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Hiking up the San Joaquin River to Stevenson Falls and Dam Six

We headed up the San Joaquin River to check out the water in Stevenson Falls and still had lots of energy so we continued our hike up to Dam Six. One of the stars of this adventure were the early wildflowers, especially those beautiful poppies!

Where: Sierra National Forest
Distance: 13.98 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Range: 1,939′ – 2,389′
Date: February 25, 2014
Maps: Auberry, Sierra National Forest

From North Fork, we drove down Road 225 and followed the road as it traveled above Redinger Lake, crossing the bridge over Redinger Lake, continuing on Italian Bar Road past the old Chawanakee School to the gate. There is a pretty good sized turnout with the “Big Creek Powerhouse #3” sign where we parked, walked around the gate, then up the road.

This could be a good dog hike if you have the right type of dog. My dog Sally is not that type of dog so she stayed home on this hike but Raven came along. There are several bridges that are constructed with an open grid surface and you will need to carry your dog across these parts. Sally weighs over 65 pounds and I just couldn’t envision successfully carrying squirming Sally across these bridges. Raven was ready for the adventure and we headed up the road.

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As we approached our first bridge, we saw some pretty reflections of cattails and trees in Mill Creek. This was also Deb’s first bridge where she had to carry Raven across and it was a success.

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Along the road, we saw a few lupine that were starting to bloom in the morning and some very nice succulents called Dudleya.

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We had walked about 3 ½ miles when we reached Stevenson Falls. 300 foot of the cascading fall is above the road and another 200 feet are below the road. Sometimes the flow is so strong that that it flows on the bridge, resulting in this bridge being impassable. The water in Stevenson Falls comes from Shaver Lake, up the hill. It is part of the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project which includes a system of lakes, tunnels, steel penstocks and power houses that uses water to generate electricity.

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I hope this short video gives you a a feel for how beautiful the sight and sound of that waterfall landing in the pool felt like.

Raven waited for Deb to carry her over this bridge, which was the biggest one. They both made it over just fine. I kind of think Raven was starting to enjoy this adventure over the bridges. Or maybe she was enjoying the part when she got back on the ground best?

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We stayed for a while, exploring and taking pictures. This photo of me was taken by Gail Gilbert.

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We parted company with Deb, Candy and Raven. A few of us were feeling like we wanted to put in some more mileage so we headed farther up the road. We made it up to the Big Creek Dam 6, which was constructed in 1923. This dam is 155 feet high and the lake behind it can hold 1,730 acre feet of water. The surface area is 23 acres. It was a good place to stop for lunch. We could also see burned area from the French Fire on the mountain upstream.

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When the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project was built, its primary purpose was to provide electrical power for the city of Los Angeles. California engineer John S. Eastwood was the principal designer of the system, which was initially funded and built by Henry E. Huntington’s Pacific Light and Power Company (PL&P).

Construction of the system’s facilities started in 1911, and the first power was transmitted to Los Angeles in 1913. After Southern California Edison (SCE) acquired PL&P in 1917, the system was gradually expanded to its present size, with the last powerhouse coming on line in 1987. Today, these facilities include 27 dams, miles of underground tunnels, and 24 generating units in nine powerhouses with a total installed capacity of more than 1,000 megawatts. Its six major reservoirs have a combined storage capacity of more than 560,000 acre feet.

Today, the Big Creek project generates nearly 4 billion kilowatt hours per year – about 90 percent of SCE’s total hydroelectric power, or about 20 percent of SCE’s total generating capacity. Big Creek accounts for 12 percent of all the hydroelectric power produced in California. The Big Creek reservoirs also provide irrigation and flood control benefits for the Central Valley, and are popular recreation areas. There are negatives though. Fish and animal migration have been disrupted and historical sites and traditional Native American lands have been flooded.

Stevenson 20We headed back down the road and were surprised to see some more wildflowers such as Eastwood’s fiddleneck that had opened up their blooms in the afternoon.

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We made it back to our vehicles, glad to sit down and rest our feet. Walking on that paved road was a little different than we were used to and we were feeling some wore out parts. As we drove back down the road, we were blown away by the numbers of poppies that were blooming. When we drove in, we had seen a couple of plants blooming but the roadside was now lined with poppies in places. This day was our first sightings of poppies this season and it was quite a surprise. Last year we had hiked this this area 2 weeks later with a few poppies, but there were many more this year.

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As I mentioned at the beginning, this hike could potentially be a good hike to take with your dog, if they are the type of dog that stays with you on the road. In addition to needing to carry your dog over the bridges, there are some steep drop-offs on this road. My Sally dog would want to chase squirrels and I am afraid that Sally would dive off there while chasing some critter and hurt herself. This is also rattlesnake haven. There is only one fairly good watering spot at Mill Creek, so you would need to pack water for your dog. The hike is entirely paved and this can be tough on a dog’s paw pads if they aren’t toughened up to this type of use. That pavement can also be very hot in the summer.

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