Brilliant orange poppies in the Merced River Canyon area are always beautiful to see in the spring but the drought has not been kind to them this year. They are tenacious, still trying their best to put on a showy display in the Hite Cove area, even though it will for a short time frame this spring. In past years, the best poppy displays are usually within the first mile or so but this year, we found the better wildflowers farther up the trail near the remains of the old mining town of Hite Cove. Due to fire danger, this trail closes for the summer and if you can’t make it up there this year, please sit back and enjoy my blog on our adventure.
Where: Sierra National Forest
Distance: 7.66 Miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation Range: 1,409′ – 1,789′
Date: March 18, 2015
Maps: Sierra National Forest, Buckingham Mountain Topographic Quad
Directions: From Mariposa, we took Hwy 140 toward Yosemite. Savage’s Trading Post is on the right after you cross the South Fork Bridge. We parked across the road (on the river side) where there were also a couple of portable toilets that had been just cleaned, which we utilized. We walked across the road from where we parked and the trail began with a short climb through private property, staying on private property for 3/4 of a mile.
The trailhead signs were there but you can easily miss them and walk up the hill too far before you meet up with the trail, so you will need to watch for it. The trail is not only lined with wildflowers, but it is lined with poison oak in many places. We carried plenty of drinking water and kept an eye out for rattlesnakes.
Usually, the most impressive display of poppies is at the beginning of the trail but when we got to this part in the morning, the poppies were still closed up and hadn’t opened up their blooms to welcome the butterflies and bees to pollinate them. We did find some that looked very sad though and wondered what kind of blooms we would see in the afternoon because with our drought, maybe there wouldn’t be any.
The trail provided wonderful early morning reflections in the South Fork of the Merced River.
We lost count of the number of Sierra Newt that we saw on the trail in the 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.
We kept heading up the trail when we saw a unique fruit on a vine that crawled up a tree. We remembered our friend Becky Robertson had told us about this plant a couple of years ago when we hiked this trail. There hadn’t been any fruit that time but we could now see how this Prickly Cucumber got its name.
The trail closely followed the river for a while and in these calm waters, we could see some more nice reflections and plenty of different kinds of wildflowers such as shooting star.
There were a few down trees across the trail. We had to climb over one and under one.
The western redbud was still blooming but reaching the end of its colorful spring show. We did find a few that had some nice blooms on them.
The butterflies were out in force. There were many different kinds and colors.
We headed up to the old mining town of Hite Cove (also formerly known as Hite’s Cove, and 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.
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: http://www.dickestel.com/images/mariposa358.jpg This photo shows the suspension bridge, the hotel and many other structures. What a wonderful old photo!
As we got closer to the old mining town of Hite, we began to see the old equipment, flumes that supplied the water to the crushers, old rock foundations and roads that not been used in many years. 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. It also had 2 hotels and its own Chinatown. Because of its isolated location, drinking and gambling were popular diversions. All of the buildings in the small camp burned in 1924.
Favorite Hikes of the Sierra Hiking Seniors by Jim Putman includes the following:
“On a sandy flat at about 3.4 miles there are pieces of mine machinery- large cone grinders, an Arrastra, and a Pelton wheel-all from the 1899 attempt to reprocess the tailings from Hite’s mine. As you approach Hite Cove the overgrown rock cellars to the left of the trail indicate the site of the Chinese encampment. Cross a ravine into central Hite Cove. The shack on the bench on the hill is on the old hotel site.The mine tunnels are further up the hill. The black locust trees at the far end of the cove were planted in the 1870’s when the operation here was in full swing. A long-gone bridge across the river permitted supplies to be brought down a steep road from Jerseydale.”
This is a view from where the old suspension bridge was located. The 4 Wheel Drive road across the river was the one utilized to bring the equipment down from Jerseydale.
I spent some time exploring the many old roads in the area, finding many more remnants of structures that I hadn’t seen in prior years.
Along these old roads, we found what was probably the best display of poppies on our hike.
We headed back down the trail toward the Trailhead, stopping for lunch along the river.
As we headed back after lunch, the sun was making the poison oak along the trail shine. It was much more leafed out than it had been in prior years.
Yellow and orange lined the trail in some places.
Carpets of baby blue eyes lined the trail in other places.
In some areas along the trail we had all kinds of wild colors.
In addition to the poppies, we came across quite a few other types of flowers. This one is called pink.
Small bugs crawled all over this flower called Blue dick.
A fly hung out on a fairy lantern.
This little bug was apparently camera shy because it looks like it is trying to hide from me.
As we walked through the section of poppies closest to the highway in the afternoon and what is usually a brilliant display of orange, was past its prime and drying out. There was still a bunch of beauty in it though.
If you are looking for the best poppies in Hite Cove, don’t wait very long or you will be out of luck. Head to the old mining town of Hite for the best ones. I am guessing that if the warmer weather holds, there could only be a couple of more weeks of good flowers. The lupine had not begun to bloom and I am sure there were a few others flowers getting ready to show off a pop of color.
I did not bring Sally on this hike because this is not a good one for her. I have seen some people with dogs on this hike, including on this day. There are some really steep areas at the beginning 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.
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 http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~gtusa/usa/ca/mrp-co/h.html
Prior Blogs in This Area: