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Hiking up the Burma Road with Wildflowery Views

A great workout with beautiful flowers and a ton of history! This hike was right up my alley on a cooler day between raindrops.

Where: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Merced River Recreation Management Area
Distance: About 9 miles roundtrip to the gate but you can go shorter or longer
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Elevation Range: 1,138′ – 2,835′
Date: April 15, 2019
Maps: Buckingham Mountain Topographic Quad
Dog Hike? Maybe

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.

BLM, Merced River Recreation Management Area Public Image

Briceburg Visitor Center (BLM, Merced River Recreation Management Area Public Image)

To reach Briceburg and the Merced River Trail, I drove up Hwy 140 north about 15 miles from Mariposa to the Briceburg Visitor Center at the Merced Wild & Scenic River. You can’t miss the beautiful old stone building that William M. Brice built in 1926 as Highway 140 into Yosemite was being built. Originally it was a general store for locals and tourist. Gasoline pumps were later added, and it also provided lodging and had a soda fountain over the years. The BLM acquired the property in the 1980’s and refurbished the building to its near-original condition to be used as a visitor center. The Visitor Center is currently closed and expected to reopen the first weekend of May.

After driving by the Visitor Center, I parked in the parking area along the Merced River where the restroom is located and walked over the suspension bridge. They don’t recommend that trailers over 18 feet and large RV’s cross the suspension bridge. 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 so I kept my eyes open for them.

I couldn’t help imagining what this area must of looked like back in the day. I located the below photograph of the Briceburg area around 1942 from the Mariposa Museum & History Center Gallery. How incredible!

 Briceburg on Merced River and 140 Briceberg circa 1942 Mariposa Museum & History Gallery

Briceburg on Merced River and 140 Briceberg circa 1942 (Courtesy Mariposa Museum & History Center Gallery)

I really needed to learn more about William M. Brice and did a little research. From the 1910 census, I learned that he was born about 1867 in Illinois, married Elsie Ridgeway in 1899 in Mariposa. That census also says his father was born in Ireland and his mother in Scotland.

December 30, 1899 Mariposa Gazette

             BRICE-RIDGWAY Nuptials:

    A very pretty home wedding occurred on Monday, December 25th, 1899, at 8:30 a.m. at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. James A, RIDGWAY. Their second oldest daughter, Elsie A. RIDGWAY, was married to Wm. BRICE of Colorado, Rev. Henry NEATE officiating. The parlor was beautifully decorated with chrysanthemums, smilax and ferns, and the ceremony was performed under a bower of smilax and chrysanthemums. Then came the solemn impressive marriage ceremony and the congratulations of the assembled relatives. The bride and groom then led the way to the dinning room where a wedding breakfast was served. The walls of the dinning room were decorated with large ferns and and the prettily set long table was decked with strands of smilax and violets, Beautiful violets, sweetly gleamed, Lovingly from ‘neath the green leaves of the smilax, Kind hands of loving friends in seemed Had gathered them in their deep blue Brightness. 
    During the breakfast two canary birds in their gilded cages sang sweet omens of a happy future for the bridal pair. 
    Then amidst a shower of rice and old shoes, the newly married couple left, via Le Grand, for San Francisco and a tour of Southern California. 
    The bride looked handsome and was attired in an elegant traveling suit of mauve colored bengahue trimmed with white taffeta and silver braid. She carried a bouquet of maiden hair fern and white chrysanthemums and a bunch of the same nestled prettily in her dark hair. 
     Mariposa is the native town of the bride. It was here her childhood and girlhood was passed. She was a popular school teacher and has many warm friends throughout the county who wish her every happiness. 
     The groom is a native of Illinois. He has been a resident of Mariposa county for the past four years and is the senior member of the firm of Brice Brothers at Colorado. He is a young man of sterling worth, fine principles, and one of the most promising young men in Mariposa. 
     The Gazette wishes the couple every happiness. We trust that their life’s journey will be as bright and as free from clouds as was the wedding day, on which day it seemed that spring sunshine gleamed through December air.

