Hikers, horseback riders, 4-wheelers, motorcycles and bicyclists have access to this United States Forest Service system of roads and trails that climb up the hill past dogwoods into forests and meadows. We were sure hoping that those dogwoods might be blooming.
I drove about 4 miles down and parked our vehicles at Chepo Saddle at the large parking pull-out where United States Forest Service (USFS) Rd. 6S13 starts. There is a gate that was open for the season but it is closed during the winter to vehicle traffic.
We made sure that we parked our vehicles to give plenty of room for horse trailers to also park here and to keep the entrance to the road open.
The roads that we hiked are full of interesting history that includes the Native Americans, logging, mining and cattle drives. We followed roads that were once used as cattle trails, moving cattle from the lower foothills up to higher country to graze on summer grass in the mountains.
There is an excellent book about the history of this area named “Willow Creek History: Tales of Cow Camps, Shake Makers & Basket Weavers” by local author Marcia Penner Freedman that I utilized in researching the history of the area.
Bass Lake was known as Crane Valley when the first cattle trails in the area began in the 1850s. In 1893 and with the establishment of the Sierra Forest Reserve, later called the Sierra National Forest in 1905, allotments and permits were required for ranchers to graze their cattle on the National Forest.
“Willow Creek History” stated that “two main high country allotments within the Willow Creek watershed are Soquel and Central Camp. The typical route was from the Crane Valley corral (at Bass Lake) to Soquel Meadow and then on to the permit areas. On their way to Soquel, the herds passed over Willow Creek at the bridge near the Greys Mountain Campground.”
Families helped families, driving their cattle from their home ranches heading up to Crane Valley where the United States Forest Service had a corral. The cattle were sorted and driven up to the area where the family held their individual permits. In the fall, the families would bring their cattle back down and returned to their home ranches.
As the old cattle trails that led up the hill to Crane Valley were paved, the cattle were no longer able to be herded as they used to be and they were trucked up the mountain. That expense was just too much for some of the ranchers to make any profit and many went out of business.
Our hike headed up the mountain on some of these old cattle trails of yesterday. Many people refer to the route we took as “The Cowboy Trail”, not to be confused with the street to the east of this USFS road by the same name. The gnats were already buzzing around our heads as we started out. Deb and Gail put their bug nets on while I opted to wait a bit. I don’t mind swishing the gnats away as long as I am not eating too many of them but I had my net with me just in case. The trail was mostly in the sun as we began and there was no breeze, which makes these gnats love to hang around faces.
We hadn’t gone up the road too far before Deb spotted some harlequin lupine. I just love this flower. It is so colorful and unique. I love it even more when I get a picture of a bug on it!
We reached a more shaded area with firs, cedars and alders, where we spotted the first of two snowplants along the road.
We could see the dogwood trees in bloom ahead of us but couldn’t tell how far along they were with their blooms until we reached them. Although we all call those showy white blooms on a dogwood tree “flowers”, they are really called bracts and the flower of the dogwood is the middle part. Some “blooms” were brand new and a creamy greenish color.
Of course, we were all taking pictures!
These white bracts are a little older and more mature. You can spot the dogwood flower in the middle of their white bracts on these pictures. Yellow, creamy or white, they are all beautiful.
We headed on up the trail, taking various junctions and shortcuts up toward the Grey Meadow Campground. Just before we reached it, the trail had a section where there is a straight dropoff along one side into the North Fork of Willow Creek.
We headed down to a pretty rocky slab next to the creek and were really surprised how low the creek was for this time of the year. It was still very pretty and the sound of the water running over the small waterfalls was like music. I thought you might like to take a look and listen at that small waterfall that I captured for you, while Gail Gilbert captured this picture of me taking the video.
I wondered what Raven thought of the situation. . . .
It was a great spot to stop and have an early lunch.
After lunch we didn’t have any problems crossing the creek a little farther upstream and wandered along it through the meadow area. We made a quick stop at the restrooms before crossing the bridge and heading back down the trail.
As we were heading down the trail, we took a look back toward the way we came and could see the thunderheads building.
We also met a couple of horses heading up the trail and stopped and chatted with friends.
When we made it back to the area where the dogwoods were blooming, the light was much different so it gave us all an excuse to take more pictures of those beautiful dogwoods.
When we reached the bottom, the dryer and more open portion of the trail, those thunderheads were really building and were so gorgeous contrasted with the blue sky.
We had almost reached our cars when Deb showed us a small area along the trail where you could see Bass Lake.
It was a warmer day at the bottom parts of this hike but sure nice higher up. I lucked out, didn’t eat any bugs so didn’t need to use my bug net. Swishing them away with my hat worked ok. This can be a good dog hike if your dog is a good fit. You cannot count on any dog water until you reach the North Fork of Willow Creek so you will need to pack your dog’s water. Deb kept Raven on leash for a good portion and in control and close by us during the hike. There is poison oak in spots and I am sure the rattlesnakes were watching us. I had seen several snake paths across the dirt road on our hike.
This is a great place to check out some blooming dogwoods, or even fall-colored dogwoods and it is close by!
Freedman, Marcia Penner, Willow Creek History: Tales of Cow Camps, Shake Makers & Basket Weavers, The history Press, Charleston, SC, 2013
Lee, Gaylon D., Walking Where We Lived: Memoirs of a Mono Indian Family, 1998