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The river crossing at River Bridge. A toll gate was set up at the bridge.

The road ran across granite slabs that made it hard for teams to get a footing.

The road was more like a stream bed in some places.

At High Point the road leveled off through the gentle meadows of Cain's Flat.

River Hill Grade

For 34 years, from the summer of 1879 until the summer of 1913, the Mineral King road took a devious "temporary" route to Oak Grove. If the ride up Red Hill seemed tedious at best, the climb up the River Hill Grade could be a nightmare.

The River Hill Grade used from 1879 to 1915

In 1911, Eugene Allen's family drove a wagon up the old River Hill Grade. Years later, Eugene recorded his memories of the trip.

"About noon time we were on the summit of Red Hill looking down into the box canyon of the East Fork. As if suddenly impatient to meet the stream, the road plunged downward. Father put on the brakes as we picked up speed, and the team showed interest as if to know a rest was coming."

For Alice Crowley in the 1890s, this portion of the road was ". . . a pleasant descent in partial shade from the oak trees with a hint of a canyon breeze cooling us off a bit. Down, down, down we went to the bottom of the Kaweah Canyon, where River Bridge crossed the East Fork."

It was at River Bridge that a toll gate was placed during the 1879 mining boom. Two years earlier, the New England Tunnel and Smelting Company had improved the original trace down to the river and had carried it on to Cain's Flat. From there, the company began a new trail to Lake Canyon, planning to merge it with the old trail that crossed the river below Look-Out Point. But the New England Road Company ran out of funds in the spring of 1877, before the new trail was completed.

The 1879 petition of the Mineral King Wagon and Toll Road Company to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors stated plans to start the road at the original toll gate near Hammond. The road was to run up the "Pack Trail"route along the south side of the East Fork, again crossing the river below Look-Out Point. But the expediency of using a roadway that already had been built made the company officials change their minds. Determined to get a functional road to the mines completed as quickly as possible, the Board of Commissioners decided to use the New England Company's unfinished route as a temporary measure.

The River Hill Grade was planned to be temporary for a very good reason.

"Straight up from the canyon floor rises the precipitous face of a bare granite hill," Eugene Allen wrote in his account. "This hill is in the form of a semi-circle like inverted bowl. To get around this cliff-like obstacle the road had to be blasted out of solid rock. Consequently the road had no soil cover. It was steep, rough slabs of rock rising to other slabs. It was more like a stream bed in places than a road. Teams had a hard time, the iron on hoofs finding traction difficult. Our team had to halt often to recover their wind. After several stops the team, in lather of sweat, refused to budge."

The family's boys were ordered out of the wagon and they had to trudge up the grade in the mid-day heat to relieve the load of the horses. On Alice Crowley's trip the stage customers were asked to walk, too. On one of the 30% grades, ". . . two of the horses would not budge and two were very reluctant. They laid back their ears and flattened their backs, but would make no other movement than to try to back up.

"'Everybody out!' Armein [the stage driver] shouted. All of us wearily responded. . . We must stay in front of the stage for fear the brakes might give way. Were we behind it, we would be hit if it rolled down hill with the frightened horses tangled in it. . . We climbed until we were wringing wet with perspiration, were hot and thirsty, and completely worn out. Each one of us children could have cried, but of course we would not."

It took most of an afternoon to maneuver the few miles of the River Hill Grade. If a team was met going the opposite direction, or if it got behind a slower wagon, the trip could take even longer. It was such a slow journey that almost every infamous slope, curve and resting spot was named as a destination point. Cape Horn was on a fairly level stretch near the river. From there the road climbed steeply to Ash Bend and then Horseshoe Bend. Hard Scrabble was the most dreaded part of the grade. It consisted of loose rocks overlying the granite slabs that made it hard for teams to get footing. After that came Alpine View which gave hope to the end of the climb. Finally there was Glenn Rock on the high point of the grade leading to Cain's Flat.

Going down the River Hill Grade could be more dangerous than going up. Brakes often failed so once again passengers were asked to walk down the slick granite facings at a safe distance behind the wagon or stage. Logs often were chained to the back of a wagon to help slow the vehicle on its descent. Even so, the River Hill Grade was littered with the wreckage of failed journeys, and stories abounded of injured stock and drivers.

As the road leveled off, Cain's Flat spread its welcoming meadow before the up-bound travelers. Sometimes the exhausted team would begin to trot. There would be rest there, and feed and water. The freighters often camped there during the mining days, for it was the last large stopping area before reaching forest camps.

(CREDITS: : "Old Roads" by Eugene Allen: Heading for the Hills" by Alice Crowley Jackson; Autobiography of Arthur Crowley; Petition to the Board of Supervisors of Tulare County for a Wagon Road to Mineral King, March 4, 1879; Letter from Orlando Barton to William Wallace, written from Devil's Den Aug. 22, 1905; "Mineral King--Colorful Names", Legends by Virginia Williams in the Fresno Bee, Jan. 29, 1967; "Place Names on Mineral King Road-1879" by Virginia Williams, 1970. Photos from Jackson files. Compilation by Louise Jackson. Webmaster, Jill Brown)

The Mineral King Road Corridor: Historic Points of Interest
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