The Mariposa Gazette published a story about the history of Briceburg written by Mrs. Elsie Brice Dovidio in April 1954.

In the year 1909, after the Yosemite Valley railroad was completed, William M. Brice, who owned and operated a general merchandise store in the Colorado district (pronounced “Col-o-row”) decided to move his business to a site on the railroad, near the junction of Bear Creek on the Merced River, and with his wife, Elsie, and baby son, Maxwell, proceeded to do so.     The buildings at Colorado were torn down, with their stock of goods and household equipment were loaded on Henry Garber’s 12-horse freight wagon, and in three trips, delivered to Bagby. There they were put on a freight train and delivered at Bear Creek. One building was partially finished and the stock scattered over the hillside, but business was carried on during the construction. The month of July, with not a shade tree and a three-months-old baby, didn’t make it easy.

The Mountain King mine, six miles down the river, and the Clearinghouse, 11 miles up the river, were running full blast, with numerous small mines, prospectors, ranchers and cattlemen scattered throughout the country.

A post office was established and after many names were submitted to Washington it became “Briceburg,” a regular train stop and headquarters for mining men and engineers. In 1920 the All-Year Highway, which had been talked about for so long, was started. The first work camp was established by Frank Rolandi, who was given the contract for the road from Mariposa to Briceburg. This section was completed in January, 1924. A suspension bridge was constructed to transport supplies for highway work from the railway station, which replaced the old narrow foot bridge. The Schlageter Stage Line was established and Henry Hedges drove the bus twice a week from Mariposa to Briceburg. The road completed into Yosemite, the business was moved to the present Briceburg Inn site, part of the mountainside having to be moved to make a spot to build.

I located him with his wife and son on the 1910 census living in Mariposa County and when I looked at the next census in 1920, I was surprised to see his wife with a different man named Charles L. Brown, married and running the store. After some searching, I discovered the sad news.

July 14, 1917 Mariposa Gazette

                           WELL KNOWN RESIDENT DIES IN OAKLAND

      William M. BRICE, the Briceburg merchant and one of the best known men in Merced river district, died in Oakland on Monday following an illness of many months, due to diabetes. 
      A few days before his death Mr. BRICE was taken from his home to Oakland in the hopes of prolonging his life but the effort failed. The remains were cremated in that city on Tuesday. 
      Deceased had been a resident of this county for about 25 years, first engaging in the mining industry and for a time operated the noted Schroeder mine on Saxon creek. He later purchased the Colorado store where he lived for a number of years. With the advent of the Yosemite Valley railroad into El Portal, Mr. BRICE moved his store to its present location at Briceburg and up to the time of his death carried on a general merchandise business. 
      On December 25, 1899, Mr. BRICE was married to Miss Elsie RIDGWAY of Mariposa, and to this happy union two children were born. Other surviving relatives are his aged parents and a brother, James A. BRICE, of San Francisco. 
      Deceased was a native of Illinois and 53 years of age. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge of Mariposa and of the Merced Elks. 
      Always a friend to those in need, the passing of Mr. BRICE will be mourned not only by his immediate family but by all of his acquaintances.

And here is some information on Elsie’s marriage to Charles Brown.

December 27, 1919 Mariposa Gazette

BROWN-BRICE December 27, 1919 Mariposa Gazette

                                Mariposa Couple Wed in San Francisco

      Elsie R. BRICE and Charles BROWN of Briceburg were married in San Francisco on Friday December 21, 1919.
      The bride is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James RIDGWAY and a sister of Mrs. J. J. TRABUCCO of Mariposa. Mr. BROWN was formerly an employee of the State Highway Commission working with the surveyors between Mariposa and Briceburg. It was while on this work that he met Mrs. BRICE and took charge of her store and Post Office at Briceburg. Mrs. BROWN was born and reared in Mariposa and has a host of friends here who will wish her and Mr. BROWN many happy years of wedded life. They will make their home at Briceburg.

