We enjoyed a beautiful walk along the San Joaquin River where we saw the bluest water with reflections, spectacular wildflowers, wildlife that included Ground Squirrels, turkeys, quail, geese, butterflies and yes. . . a snake!
Where: Bureau of Land Management, San Joaquin River Gorge Management Area
Distance: 12 Miles (you can go shorter or farther, your choice!)
Elevation Range: 563′ – 1,079′
Date: April 3, 2013
Highlights: Diversity in the type and colors of wildflowers, along with gorgeous reflections in the San Joaquin River.
From North Fork, we drove past Kerckhoff Lake then to Smalley Road where we turned right at the BLM San Joaquin River Gorge Sign. We headed down Smalley Rd to the Ya-Gub-Weh-Tuh Trailhead and Campground. There is a well maintained outhouse here (not smelly) and picnic tables. There is a $5 for day use with a self service payment system.
The Dumna and Kechayi Native Americans people once occupied the Management Area and surrounding lands. It is from their language that the names of the trails contained within the Management Area are named. Plans for the San Joaquin River Trail call for a continuous 100 miles of trail from Highway 99 to the headwaters of the river at Devils Postpile. The trail would incorporate the 57 mile route developed by John French in 1879, which follows the natural terrain used by the Native Americans to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
We headed on the San Joaquin River Trail, the trail that heads downstream but there are other trails that you can choose to explore. We were aware of the hazards on this hike of poison oak, rattlesnakes and the need to stay hydrated in the warmer weather but probably didn’t fully recognize the potential hazard related to the cattle that we encountered along the trail. More to come on that issue. . .
Many different names have been given to the San Joaquin River and different sections of the river were even known by different names in the past. In 1826, Jedediah Smith wrote in his journals that an unknown group of Native Americans called the river the “Peticutry”. Other names included Rio de San Francisco by Father Juan Crespi in 1772 and Rio San Juan Bautista. The Mono language name is “typici-h-huu'”, meaning “important or great river.”
The present name of the river dates back to between 1805 and 1808 when Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga was surveying in the area for potential mission sites. He came across a tributary of the river and named it for San Joachim, husband of Saint Anne and father of Mary the mother of Jesus. The name was later applied to the entire river and was in common use by 1810.
As we walked in the early morning, we were treated to the most amazingly blue color of the water of the San Joaquin River lined with boulders and their reflections.
We didn’t need to stray from the trail to see many different types of wildflowers.
There are several different varieties of Lupine. We see a lot of the taller purple Lupine, but we were treated to a large, lighter color of Lupine along the trail.
A very nice bridge takes the trail above a drainage.
Baby Blue Eyes:
I’m not positive but I think this is Small-Flowered Monkeyflower.
We were watching the gorgeous flowers along the trail and almost had a distaster, slipping on the fresh cowpie.
Butterfly landing on Bluedick:
The snakes were out. Although this Pacific Gopher Snake may startle you, it is nonvenomous. They are carnivorous, with their diet consisting of small mammals. They like pocket gophers, birds and their eggs, an occasional lizard or insect. Although this snake was a youngster, about 18 inches long, they have been observed to grow up to 7 feet long and live 12 to 15 years in the wild. The oldest known individual lived over thirty-three years in captivity.
California Poppies were selected by the California State Floral Society as the state flower back in 1890, beating out the Mariposa Lily and the Matilija Poppy, but the state legislature did not make this offfical until 1903. April 6 is designated California Poppy Day.
After venturing out a little over 6 miles, we decided to turn back in order to stop at our favorite lunch spot, about 4.5 miles south of the trailhead where there is a restroom. We walked out to the lake and enjoyed the peaceful lake while we ate our lunch.
I think the best time to do this hike is in the spring when the wildflowers are out and the weather is cooler. You can hike along the trails as short or as far as you wish. If you aren’t into hiking, there are other ways to enjoy the area. BLM’s website lists fishing, hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, camping, mountain biking, and swimming as just some of these adventures you can have but check it out for more information, rules and associated fees.
Sources: Bureau of Land Management, San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area