An old railroad, lumber camp days, a beaver pond and Ginger Rogers all have something in common with our hike up Central Camp Road.
Where: Sierra National Forest
Distance: 14.29 Miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation Range: 3,514′ – 5,038′
Date: December 22, 2016
Maps: Ahwahnee & Little Shuteye Topographic Quad Maps
Dog Hike? Yes, depending on your dog
I drove up Hwy 41, turned right on the Bass Lake Road/Road 222, then headed up the left fork as it reaches Bass Lake, then up Malum Ridge Road/Road 274 to Central Camp Road. I parked at the wide dirt pullout on the right side and across the street from Central Camp Road where I met up with my hiking buddies.
We had planned to hike Brown’s Ditch on this day but someone asked if we had seen the beaver ponds up the road. Well, we had not seen these beaver ponds so we switched our plan and walked up Central Camp Road.
There were many camps associated with the logging in this area and two of those were Middle Camp and Central Camp. As logging was occurring in the surrounding mountains, the activity would move to where the timber was and where it would be taken out. This would include relocating the logging camps, their families, equipment and the railroads that hauled the logs off of the mountain. In 1919, logging was moved east of Fish Camp and lines were built into the Fresno Dome and Raymond Mountain area. The 1953 Topog Map below shows the location of Central Camp and at the bottom left corner is Bass Lake. The second map below is a 1904 Topog Map that shows the railroad line.
After about 5 years of cutting in this tract, the railroad was torn up and a new branch started south past Soquel Meadow where the old Madera Flume and Trading Company had logged 30 years before. At this point the Madera Sugar Pine Company railroad tracks joined the spurs of the Sugar Pine Lumber company running out of Central Camp a few miles to the south. I learned from a 1948 Madera Tribune newspaper article that the Sugar Pine Lumber Company was organized in 1921, and the mill, railroad and Central Camp completed in the spring of 1923, with logging started that year. The railroad from the mill to Central Camp was about 65 miles long. After logging about 25,000 acres they closed down in 1931 and went into receivership.
At one point, there was a big plan to move the logs to Pinedale, now near Blackstone and Hearndon Avenues in Fresno, via two separate railroad lines. The Sugar Pine Lumber Company Railroad line ran south from Central Camp 11 miles across the Bass Lake Dam, ending at the Wishon Switch Yard (near Miller’s Landing). From that area, the Minerets & Western Railroad ran south 33 miles to the mill in Pinedale. This railroad system was completed in 1923, costing about 6 million dollars. It operated for about 8 years, hauling 800 million board feet. It never made a profit and went bankrupt in 1933.
You might wonder how all of that could disappear, but it hasn’t! The road that we know as Central Camp Road is the bed of that old railroad and we were walking on that old railroad bed on our hike. There is also a section of the original Madera Sugar Pine Flume on display at the Fresno Flats Museum and another section on top of a E Clampus Vitus Monument, on the way to Yosemite along Highway 41, just past Rd. 632 (Sky Ranch Rd). Look for the ECCO sign on the right side. If you would like to read more about this fascinating history, I highly recommend the book “Thunder in the Mountains” by Hank Johnson. Along with the history, there are amazing photographs related to the history of the Madera Sugar Pine Company. Or you can stop by the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad in Fish Camp to learn more and maybe even take a ride on the train. You can locate their schedule on their Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad Home Page.
You can also visit Sugar Pine just a mile off of Highway 41 where the Sugar Pine Mill was located. The log pond is used for recreation and fishing today. The old concrete power house is about all that is still standing. Most of the old logger’s cabins have been replaced by vacation homes along Lewis Creek.
As we walked up the road, we had some wonderful views of the country.
We reached a viewpoint where we could see Bass Lake.
Here is another piece of historical trivia about this area. The 1932 movie Carnival Boat was filmed in the woods east of Bass Lake California. The film has many scenes of “High Line” logging, common in the Sierra at that time. Sugar Pine Lumber Company and its Western and Minarets Railroad, furnished the Production with the use of their “Saddle Tank” Locomotives, Log Cars, and other logging equipment during filming. The runaway train scene shows a crossing of Bass Lake Dam by one of the Minarets & Western Railroad Locomotives.
Actors included William Boyd, Ginger Rogers, Hobart Bosworth, Fred Kohler, and Edgar Kennedy. Turner Classic Movies describes the movie as “trifling but enjoyable story of North Woods logger Bosworth, who expects his son to follow in his footsteps, but Boyd’s attention is divided between his job and Rogers, the cute entertainer on the carnival boat. Benefits from location shooting and some hair-raising action scenes: one on a runaway locomotive, the other involving planting TNT in the middle of a logjam.” I understand that the historical footage from the movie related to the railroad shots are well worth watching it. I tried to locate a copy of this movie but was unable to do so but I located a clip of Ginger Rogers singing “How I Could Go For You” from the movie that you can watch here.
As we climbed up the road, we looked toward the valley and the beautiful artistic landscapes.
Well, we hadn’t reached those beaver ponds yet but we had a nice view of dead trees and decided it was time for lunch.
We grabbed a spot on the cutbank of that old railroad grade and looked out on the view. As we ate, we decided that we should turn around and save those beaver ponds for another day.
Dog Hike? Maybe
I didn’t bring Sally on this hike because we had originally planned to hike Brown’s Ditch and that isn’t a good Sally hike. This hike would have been a great one for her though. There are critters in this area such as Mountain Lions, Coyotes, Deer and in the warmer weather, the rattlesnakes will be out. Good, fresh and running water is not abundant, so you should plan on bringing dog water with you. Here are the Sierra National Forest rules for pets from their website:
Domestic pets are allowed in wilderness areas. You are responsible for their actions as well as their welfare. Pets should either be leashed or under direct voice control. When camping in areas with other visitors, pets should be kept on a leash. Wilderness visitor’s who plan to travel into an adjacent National Park should be aware that National Parks do not permit pets.
When in campgrounds, public beaches or on trails local ordinances require pets to be leashed. As a consideration to others, please refrain from taking pets to beach areas to prevent contamination. Domestic pets are allowed in wilderness areas. You are responsible for their actions as well as their welfare. Pets should either be leashed or under direct voice control. When camping in areas with other visitors, pets should be kept on a leash. Wilderness visitor’s who plan to travel into an adjacent National Park should be aware that National Parks do not permit pets.
- Clean up after your pet. It will only take a few minutes and there is no single action that will more favorably impress your fellow campers.
Maps and Profile:
Doarama Link: Central House Hike Doarama Link
Johnston, Hank, Thunder in the Mountains: The Life and Times of Madera Sugar Pine Company, Stauffer Publishing, Fish Camp, CA
“Logging Proved Difficult Job in Early Days”, Madera Tribune, September 28, 1948