Sierra Vista Scenic Byway Guide - California Scenic Drives
The Sierra Vista Scenic Byway is a newly designated member of the National Scenic Byway System. This designated route, located in the Sierra National Forest, follows existing roads. The entire route from North Fork to the exit point on Highway 41 past Nelder Grove takes approximately 5 hours without stops.
The Byway is a seasonal route; the roads are blocked by snow during the winter. The U. S. Forest Service does not plow or maintain roads during winter months. The Byway is generally open from June through October. If a trip is being planned during spring or fall months, call ahead to check road and weather conditions.
Outlined below are a number of features along the route. The descriptions start at the North Fork Ranger Station and proceed up the Minarets Road north to the Beasore Road, then south to Cold Springs Summit where the traveler has a choice of continuing the scenic byway on through to Fresno Dome and Nelder Grove, ending on Highway 41; or proceeding on down Beasore Road to Bass Lake.
North Fork Ranger Station
Center for information about what to do and see in the Minarets Ranger District. 'flie Cedars Interpretive Trail, located at the Station, is a 1/4 mile walk with information on local natural and cultural history. The trail is suitable for handicapped use.
North Fork/South Fork
North Fork is a full-service community with grocery stores and gas for the scenic byway traveler. The Mono Indian Museum offers displays on local Indian culture and also features and extensive collection of wildlife. The lumber mill in South Fork can be viewed from the road but does not offer public tours at this time. A self-guided nature trail offered by the Mono Wind Nature Trail and Flower Farm lets the traveler explore Mono Indian cultural structures and plants located along the trail.
Outstanding view of Redinger lake, the San Joaquin River, and the surrounding rugged Sierra front country. The Big Creek Hydroelectric Project is visible from this point. The Powerhouse fire (1989) left a large fire scar which can be seen aaoss the drainage.
Changes in vegetation and wildlife become more apparent as the traveler leaves the foothills and enters a more mountainous region. This area of the San Joaquin River drainage provides a winter home for the San Joaquin deer herd. Deer move out of this area in the hot, dry summer months and migrate to higher country to find feed and water.
Two privately owned apple ranches are still in operation just beyond the U. S. Forest Service Clear-water Fire Station. The ranches sell apples and various apple products during the late summer and early fall months.
Mile High Vista
Spectacular view of the Sierra Crest including tile Minarets, Mount Ritter (13,157'), and Mammoth Mountain, as well as views of Mammoth Pool Reservoir, the San Joaquin River, Balloon Dome and Fuller Buttes. Signs help pick out the numerous mountain peaks and other outstanding features. The Ansel Adams, Kaiser and John Muir Wilderness areas can also be seen. Picnic tables and toilets are available.
Mammoth Pool Reservoir is another hydroelectric project on the San Joaquin River. The water level fluctuates with seasonal water needs and annual rain fall. The reservoir is closed annually from May 1 through June 15 for deer migration. This means no fishing, boating or swimming is allowed on the lake.
This granite arch is a unique geological feature resulting from erosion. The arch may be viewed from the turn out, but the shofl hike is well worth the effort. Mount Tom and the Kaiser ridge may be seen from this area.
Several important points are accessible from this junction. Two miles to the north is Clover Meadow Station. Wilderness permits and information on conditions in the Ansel Adams Wilderness are available during the summer. 1/2 mile to the south is the Minarets Pack Station. Services offered include horse rentals, pack trips, and lodging from mid-June through September.
This is a wayside turnout on the Beasore Road at Portuguese Creek. Behind the traveler are the Balls, great glader carved granitic domes. To the front is an expansive vista of Shuteye Ridge and Chiquito basin all the way to the San Joaquin River and beyond. A lodgepole pine forest surrounds the area, with glimpses of the alpine zone offering fewer or no trees, with durable low-growing plants, more adapted to the short growing season of high elevations.
Unique geological oddity of a large balanced rock The phenomena is caused by the action of water freezing and thawing on the granite. Globe Rock may be seen from the road, but is worth the short hike to view this large boulder up close.
Jones Store has been at this location since the early 1900's. Services available include meals, sup. plies, gas, cabins and a campground. The store is not open during the winter.
Cold Springs Summit
Here the traveler may turn north toward Fresno Dome and follow ihe Sierra Vista Scenic Byway on through 10 Nelder Grove, ending up on Highway 41 above Oakhurst. At this point the traveler may expect to spend approximately two hours (without stops) exploring the remainder of the scenic byway. If continuing on down Beasore Road, the traveler can expect a 30 minute drive to Bass lake.
Fresno Dome provides a panoramic vista if the traveler wishes to take the climb to the top. Hiking shoes are recommended. The large lake seen from the top is Bass lake. Other geographic points may be identified if the traveler has a Sierra National Forest map.
The giant sequoia grove is located in the cenier of the natural range of sequoia giganteas, consisting of over 1500 acres within the forest. 106 mature giant sequoias are intermingled with second growth pine, fir and incense cedar.
The Shadow of the Giants National Recreation Trail is a one-mile, self-guided trail along the banks of Nelder Creek Graveyard of the Qiants is where several large sequoias were killed by fire. Another area is called "Granddad and the Grandkids". A single isolated mature tree has one large branch outstretched like a protecuve arm, under which grow several young sequoias.
Campground Hosts, John and Marge Hawkswoflh, are the experts on this area. Their years of experience, study and love of the region enhances the traveler's visit. An example of their extensive knowledge of historical facts and dedication of sharing information can be seen in the scale model logging camp on display at Nelder Grove Campground.
The Pines Village offers gas, food, lodging, and various shops throughout the year. Bass lake is a very popular summer resort with waterskiing, swimming, and fishing as the major activities.
The traveler should be aware of the services available along this route. During the summer months, Wagner's Store at Mammoth Pool and Jones Store on Beasore Road are the only two facilities with gas available. At this time, there are no phones along the route except at the U. S. Forest Service facilities. None of these services or facilities are open during the winter months.
Road Surfacing: Minarets Road is a two-lane paved road from North Fork to the Beasore Road, however, remember this is a winding forest road and can only be enjoyed at a casual pace. The Beasore Road has a graded dirt surface from the end of the Minarets Road to Muglar Meadow (8 miles). While a passenger car can traverse this section, travel on the rough surface is slow, approximately 15 miles per hour. The remainder of Beasore Road is paved and offers an enjoyable trip. If you elect to travel to Nelder Grove from Cold Springs Summit, the road surface is graded dirt, so expect to travel slowly.
Depending on the time or year, a varied amount of flora and fauna may be discovered. A hurried trip will mean most of these will be missed. The traveler may want to be equipped with a guide to the local wildlife, plants, trees, and geology.
Restroom facilities may be found in all campgrounds along the way. Campgrounds located on the Scenic Byway are on a first come, first served basis, and are not on a reservation system.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication