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The Mineral King Road Corridor Milk Ranch and Oriole Lake Oak Grove Cain's Flat The Flume The New Road River Hill Grade Red Hill Hammond The Trip Up the Road Britten's The Way to Mineral King The Pioneers The First Campers

The new road was carved out of the East Fork's steep canyon walls with sheer drop-offs below the road-bed.

The new road joined the
old toll road on the hill
above Champagne Gulch.

Bear Canyon with its blackberry patch was a cool rest stop. One year a man started a fire here, reportedly to commit suicide.

The original wood bridge
was built in 1913 giving
automobile access on the
Mineral King Road.
It only lasted 10 years.

This 1920 photo of the
bridge shows a definite
sag in its middle.

The 1913 Wood Bridge crossed the river to the right of the current concrete bridge built in 1923 as shown in this photo. The power company flume just above the road was constructed years before the road was built.

The New Road

It was economic opportunity that created the first road up to the Mineral King Valley in the early mining days. It was economic opportunity once again that demanded a better road after the turn of the century. That opportunity came with the advent of the automobile.

Almost as soon as the Mineral King Wagon and Toll Road was completed in August of 1879, some fifteen or twenty teamsters met with the Tulare County Board of Supervisors asking them to repair the county portion of the road from Visalia to Hammond.

Members of the board agreed to inspect the road and found it indeed "... in a rather unserviceable condition and requiring a considerable sum of money to put in repair." Lacking funds, the supervisors suggested the toll road company might be prevailed upon to handle repairs on the entire road from the first foothills on up to the Mineral King Valley.

Unfortunately the toll road company began to have its own financial problems. Robert McKee deeded the road to Tulare County in 1884, but the county still didn't have the necessary funds to maintain it. Each spring, the Alles family at Atwell Mill, the Crowley family of the Mineral King Resort, and in the 1890s the park's army troops, donated their own time and money to keep the upper portions passable. But the whole road deteriorated little by little.

"A great many horses are in miserable health owing to the wretched condition of parts of the Mineral King road," the Visalia Delta editorialized in August of 1902. "With a good road to the mountain resort a great many people would spend their summers there." And, of course, that would bring more business to the county.

Then came the advent of automated carriages. By 1910, automobile trips to mountain resorts were becoming a popular pastime. Atwell Mill, the Mineral King Resort, and the proposed Oriole Lodge Summer and Winter Resort above Oak Grove all needed a good road that could accommodate cars. But the Mineral King road still was barely passable even for sturdy wagon teams.

Tourism wasn't the only attraction. The Mt. Whitney Power Company also was a consideration. The influential company needed better access to its flume on the East Fork and to its dams above Mineral King. The old "temporary" River Hill Grade (see River Hill Grade article) with its 25% to over 35% grades needed to be abandoned. 

In June of 1910, a petition was filed with the Tulare County Board of Supervisors requesting a new road from the Red Hill Summit to Cain's Flat or Oak Grove. On June 7th, bond was posted for "Road Viewers" to survey and locate the best route. Jason Barton, John Taylor and County Surveyor Byron Lovelace were appointed to do the job.

The three men filed a report recommending the new road run approximately 5 1/4 miles along the south side of the East Fork of the Kaweah "... to a crossing above the tunnel of Mt. Whitney Power and thence to a point on present county road above Champagne Hill." The estimated cost of construction was $16,000 for the road and $1,600 for a bridge over the Kaweah River.

Nothing more happened that summer or fall. In 1911, three supplemental petitions were filed. On them were the signatures of dozens of influential men and businesses of Tulare County. In March, Byron Lovelace filed yet another petition.

"We find that the proposed road is not in the strictest sense a necessity," he advised the County Supervisors. "But we do say that the change is badly needed. . .We recommend that this proposed change be made as soon as possible if work can start this season and money is available."

Then the Oriole Lodge Corporation made a tempting offer. Looking at the benefits a good road would bring to the resort, the owners of its forested land offered to furnish up to 100,000 board feet of lumber for the construction of culverts and bridges, free of cost to the county.

