Wildflowers are putting on a show in the Hite Cove area right now. Redbuds were in their prime and the poppies were looking mighty pretty, along with all other kinds and colors of flowers. And those Sierra Newts were out and about.
Where: Sierra National Forest
Distance: 9.24 Miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation Range: 1,400′ – 1,694′
Date: April 5, 2018
Maps: Sierra National Forest, Buckingham Mountain Topographic Quad
Dog Hike? Maybe
I headed up Hwy 140 toward Yosemite. Savage’s Trading Post is on the right after you cross the South Fork Bridge and I parked across the road (on the river side) where there were also a couple of portable toilets. I walked across the road from where I parked and the trail began with a short climb through private property for 3/4 of a mile. There were good trailhead signs on this hike, but that is not always the case. I made sure to carry plenty of drinking water and kept an eye out for rattlesnakes.
My intended destination was to the old mining town of Hite (also formerly known as Hite’s Cove), which was named after John Hite who discovered gold there. Placer mining began in the area shortly after the beginning of the gold rush, and the Hite Mine was discovered in 1862 by John R. Hite. He operated the property for 17 years and became quite rich. The mine was active again during the early 1900s and there has been some prospecting in the area in recent years. The Hites Cove post office operated from 1868 to 1869, and from 1878 to 1889. The Hite post office operated from 1901 to 1902. The town burned down in 1924.
My plan was to head up the trail early, hoping to see some Newts, be back in the poppy areas in the afternoon and beat the heat a little. I hit the trail at 0745 and the poppies were still closed up.
But other flowers were awake for the day.
The Poison Oak was looking mighty healthy.
And I started seeing Sierra Newts almost from the start. I needed to watch where I was stepping beause they moved slow and it would have been easy to step on one but I didn’t. I must have seen over 50 of them that morning. They were returning from their all night partying down by the river, meeting members of the opposite sex, then wandering home in the early morning to sleep it off and start it all over the next night. I didn’t see any Newts after 9, so if you want to catch them on the trail you need to be on the trail early.
I saw many different colors of flowers.
And the bugs were also out and busy.
A trail crew had recently done some some great work trail work. Thank you so much for making this trail so nice.
The Redbud was in its prime.
As I approached the old community of Hite, I walked by the remains of big iron arrastras and cone grinders that had been brought in to rework the old tailings of the Hite Mines around 1900. But back in the day, this mining operation was a big and complex one. It is hard to believe that in 1864, the town of Hite Cove had a population of about 100 and a ten stamp milling operation. That ten stamp mill had cost $11,000 and was in full operation back in 1867 when it was destroyed by flooding in March of 1867. A twenty stamp mill replaced that one back in 1868. A diversion dam and its ditches brought water down to the “new” forty stamp mill that John Hite built in 1875, with tram cars moving the material from the mines, then traveling down a steep tramway to the stamp mill.
A crew of forty-five Chinese workers were living in Hite Cove in 1866. They were the men who built the Hite Cove Road from Snyder down to Hite’s Cove. They were the hard workers who hauled all of the construction materials and equipment down. Their community was located on the north end of town after you pass the old mining equipment and on the left. The stone walls of houses and shops line the old road.
Some of those old rock walls have acquired some beautiful color through the ages.
I reached the point where the old suspension bridge spanned the South Fork of the Merced River. I could see the remains of the foundations and cables that are all that are left of that old bridge. Compare the picture that I took with a copyrighted 1911 picture from Dick Etsel’s wonderful website where you can see what Hite Cove looked like here. You can find that important old road on topographic maps today but it is now called the Hite Cove Four Wheel Road, heading down in the canyon off of Jerseydale Road.
Everywhere I walked, I passed remains of the old town and mining operation.
I followed the old road, wandering through the area where John Hite had his gardens that supplied his hotel and walked by where the dance hall built in 1878-1879 used to stand. I explored stone foundations where buildings once stood, remains of a spring-fed water system and newer old buildings where the hotel once stood. The town of Hite actually had 2 hotels. Because of its isolated location, drinking and gambling were popular diversions.