By 1930, Elsie had evidently married again for she had the last name of Dovidio and she is listed as a widow again. Elsie may have married yet again in 1946. She is listed on the California Death Index, passing away January 30, 1967 in Marin County, and on the Social Security Death Index with her last residence as Redway in Humboldt County. I was unable to locate where she was buried.

 It was time for me to start my adventure and wildflowers lined the sides of the road from the beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

I walked across the suspension bridge.

 

 

 

After crossing the bridge, on the right side there is a small parking area with the trailhead that follows the old railroad grade up the Merced River. I stayed to the left for my adventure up the Burma Road.

 

 

The Burma Road is also known as the Briceburg or Bull Creek Road and immediately starts to climb along a steep road that is basically one lane wide with switchbacks that take you up the hill. It is also called the Burma Grade. As you climb, you have incredible views of the Merced River, Briceburg, the suspension bridge, and Hwy 140. Besides hikers, high clearance 4 wheelers and mountain bikers also use this road. The road can have washouts and slides, closing it some years but when it is open, I understand you can get to Greeley Hill or Buck Meadows from Briceburg.

As I climbed, there were so many beautiful views looking down at the Merced River and beyond.

Even though the morning was young, insects were up early doing bug things and getting ready for the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purple lupine was in its prime but a few white lupine also stood out.

The paintbrush was almost florescent in the early light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After about 3.2 miles, I reached the top of the switchbacks and the road leveled out some. If you want a fantastic workout, you can head to the left out a dozer line/dirt road that leads up to a knob with a overlook or you can continue on the road you came up on. I chose to stay on the road. By saying that this road leveled out, I don’t mean this road was flat because I still climbed an additional 800 feet or so in the next 1.6 miles. The road wound around the north side of the hill and the vegetation was very different. Bush poppies caught me eye as soon as a rounded the bend. Bush poppies are “fire followers” and you see more plants after a fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many other shrubs and flowers were in bloom.

But I came across several groups of sky pilots and this one caught my eye because all of the blooms seemed to be coming out close to each other and the delicate folds looked different than what I usually see on these beautiful flowers.

I headed through the gate at about 4.8 miles or so and I thought I had seen knobcone pines on the ridges but there were several young knobcone pine stands in this area. This is another species that has adapted to fire. Its cones stay closed for many years until a fire opens them, then they can reseed themselves. On older trees, you can see the cones embedded in the trunk as the tree grows.

 

This was my turn around point and I headed back down the way I had come up.

 

 

 

On my way back down through the switchbacks, the tufted poppies were showing off.

I got excited when I saw color combinations such as this lupine and paintbrush.

I started admiring the rock work that had been done long ago to reinforce the inside turns where culverts were located and then I noticed that it was the perfect place for those color combinations.

Around every corner a new color combination was ready to surprise me.

Those yellow poppies created some of the best color combinations though

This hike is always a good workout but I prefer to do it on a cooler day. In the morning, my tracks were the first fresh tracks on the road and I was able to pick out many snake tracks on the dirt road in the switchback area. I also saw scat from coyote, mountain lion and other critters along the way. The road is rutted and can have slides and rocks on it. To me, it is a high clearance 4WD road and that is what they recommend. I cannot share good intel on driving or biking this road and if this something you are interested in, there are blogs and websites that include detailed information related to this. I bet that once the Visitor Center is open, they can also help on that.

Dog Hike?

I did not bring Sally on this hike but she has hiked along the Merced River before the rattlesnakes had woken up. There isn’t much water along the Burma Road and you would need to pack dog water. 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:

Burma Grade Doarama

Burma Road Topographic Map

Burma Road Profile

Sources:

Ferguson Fire Trail Closures

Briceburg Visitor Center

The Briceburg Story

Mariposa Gazette California Digital Newspaper Collection

Mariposa Genealogy & Historical Research Home Page

Mariposa Museum & History Center Gallery

Merced River Recreation Management Area

Merced River Trail TrailLink

Prior Blogs in This Area:

Discovering Wildflowers Along the Merced River Trail Near Briceburg April 3, 2019

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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