March 24, 2019
Buck Ridge Trail at Hensley Lake
Total distance walked: 4.9 miles
It was just a few days into spring and already the wildflowers were blooming. It kindled in me a hankering to hike. Months had passed since I was on a trail. Although Yosemite is my favorite hiking spot, the roads to the high country—where some of the more beautiful trails are located—hadn’t opened yet. The trails in Yosemite Valley were accessible, but I’ve hiked them many times over and was looking for something different. A few years ago a friend gave me a binder filled with day hikes, that is how I found Hensley Lake near Raymond, California.
I arrived at the self-service kiosk on the east side of the lake and paid the $5 day-use fee, then drove to the parking lot a short distance away. The Buck Ridge trail began there, but there were two trailheads. Standing between them with the late morning sun beating down, I must have looked bewildered. A bike rider (one of many that I would see that day) rolled up next to me. He suggested that I follow the path to the left, stating that the other would lead me back to the kiosk. He cycled off climbing up and over the hill. I followed his path upwards, not wanting to walk to the kiosk, stopping along the way to photograph the fiddleneck.
When I reached the top of the hill, I was rewarded with my first view of Hensley Lake.
Looking out, I saw a roadmap of trails: narrow paths through knee-high grass, rutted routes running up and over boulders, and pathways leading nowhere. My directions said to stay right at all forks, so that’s what I did.
Some part of the lake was almost always in view. It was dotted with tiny islands, small boats and white birds.
After making two right turns in a short distance, I realized that I was heading back to the parking lot. I was on the trail I chose not to originally take—apparently it didn’t lead to the kiosk and was the correct route to begin with. I turned around and began again, staying right at all forks.
The rolling hills were made more beautiful by colorful touches of orange fiddleneck and white popcorn flowers. Lace pod, pink shooting stars and baby blue eyes adorned the fields as well. The lush area reminded me of scenes from The Sound of Music.
The biker from earlier had mentioned watching for eagles. I didn’t see eagles, but several turkey vultures circled just above my head bringing to mind the violent bird attacks in Alfred Hitchcock’s, The Birds. The vultures landed on a nearby outcropping of rocks. I watched them watch me for a moment. Later I learned that turkey vultures never attack living prey.
There were several streams to cross reminding me of the day I spent crossing creeks on the John Muir Trail. Continuing northward, I stepped over water that bubbled out of the ground.
A couple on horseback looked comfortable enjoying the view from atop their horses. We exchanged pleasantries as the animals stepped confidently past me.
My destination was a rocky beach where the Fresno River flows into the lake. However, after the morning’s turnaround then taking several right forks, I wasn’t positive that I was still on the correct trail. I stopped to wipe my brow and heard bees buzzing through the flowers. A red tailed hawk screeched as he soared through the blue sky; and from afar, I could hear the call of water birds. I was pleased thus far with the day’s excursion and decided to turn around. At home, I found a map that showed I was only a half mile from the beach. So close.
When I reached the car, the biker was returning from his adventure in the hills. He told me that he saw an eagle while out on the trail. I don’t know which trail he chose, but someday I will return to Hensley Lake and the Buck Ridge Trail, will see the beach, and maybe even an eagle.
This early spring outing re-kindled my passion for hiking. I look forward to seeing new places this season, and re-visiting some of my old favorites.