Thursday, February 18, 2016

North Fork California, The Scenic Byway And The San Joaquin River

Dale Matson

Click On Photographs To Enlarge
 Redinger Lake
San Joaquin River

Spring Green North Of Fresno On Highway 41

Mammoth Pool 

To get to North Fork beginning from Fresno, take the 41-freeway north to Road 200. Follow it to North Fork and keep driving, as the road becomes road 225. Turn left on Forest Service Road 81 (also known as Minarets Road and Mammoth Pool Road. Set aside at least a half a day for this trip.

I discovered the scenic byway on a bicycle ride I did called the Grizzly Century. The 100-mile ride with 10,000’ of elevation gain begins and ends at North Fork High School on Road 225 out of North Fork. The lunch stop area is at a place called “Mile High” and the view is magnificent as you look east across the Sierra toward Mammoth Mountain.

This road is not plowed in winter but in the summer lots of folks drive to Mammoth Pool resort for camping and fishing. The road parallels the route of the San Joaquin River upstream first to Redinger Lake (elevation 1,400’) and higher to Mammoth Pool (3,330’). The final lake formed by the inflow of the San Joaquin is the largest, Millerton Lake at an elevation of 561’. Each of these man made reservoirs is used for recreation, flood control, irrigation and the production of electricity.

It is common to think of the San Joaquin (the second longest river in California) as a single river but it is actually made up of three separate forks with different headwaters high in the Sierra Nevada. The North Fork of the San Joaquin headwaters is formed near the southeast base of Mt. Lyell in Yosemite. The Middle Fork of the San Joaquin begins at Thousand Island Lakes near Banner peak in the Ritter Range. The South Fork of the San Joaquin has Martha Lake west of the LeConte Divide near massive Mount Goddard as it’s source.

The Middle and North Forks join together and then join with the South Fork above Mammoth Pool in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. As one looks up the San Joaquin River above Mammoth Pool there are several granite domes.

As I drove up toward Mile High I saw two large groups of deer with a mixture of bucks and does. They were much more skittish than national park deer since deer hunting is allowed in the Sierra National Forest. The French Fire of 2014 blackened much of the area above Redinger Lake along either side of the road.  The snow and rain began falling, as the tail end of a winter storm was moving out. The surface conditions and variable visibility stopped me short of Mile High. I don’t think there would have been much of a view with the clouds moving up the river valley and filling it with a thick mist veil.

My photographs were taken with a Sony A7R2, an adapted Sony A mount 70-400mm lens, and adapted 100mm C/Y Zeiss lens and a native Sony Zeiss E mount 24-70mm lens. I couldn't resist taking the photograph of the Sierra from highway 41 near Children's Hospital.     

Sierra Nevada East Of Fresno


  1. Sharon and I walk our dogs Susie and Duke along the San Joaquin at Woodward Park near our house.

  2. Art Sallee sent me this via email,
    "North Fork was a project I was privy to when I was active as a volunteer for the Forest Service. An employee of the F.S., full blooded Indian, was born and grew up in North Fork, volunteered to spend a day with us hiking the area and showing where villages were once located and occupants had moved on to other areas to set up villages. Many of the objects used by the Indians and left behind as they moved had been pilfered by hikers, etc, but rocks they piled up for benches, the holes in the rocks for grinding, the rectangular rock formations they used to claim their own sleeping/resting area……the way it was explained and laid our for us was almost like we went back in time and was there with them."