Wildflower season has definitely arrived in the Merced River Canyon. And, it was a 15 newt day on the Hite’s Cove Trail! If you don’t feel like going the distance that I did on the Hite’s Cove Trail, the most concentrated area of poppies is within the first 1/2 mile or so. But that is also the most concentrated area for people also.
Where: Private Property, Sierra National Forest
Distance: 7.93 Miles
Elevation Range: 1,407′ – 2,045′
Elevation Total Ascent: 2,540′
Date: March 21, 2022
CALTOPO: Hite’s Cove Trail
Dog Hike? Maybe
I headed up Hwy 140 toward Yosemite and parked right across the street from the Redbud Lodge which is located after you cross the South Fork Bridge on the right. There is a narrow parking area along the highway where you can see the 2 new porta potties and they are not the terrible horrible ones that used to be there. 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 also made sure to carry plenty of drinking water and kept an eye out for rattlesnakes.
At the beginning of the trail, a box held flyers prepared by Mariposa Trails on the Hite’s Cove Trail. Mariposa Trails is a local organization of volunteers that provides trail access and promotes its use for adventure, health, stewardship, education and community prosperity. They perform alot of trail maintenance and welcome donations to help them with costs. If you click on the copies of the handout below, they will become larger.
Whether you call it Hite’s, Hites, or Hite Cove, it is all acceptable and the same place. My destination was to the old mining town of Hite, 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.
The Hite’s Cove Trail was closed for a while due to the Ferguson Fire which started on the evening of Friday, July 13, 2018 along Highway 140 (South Fork of the Merced River) in the Sierra National Forest in Mariposa County. Two firefighters were killed while fighting the fire which burned 96,901 acres of the Sierra National Forest, Stanislaus National Forest, Yosemite National Park, and state lands. It was declared fully contained on August 22, 2018. The cause of the Ferguson Fire was determined to be vehicle-related. Specifically, investigators believe super-heated pieces of a catalytic converter came into contact with dry, roadside vegetation, igniting the fire.
Even after the Ferguson Fire was controlled, this trail remained closed for public safety due to the risk of landslide and rock fall associated with the moderate to high intensity fire effects from the fire on the soil and vegetation surrounding these trails. It reopened last year and the trail is in good shape for this year’s wildflower peeping.
My plan was to head up the trail early, hoping to see some Newts, be back in the poppy areas in the early afternoon and beat any crowds. I hit the trail around 8:30 and the poppies were still closed up, but I could see plenty of poppies along the trail. I was very curious what the hillside would look like in the afternoon after they had opened up.
The narrow trail follows the South Fork of the Merced River and it is pretty much straight down to the river.
Even though the poppies were closed up, other wildflowers were open along the trail.
I continued up the trail.
About about that time, I saw my first Sierra newt on the trail.
Adults can grow up to 4.9 – 7.8 inches long and I ended up seeing 15 on the trail, probably moving from breeding sites near the river.
Migration may take several weeks and cover large distances. I read that in one study, California newts were recaptured up to nearly two miles away from the breeding pond where they were originally captured and marked. Newts have a strong homing instinct and typically return to the same breeding site each time they breed.
Poisonous skin secretions containing tetrodotoxin repel most predators. This potent neurotoxin is widespread throughout the skin, muscles, and blood, and can cause death in many animals, including humans, if eaten in sufficient quantity. A study estimated that 1,200 – 2,500 mice could be killed from the skin of one California Newt. This poison can also be ingested through a mucous membrane or a cut in the skin, so care should always be taken when handling newts. In most locations the Common Gartersnake, Thamnophis sirtalis, is has a high resistance to this poison, and is known to prey on Taricha species.
Have you wondered what these newts eat? Adults eat small invertebrates such as worms, snails, slugs, sowbugs, and insects. They also consume amphibian eggs and larvae, including newt larvae and newt eggs. A small nestling bird was found in the stomach of one newt. Larvae eat small aquatic invertebrates, decomposing organic matter, and possibly other newt larvae.
Did you know that these newts talk? Well, they do make sounds. Three types of sounds were documented: clicks, squeaks, and whistles. Clicks were the most commonly heard sounds. They were made when newts were put in an unfamiliar location, and when they were confronted by another newt. The clicks appeared to be used to establish territories.
Squeaks were made when a newt was picked up, and were sometimes accompanied by the newt twisting its body. The purpose of the squeak might be to startle a predator or to advertise the newt’s toxicity.
The whistle was observed during breeding activity when a newt was touched in the middle of the back by a human or another newt, such as when a male newt climbed onto the back of another male newt. It was produced by males and females. The sound was not observed and could not be artificially evoked two weeks after breeding was over. This sound appears to be used in sex recognition and to establish hierarchical relationships, similar to the release call of a frog. For more information on the Sierra Newt, please take a look at the link at the end of this blog.
I took a look back, downriver, where I had traveled from.
Although people think of Hite Cove as a place to see poppies, there are many other flowers to see along the trail.
The trail followed closer along the river for a while and the South Fork was moving fast.
There were a few trees across the trail but none that couldn’t be walked under, crawled over or walked around. The redbud was blooming, some just starting and others finishing up their blooms.
After a couple of miles, I reached 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.
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.
I found a good spot to have a snack, imagining what it was like to live and work at the town of Hite back in the day.
Then I turned around and headed back. Baby blue eyes had lost their morning dew and were wide open.
I tried to take pictures of the many butterflies visiting the flowers but they were too fast for me on this day to get any good pictures, or maybe I just wasn’t patient enough. So all I have to show for my efforts are bad pictures of butterflies.
I continued walking and were treated to more poppies.
Orange poppies were not the only color along the trail.
I reached the final stretch of the trail
Those poppies performed a finale for me.
As I drove home, I could see a few hillsides on the south side of Hwy 140 sporting their orange oceans of flowers but more will be coming soon. 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. We have picked up ticks on this hike in the past but I didn’t get any on me on this adventure.
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 Savage’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.
What is a Doarama? It is a video playback of the GPS track overlaid on a 3 dimensional interactive map. If you “grab” the map, you can tilt it or spin it and look at it from different viewing angles. With the rabbit and turtle buttons, you can also speed it up, slow it down or pause it.
Hiking From Savage’s Trading Post Along The South Fork Of The Merced River Up To Hite Cove Doarama
Maps and Profile:
CALTOPO has some free options for mapping and here is a link to my hike this week: CALTOPO: Hite’s Cove Trail
Mendershausen, Ralph R., Treasures of the South Fork, 1983
Hite’s Cove Chinese Heritage Sites of the American West
Favorite Hikes of the Sierra Seniors Book, Jim Putman, July 2010
Sierra National Forest Hite Cove Trail Closure
Gold Districts of California Bulletin 193 California Division of Mines and Geology 1976 Hite Cove District
USGS Map Locator and Downloader
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
Dick Etstel’s Old Mariposa 1911 Hite Cove Picture
Prior Blogs in This Area:
Hiking to Hite’s Cove: It’s Poppy Season! March 23, 2021
Hiking from Savage’s Trading Post up the Hite Cove Trail April 15, 2018
Hiking from Indian Flat through Hite Cove April 21, 2017
Hiking From Indian Flat to the Old Hite Mine January 15, 2016
Hite Cove Wildflower Hike March 22, 2015
Hiking on the Savage Lundy Trail March 7, 2015
Hiking With The Sierra Newt To View Wildflowers At Hite Cove March 22, 2014
Hite Cove Wildflower Hike- Part 1 March 18, 2013