis S. Eaton Trail
Hallowell Center for River Studies Video - Circling Ducks Previous Eaton & Other Valley Hikes

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Updated September 9, 2021