The trail crew had removed the overgrown vegetation that had made walking south of Hite impossible in the past few years, so I followed where they had worked about a half mile. Their work had uncovered an intricate picture of where the roads and old buildings had been in this area.
I even found a big chunk of obsidian that someone had worked long ago. After holding it and looking it over, I put it back where it was.
I headed back the same way that I had come and stopped for a little snack by the river.
My plan was working perfectly and by the time I got back to the flower areas, all of them were awake and showing off for me.
I watched this beautiful guy for a while as he (or she) really went to work on this flower.
Poppies were everywhere and they were beautiful with all of their combinations with other flowers or just with the rocky outcroppings.
As I headed back out along Hwy 140, I noticed that sweeps of golden poppies were starting along the south facing slopes along the Merced River. If you aren’t interested in hiking the Hite Cove Trail, another option would be to take a drive up the Merced River Canyon to check out the poppies just getting started on the hillsides. I am sure other foothill areas are seeing similar conditions.
It gets mighty warm in this canyon and I always bring plenty of water, continuing to hydrate throughout the hike. I didn’t see any rattlesnakes on this hike but they are out there and I am sure they saw me. There is lots and lots of poison oak, sometimes intruding onto the trail and if you are highly allergic to it, this may not be the hike for you. My hiking buddies have also picked up ticks on this hike but I didn’t get any on me on this adventure. The biggest issue I had was in the afternoon when the gnats came out. They weren’t horrible and I only swallowed 2 of them, could have been worse.
I located a wonderful website called “Dick Estel’s World” (link at end), which has some wonderful old pictures of the area. One of the pages, called “Old Mariposa” has photos that were provided by native Mariposa resident Ralph Walker. The pictures from his collection were either taken by or collected by Ralph’s father, C.J. (Charlie) Walker, who lived from about 1875 to 1928, and had a garage in downtown Mariposa from 1914 to 1928. Most of his photos date from the 1920s. Some older photos were most likely taken by Carlton E. Watkins, a noted photographer who worked in California in the mid-1800s. Within this collection is a picture of the town of Hite Cove taken in 1911, but since it is copyrighted, wanted to share the link with you: Dick Estel’s World
I recently discovered a fantastic resource related to Hite Cove and the South Fork of the Merced River. The book is called Treasures of the South Fork by Ralph R. Medershausen. The book is long out of print but you may be able to pick up a used copy on EBay or Amazon. There are amazing pictures and information related to the people who lived in and around the South Fork.
I did not bring Sally on this hike because this is not a good one for her but I have seen some people with dogs on this hike. There are some really steep areas at the Save’s Trading Post side of the hike that I feel an active dog could hurt themselves. These steep areas are also narrow in many places. If you had an uncontrollable dog, they could potentially knock into a fellow hiker, causing them to fall in those steep areas.
There is a ton of poison oak and your dog will be bringing it home on their coat for you and your family to enjoy later. There are also many rattlesnakes in this area that an exploring dog could interrupt their siesta. And it can get darn hot in that area.
Maps and Profile:
Sometimes, when you are in a tight canyon, the GPS won’t be able to hit the satellites it needs and it “guesses.” At the beginning of this hike, the GPS “guessed” that I was on the wrong side of the river . . . but it is close! Since the Doarama uses that GPS data to do its thing, it is a bit confused at the beginning on the wrong side of the river but figures things out. Doarama Link
Mendershausen, Ralph R., Treasures of the South Fork, 1983
Favorite Hikes of the Sierra Seniors Book, Jim Putman, July 2010
Gold Districts of California Bulletin 193 California Division of Mines and Geology 1976 Hite Cove District
Guide to the Ghost Towns, Mining Camps, and Other Formerly Inhabited Places in Mariposa County, California
Chamberlain, Newell D., The Call of Gold: True Tales on the Gold Road to Yosemite, Valley Publishers, Fresno, California 1972
Prior Blogs in This Area: