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Duckwall and Bear are two P1Ks in the Sierra foothills on either side of SR108. Both summits can be accessed via dirt roads by just about any vehicle. Duckwall Mtn is found on the south side of SR108 about six miles east of the town of Tuolumne which itself is about eight miles east of Sonora. There are two ways to access Duckwall, both starting from the town of Tuolumne where the paved road to Cherry Lake heads northeast out of town. A few miles from town the road forks, with Buchanan Rd crossing a bridge and becoming dirt. This is the southern route recommended by Google Maps that I used but it is much longer, more than 16 miles of dirt road driving. It took me an hour and a half to drive the dirt road section. There are many forks in the road and it is a good idea to have a GPS and some idea where you're going to stay on track. The better route from the north continues another 11.5mi past the bridge junction with the southern route, following along the Cherry Lake road to an unsigned junction near Willow Meadow. From here it is about three miles to the crest (and the second junction with the southern route) and then about two miles west to the summit. The three mile section of good dirt road is not depicted at all on Google Maps, but it is shown correctly on the 7.5' topo map. Unless you're looking for adventure, take the northern route.
The south side of Duckwall Mtn was burned nearly completely by the Rim Fire in the summer of 2013. Firefighters built a firebreak along portions of the crest west of the summit to keep the fire off the north side of the ridge. Still, fires were started sporadically on the north side and burned in a number of spots, but not nearly to the devastation found on the south side. Having driven to the summit at night, I was not aware that I was driving through the recent fire sections and it was only in daylight the next morning that I was aware of the fire's impact. The summit has one of two tallest lookout towers found in CA, sitting atop a 100-foot steel structure built in 1935. Though no longer manned nor maintained, the tower was used during the Rim Fire as judged by a map left inside and the grafitti scrawled by firefighters on its walls. The views stretch well east to the high country, but in the early morning the sun mostly disrupted this view. Heavy haze from the Central Valley made poor viewing in other directions. On my way back to Tuolumne and SR108 in the morning, I found loggers at work clearing trees that had been left as snags by the fire. It seemed this was a boon to the industry as they could now have access to tens of thousands of trees. On the drive back to Tuolumne there was an empty logging truck heading into the fire area at least once every minute. In fact the spacing was too regular to be by chance and I suspect they were being staged to keep traffic flowing smoothly and the trucks from getting into a bottleneck.
Bear Mtn is found between New Melones Reservoir and SR4, about 4 miles southwest of Angels Camp on SR49. I drove back out to Sonora and then north to Angels Camp and SR4, reaching the junction with Stallion Way around 9:30a. The gravel road is rather dusty, but manageable by any vehicle. The summit is found at the end of Stallion Way, a bit over 4 miles from the highway. The last half mile passes onto property owned by American Tower and other telecom companies, and though it is signed for No Trespassing, there are no closed gates along the way. I found another lookout tower at the end of the road, with two vehicles unloading gear about the facilities at the base of the tower. The highpoint is actually found among some rocks about 50 yards north of the lookout, to which I made a brief visit. Trees block much of the views from the highpoint, but for obvious reasons I didn't climb the tower stairs to gain a better vantage. As earlier, Central Valley haze marred much of the distant views anyways.
And so ended a brief three day visit to the Sierra foothills. Weather-wise it was a nice time of year to visit. It was fun exploring some of the little-visited backroads seen mostly be the residents that populate the hills and deer hunters in season. I was happy to find that the government shutdown did not cause any of the roads I visited to be gated closed or otherwise made off-limits.
This page last updated: Tue Oct 15 17:45:18 2013
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