Friday, April 5, 2013

The Other California: Yokohl Valley Drive in the Southern Sierra Nevada...and a "Blank Spot" on the Map

To be clear, the "blank spot" on the map is MY blank spot, not the cartographer's. For all the geological explorations I've been documenting here at Geotripper for the last five years, there is a frustratingly large area that I haven't set foot in for thirty years or more. It's the southernmost Sierra Nevada.

I imagine that many people miss that the Sierra Nevada continues for many miles south of Sequioa National Park, but it is a fascinating region containing a national monument, four wilderness areas, a state demonstration forest, and a county park preserving a sequoia grove. I spent some of the finest weeks of my boyhood in this region, at a scout camp (Circle B Scout Ranch; now disbanded and sold off), and on a fifty mile week-long hike through the Little Kern River Valley and Maggie Mountain. But my boy scout days were a very long time ago, and I have not managed to get back to the region since.
And that is a true shame, because the southern Sierra Nevada is one of the most beautiful parts of California. A few weeks ago, I made a brief foray into the mountains of my youth, taking an excursion along Yokohl Valley Drive, which led us from Springville to Highway 198 near Three Rivers.

The road doesn't exactly go anywhere. It's mostly there to provide access to a number of ranches, but along the way there are some gorgeous vistas, and springtime provided us with some beautiful flower displays. At our first stop, a Red-tailed Hawk watched us carefully...
The road crosses a divide at 2,700 feet, and a look east gave us a tantalizing view of some of the high country. The high peaks include Dennison and Moses Mountains, and hidden in the folds below the peaks are Balch Park (Tulare County), and Mountain Home State Demonstration Forest. The rest of the mountains are preserved as Giant Sequoia National Monument, established by President Clinton in 2000. Nearly half of the remaining groves of the Giant Sequoia trees were preserved by the designation.

Much of Yokohl Valley Drive cuts through granitic rocks of the Sierra Nevada Batholith. The hilltops show some nice examples of spheroidally weathered granite boulders.

The wildflower displays were a bit scattered in this dry year, but several sections were dappled with blue, purple and gold. The tallest plants are bush lupine, with yellow fiddlenecks filling the lower areas.

In a few scattered spots, the golden poppies dominated. It won't be but a few weeks before the flowers are gone, and the dry heat of the summer settles in.
At the bottom of the long hill I was surprised to see some mima mounds! These enigmatic low hummocks (sometimes also called "hogwallow" mounds) are found in widely scattered locations along the eastern Central Valley and western Sierra Nevada foothills. They were once thought to be burial mounds, but there is no evidence of this. Other hypotheses include preferential tunneling by gophers and ground squirrels, ancient stabilized sand dunes, heaving effects dating from the ice ages, and wave effects from earthquake activity. And aliens, of course.

I don't know which hypothesis fits best with the phenomenon, but rodents make the most sense to me. But that isn't nearly as fun as weird earthquake wave-forms.

Google Earth provides a satellite perspective on the strange mounds...
The Other California is my long on-again, off-again series exploring the fascinating geological localities that don't often appear on the tourist's postcards.

Postscript: Of course, such a beautiful place would have to be slated for development: . I hope that since the site hasn't been updated for a few years, and there were no resorts in Yokohl Valley that I could see, maybe it has been tabled or cancelled...
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