If we research the map of Oakhurst, we will find a few forgotten roads that were carved into the Madera County mountains by our early pioneers.
One such road which I knew existed, but I never took the time to explore its route, is north of Bissett Station Road (620). It was called “Wawona Sugar Pine Road” - today it is known as “The Old Yosemite Road.”
In the late 1880s when Oakhurst was called Fresno Flats, the original Yosemite Station Road was also called 625A. Today it passes north of Subway Sandwiches and Pop’s Family Restaurant. At the turn of the century this section of road was closed and gated because it passed through private property.
During a recent visit with Ralph and Betty Bissett, I learned that sometime around 1912 Bissett Station Road (620) was carved into the mountain. Bissett General Store and Station was located on the north corner of Road 620 and Old Yosemite Road. And since Elick Bissett owned more than 320 acres (at that time) within this area and being a business man, it was an ideal choice for him to grade this new one lane road through his property to keep his station open.
When I was told Elick carved Road 620 with only a horse, plow, scrapper, picks and shovels, I was impressed.
When Highway 41 was completed in 1934, Elick moved his station and built a new log station on the north-east corner of Highway 41 and Road 222. It was called Yosemite Forks. Today at that same location is the closed Mountain House Restaurant.
Now this history lesson is leading to my adventure hiking the Old Yosemite Road from Road 620 to just below Westfall Campground at Highway 41.
Early on a March morning with the threat of rain, I convinced my hiking partner Nancy Morgan to risk getting wet and hike this historic road. We parked Nancy’s vehicle just below Westfall Campground off Highway 41. I parked at the locked gate on Old Yosemite Road, which was the first of two barriers on two separate private parcels of land.
Since this road hasn’t been used for decades the natural vegetation was thriving. We experienced knee deep grass with waist-high poison oak bushes in a few areas. Even in this dry season, the ticks were sticking to my hiking pants. Every 15 minutes, I had to brush them off, but they disappeared when the road increased in elevation from the moist area.
The first historical structure we came across was an old abandoned home, originally owned by Tank Burford and today owned by the Martin family. It was still boasting its yellowish white washed walls, but showing its weathered age. The deteriorated materials that surround this structure lead one to wonder about its addition to this road’s historic past? Could it have been a forgotten ranger station?
After following the road for a short distance (still on Burford property), there are two old leaning weathered structures. One resembles another abandoned cabin and the second is a barn struggling to hold itself upright.
Sad to say but time is winning this battle for survival. Gone are the days when their lives were part of this dirt road’s history. How many times did they witness those slow but dependable wagons pulled by horses or mules that delivered machinery and supplies into those logging camps of the timber mills?
It was this historic road that experienced the introduction of the automobile which modernized our present mode of transportation. At this point the road passes under two stationary fences which is the boundary of the Bissett Ranch. The road then follows along its northern boundary before turning directly north toward Yosemite. We hiked only a short distance before reaching another locked gate. On the opposite side of this unmaintained road we are introduced to a maintained dirt road.
The next landmark we came to was China Wells. Years ago this was a rest area for those pioneers and their stock during this rough and dusty road trip. All that remains today is a cement slab and a steel encased dry hole. If there were any structures in the area, they have been removed over time.
The remainder of this hike will be on maintained dirt roads. In the last half century many side roads have intersected this old historic road. Even motorcycle trails are available to those sportsmen who enjoy riding through the mountains.
Needless to say if one attempts this adventure, be smart and pick up a forest map that shows those added roads. Today my only reference tools were a topographic map and compass.
After a few errors in direction, this six mile hike became lengthened to more than eight miles. But keep in mind that if you attempt this adventure and lose track of this historic road, just follow any road to the east (downhill), which will lead to Highway 41. If you choose the wrong road and you parked your second vehicle at Westfall Campground, you may have to walk along Highway 41 for a couple of miles.
Remember the Bissett and Martin ranches are private property and permission is required to pass through their land. Sometimes our local history adventures become complicated and strenuous, but if you enjoy hiking into our Mountain Area history, this adventure will have its personal rewards.