Hiking the Fresno Dome

Seeking a respite from summer's stifling air and scorching temperatures? Fresno Dome may be your sanctuary.

Situated between Oakhurst and Yosemite National Park at an elevation of 7,450 feet, Fresno Dome is one of those elegant granite formations for which the Sierra Nevada is famous. Fresno Dome is a popular destination for rock climbers, but hikers can also reach the summit via a short trail that climbs the dome's gently sloping backside.

Rewards are numerous. Upon leaving the trailhead parking lot, the trail immediately crosses a lush (and muddy) meadow where purple shooting stars and corn lilies bloom in abundance. Next comes a short stroll through a mixed conifer forest.

Fresno Dome comes into view soon enough. Trees give way to granite slabs and boulders as the trail snakes its way toward the summit. The 500-foot ascent is manageable by almost anybody but lends the appearance of a true mountain climb.

A few panting breaths later comes the reward: a sweeping, 360-degree panorama of tree-lined ridges, meadows and neighboring domes.

Oakhurst and a sliver of Bass Lake are visible to the west. To the east, one can just make out snowy peaks of the Ansel Adams Wilderness. To the north lies incomparable Yosemite. At sunset, the lights of Fresno twinkle to the south.

Heard but not seen are the rushing waters of Willow Creek, hidden beneath the forest canopy.

Although it looks barren, the summit of Fresno Dome is a literal buzz of activity. Butterflies of several sizes and colors join other flying insects in an intricate mid-air dance, never straying far from clusters of Mountain Pride (Newberry Penstemon), a magenta-colored flower that appears to grow straight out of the granite.

Aroma therapists believe Mountain Pride, when boiled to its essence, promotes masculine energy and helps overcome vacillation and a lack of assertiveness. So, fellas, take a deep whiff.

With so much to see, hear and smell, you may want to stay awhile. Which is perfect, because the relatively flat summit provides a great area for a picnic. Spread out a blanket, sit back and soak it all up.

Just don't forget to pack out what you pack in. A closer inspection of the boulder formations that dot the summit reveal pistachio shells, plywood and broken glass, not to mention graffiti.

These intrusions don't come close to spoiling the experience of Fresno Dome. Still, they serve as a gentle reminder that things aren't always as pristine as they appear.

Originally published in The Fresno Bee and on fresnobee.com on June 19, 2003.