When snow-covered Sierra peaks are visible from Fresno and the Valley, rather than hidden behind a curtain of smog, they sure seem a lot closer.
Sparkling right before our eyes. Almost close enough to reach out and touch.
If you’re anything like me, being able to actually see the mountains makes them extra tempting. There’s an urge to put on an extra layer, grab a wool hat and gloves and go frolic in the deepest snowpacks in years. But on the drive up, while passing through green foothills starting to become lush with wildflowers, you may have the urge to stop for a minute – or the rest of the day.
It really is an incredible time to be outside. And if temperatures remain cool for a while, preserving all the snow on those peaks that stand proudly on the eastern horizon for as long as possible, we’ll be set up for the best recreation season in years.
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Sure, all that rain got to be a little annoying after awhile – even though it was desperately needed. Now comes the payoff for outdoor enthusiasts.
We just have a ridiculous amount of snow up there, ready to melt.
Justin Butchert, owner of Kings River Expeditions
Skiing and snowshoeing
The Coyote Sno-Park located on Tamarack Ridge east of Shaver Lake is best known as a snowplay area. Most who visit never make it past the parking lot.
But the Coyote Sno-Park is also home to a network of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. (Snowmobiles are not allowed; they use the Tamarack Sno-Park on the other side of Highway 168.)
The trails cross and intersect at numerous points, which can be confusing even if you have a map. Sometimes you just have to trust and follow the blue trail markers.
My favorite is the Coyote Trail, a six-mile loop that features vistas of both Shaver and Huntington Lakes. But it had been years since I skied it. There just hasn’t been enough snow to make it enjoyable.
Fortunately that’s not the case now. In fact, climbing the 8-foot-tall snowbank that surrounded the parking lot was the first obstacle. With that accomplished, I snapped on my skis and headed in.
Amazing how a blanket of snow can turn even the most nondescript forest into a winter wonderland. Everything is so smooth and fresh.
Amazing how a blanket of snow can turn even the most nondescript forest into a winter wonderland. Everything is so smooth and fresh. And I was alone. Aside from my own breathing and scraping skis, the only sound came from snow falling off overloaded tree branches.
Cross-country skiing not your thing? The conditions are just as good right now at China Peak Mountain Resort and Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area (formerly Badger Pass), and should stay that way for the next several weeks. (Note: Highway 41 to Yosemite National Park is closed at Fish Camp. The new estimated opening date is March 15.)
China Peak hosts the annual Jack Pieroni Demo Day on Saturday, making it an especially good time to visit for anyone wishing to try out the latest equipment. Bring your boots and an ID.
The foothills are starting to pop with white, yellow and gold, and the wildflower display should only get better as spring arrives.
One of the most spectacular color shows can be seen at the San Joaquin River Gorge Management Area outside Auberry, especially along the trail that leads from the main parking area to the green bridge. (The Gorge also serves as the start line for the Big Sandy mountain bike race April 3.)
If you’d rather hike with a docent who can ID all those types of blossoms, sign up with the Sierra Foothill Conservancy. The nonprofit is offering several guided hikes on its preserves throughout March and April. There’s also an open house on the Finegold Creek Preserve (March 18) and the McKenzie Preserve (April 1).
Itching for a road trip? There’s no better place to see an abundance of wildflowers than Death Valley National Park, which is gearing up for another “super bloom.” That’s where I’ll be headed on the way back from Las Vegas.
Twelve months ago, Justin Butchert wondered if his company was about to go high and dry following four years of drought. The owner of Fresno-based Kings River Expeditions even posted a heartfelt plea on Facebook.
KRE’s loyal customers came to Butcher’s rescue, and this year the weather gods have come through with what’s being called the fifth-largest snowpack in state history.
Butchert is projecting massive flows of 15,000 cfs on the free-flowing upper Kings from mid-May to mid-July. And there should be enough water to run trips well into September.
“Epic is an overused word these days,” Butchert said. “But when the snowpack is being compared to ’82-’83, it’s going to be an epic year.”