Finally the County Supervisors bowed to all the pressure and preliminary work for a new road was begun. "Specifications for Construction of a Portion of the Visalia-Mineral King Wagon Road" were issued for bids. Acquisition of right-of-way began. In September, a 60 foot strip of land running through four parcels of private property was deeded to the county by A.O. Griffis, Manuel Pestana, Guy Hopping, and the Mt. Whitney Power and Electric Company.

In October, an agreement as signed with the Oriole Lodge Corporation stating the sole and only compensation to be paid to the Oriole Lodge Corporation was completion of the road. The lumber was to be delivered to Oak Grove by December 1st, and Byron Lovelace filed a new cost estimate of $12,311 "over and above" the lumber furnished.

On November 8, 1911, the only construction bid entered was opened. J.L. Moffett's bid of $16,100 was rejected by the Board of Supervisors, "... it appearing that the bid for the construction of said road was too high, and that the work of such construction can be done more cheaply by day labor."

What was now designated Road No. 981, or the Visalia Mineral-King Cut-Off, was built by the county's road commissioner. The construction took two years.

The roadway was 12 feet wide with 8 feet of "solid roadbed". The specifications stated it must be smooth and free from all projecting roots and rocks, although anything less than one foot square was considered dirt. No brush or timber could be left in the embankments. 25 culverts had to be placed at least 8 inches below the grade of the road. Five bridges had to be built over Pine Gulch, Grand Canyon, Slick Rock Canyon, Bear Canyon and the East Fork gorge.

The bridge over the turbulent East Fork river was a special challenge. It had to span 115 feet of the canyon. The original specifications called for redwood or cedar timbers 14 inches in diameter. But the Oriole Lodge owners had trouble providing such large pieces so the specifications were lowered to 10 by 12 inch pieces with 14 inch timbers used only for the piles. Two 60 foot stringers were made of four 3 by 12 inch by 16 foot boards belted and clamped together. It was a breathtaking bridge to cross.

Road No. 981 was opened in the summer of 1913.

"This new road is a splendid mountain highway," Sequoia Acting Superintendent, First Lieutenant H.S. Johnson reported on August 11, 1913. "I trotted my horse along its entire length and there are numerous and excellent turnouts ...I believe that the complete opening of the Park to automobiles is important."

But motorized traffic wasn't to happen that year. The poor condition of the rest of the road and a controversy over park and county ownership kept it closed to automobiles until local citizens demanded its opening and an agreement was worked out between the county and park for its maintenance.

In 1915, a contract was awarded to C.E. Hill to reconstruct the steep section from Hammond up to Red Hill Summit. After that, it wasn't long before automobile traffic became the norm. Even so, the new road wasn't easy, especially on the downhill return. Overheated brakes could fade on this lower portion and even wagon travel could be dangerous.

Fred Ogilvie's team ran away with his wagon just six miles from the end of the road. Fred jumped from the wagon as it broke loose from the horses then watched the wagon sail over the canyon's edge, turn a half gainer, and land up-side-down in the river. Years later, in the 1940s, the Mineral King Resort truck went off the road going up-hill near the same spot. Fortunately, it caught in a bramble of bushes as it slipped over the edge so its load of Sierra Club visitors was shaken but unharmed.

Probably the most frightening portion of the road between 1913 and 1923, was the high, narrow, wooden bridge over the canyon below Oak Grove. The timber structure soon showed signs of sagging and the wood flooring rattled and creaked. Bob Barton had a job hauling cedar posts down from the forests in his father's two-ton Nash truck one summer. Bob said that when he crossed that old bridge he would set the hand throttle, get out of the truck and walk along side it holding on to the wheel, so he could try running if he heard cracking timbers.

In 1923, the wood bridge was replaced by the concrete structure that is used today. On its down-stream side the rocked platforms and concrete footings for the first bridge still are visible. On the up-stream side, a cable was once strung across the gorge with a "car" for workers to go out on, to measure the turbid waters.

(CREDITS: : The Visalia Weekly Delta, Oct. 10, 1879; The Visalia Delta, Aug. 6, 1892; Letters from Sequoia National Park archives relating to the building of the Mineral King road Oak Grove section, 1913-1914; Documents and letters from Tulare County Public Works files; Jim Barton Oral History on the Mineral King Road, 2000. Photos from Jackson files. Compilation by Louise Jackson. Webmaster, Jill Brown)

The Mineral King Road Corridor: Historic Points of Interest
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