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Photo by Debra Sutherland

Discovering Wildflowers Along the Merced River Trail Near Briceburg

We were driving home from hiking the Moss Creek Trail but the day was still young, so we swung through the Briceburg area to check out the poppies along the way. This is one of those adventures that you can drive, hike, or a combination of both to enjoy beautiful spring flowers.

Where: Bureau of Land Management
Distance: About 5 miles driving and 3 miles walking but you can go shorter or longer
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Range: 1,130′ – 2,657′
Date: April 3, 2019
Maps: Buckingham Mountain Topographic Quad
Dog Hike? Yes

Since hiking Hite Cove is out of the mix this year due to the damage from the 2018 Ferguson Fire, we sure don’t want to miss viewing those beautiful poppies and there are plenty of other areas to go in this area. In case you are thinking of breaking the law and going there anyway, they are very serious about enforcing the closure with individual fines up to $5,000 and organization fines up to $10,000 or imprisonment up to 6 months or both. According to the official forest order, it will be closed until December of 2020.

To reach Briceburg and the Merced River Trail, head up Hwy 140 north 15 miles from Mariposa to the Briceburg Visitor Center at the Merced Wild & Scenic River. The Visitor Center is currently closed and we continued driving in along the Merced River and over the suspension bridge just past the Briceburg Visitor Center. They don’t recommend that trailers over 18 feet and large RV’s cross the suspension bridge. You can also park at the Visitor Center and walk across the bridge and down the road. We continued driving down river along the unpaved Briceburg River Road (old Yosemite Valley Railroad Grade). The road was in pretty good shape and I was able to easily avoid the potholes in my car. We drove about 5 miles to the end of the road, parking next to the nice clean restrooms and continued walking down the Merced River Trail for about 1 1/2 miles or so, then turned around. Daily parking is free, but a camping fee of $10 per night applies at any of the three campgrounds. Restrooms are available at the campgrounds. Rattlesnakes are out and love this area so I kept my eyes open as the trail wound near rocks and tall grass.

As we walked down river on the trail, we passed evidence of mining in the past but there is still plenty of mining going on today. This is a popular area for goldpanners and there are some private property and mining claims in this area. The nice path we walked on along the Merced River was built in 1907 for the railroad that carried passengers from the central valley to El Portal. Due to the Depression and World War II, the railroad lost customers and the last run occurred in 1945. The railroad ties have been removed making a dandy path for all of us.

But the reason we came to this trail was to check out the spring flowers and we were not disappointed.

Photo by Debra Sutherland

The redbuds were glorious!

Photo by Debra Sutherland

And when those redbuds teamed up with poppies, it was magical.

Photo by Debra Sutherland

We turned around after about 1 1/2 miles and headed back to toward the car.

Photo by Debra Sutherland

Once we got back to the car, we made some stops along the road. One of those stops was at the small cemetery on the north side of the road, not far from the downstream end of the road. The white fenced grave is easy to see from the road.

Once I got home, I researched the graves and located some information on Find a Grave.

Briceburg Gravesites (Find a Grave)

In such an isolated area as this was, I was curious about these people. I researched one of them, Louis Gay and discovered that he was born in Switerland and died in Mariposa County. From the Mariposa Gazette June 4, 1910:

Mariposa Gazette, Volume LVI, Number 2, 4 June 1910

A Skip is a container that is used to hoist ore up from the bottom of a shaft to the surface. Skips come in all shapes and sizes but it appears that Gay and Miller were riding in the skip from the bottom of the shaft to the top of the mine. There is also some sort of discrepancy here. The Mariposa Gazette article was from June 4, 1910 and it says the accident occurred on May 29, the California Death Index states that he died May 31 yet Louis’s tombstone says he died February 27, 1910. I took a look at 1910 calendar and the date that the Coroner was called to the Mountain King Mine would have been Monday, May 29. I believe that is the actual date of his death.

Since Louis Gay died early in the year of 1910, I went back to the previous census to try and lcoate him. I found him on the 1900 census in Diamond Springs, El Dorado County and he was working as a Gold Miner, single and a Boarder. That census stated that he had come to the United States in 1888. In his household were the Mining Superintendent, a Cook, 2 Gold Miners and a Blacksmith. Living next door is a man named Comile Gay, born 1868 Switzerland, a Gold Miner, and his wife Felecid. It also shows that both Louis and Comile Gay were both born in May 1868. This could be a mistake or these two men could have been twins. I tracked Comile forward and his name was spelled Camille, born May 10, 1866 Switzerland, died from heart disease October 8, 1912 Placerville, El Dorado County, and his parents were Gene Peter Gray and Gerrice Bondaz.

Then we slowly drove back out the road, stopping the take pictures of the colorful wildflowers along the way.

Photo by Debra Sutherland

Photo by Debra Sutherland

Photo by Debra Sutherland

 

I have always turned around at the point when I reach 2 1/2 miles or so down the trail past the gate but I have heard that you can go to Bagby. On the stretch where I have hiked, the trail portion that you walk on gets a bit overgrown as you head farther downstream, making good areas for rattlesnakes to be unseen. I just can’t give you intel on the trail all the way down to Bagby but have included a link to a TrailLink write up on the trail.

There are three developed BLM campgrounds along the Merced River between Briceburg and Bagby. The campgrounds are accessed by crossing the suspension bridge just past the Briceburg Visitor Center and heading down river along the unpaved Briceburg River Road (old Yosemite Valley Railroad Grade).

McCabe Flat – 2.3 miles downstream from Briceburg
Willow Placer – 3.6 miles downstream from Briceburg
Railroad Flat – 4.5 miles downstream from Briceburg
North Fork Primitive Camp – 2.5 miles downstream from Railroad Flat Campground
Cable Rock Day Use Site – 1.4 miles downstream from Briceburg
Briceburg Day Use/Put-in – Hwy 140 at Merced River, 12 miles east of Mariposa

Dog Hike?

I did not bring Sally on this hike but she has hiked here before when it was cooler and before the rattlesnakes had woken up. Dog rules in this area include the following:

  • Dogs must be on leash at all times.
  • No dogs allowed at McCabe Flat swimming beach.

Maps and Profile:

Merced River Recreation Management Area

Sources:

Ferguson Fire Trail Closures

Briceburg Graves Find a Gravesite

Mariposa Gazette, Volume LVI, Number 2, 4 June 1910

Merced River Recreation Management Area

Merced River Trail TrailLink

Prior Blogs in This Area:

Discovering Wildflowers Along The Moss Creek Trail April 3, 2019

Hiking Along the Merced Wild and Scenic River with Mom February 21, 2016

Merced River Canyon Hike – Part 1 March 5, 2013

About Candace Gregory

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