Outdoors: Discovering California's center

By Adam BlauertMarch 7, 2012 

Last week's mention of the Highway 99 "palm and pine" halfway between Mexico and Oregon brought some interesting reader comments.

Located south of Madera, the trees were planted decades ago when U.S. 99 ran continuously between our northern and southern neighbors. After being replaced by I-5, the California sections of the route were given back to the state and only the section from the I-5 junction south of Bakersfield to Red Bluff in the north retains the old numbering.

Sometimes we take names for granted. Although I've passed the trees many times, it never occurred to me that the "pine" isn't actually a pine. A reader identified it as a deodar cedar, native to Asia rather than California. If this "pine" looks small to you, it is because the original fell in a storm about seven years ago and has since been replaced.

While the pair of trees is fairly close to the center of the state when measured from north to south, the actual midpoint is about 40 miles to the east. Calculating its exact location wasn't an easy task considering California's irregular shape.

The spot was finally pinpointed and permanently marked in 1995 using modern technology. You can find it along Italian Bar Road, about 4.7 miles from the small Madera County community of North Fork.

Look for a sign and a small parking area just before the road drops down to Redinger Lake. A short walk leads uphill to a concrete and stone marker with a plaque. Although the location may be remote, it is a spot that ties together many themes of life in California. The vegetation is chaparral and grey pine -- common to much of the state. Redinger is a small reservoir on the San Joaquin River. California is able to sustain 38 million people and world-class agriculture because of the water and power provided by hundreds of such reservoirs on rivers and streams. The nearby community of North Fork is not unlike many other small foothill and mountain towns. Until fairly recently logging was one of its major industries.

While the "exact center" marker may not merit a trip on its own accord, it's a fun place to stop if you are in the area.

Nearby Bass Lake is a popular camping, fishing, and water recreation destination in the summer. The Sierra Mono Museum in North Fork is a great place to learn more about the history and culture Western Mono or Monache people who have lived in this area for thousands of years.

From late March through early May, your drive to the "exact center" may pass through some nice wildflower displays. Great springtime hiking can be found at the BLM-managed San Joaquin River Gorge Recreation Area. Try the Pa'san Ridge Trail -- a moderate six-mile loop. It starts at the end of Smalley Road, near Auberry.

The "exact center" is adjacent to the spectacular 80-mile Sierra Vista Scenic Byway. This grand tour of the central Sierra includes panoramic views, a pioneer log cabin built in 1860, a unique weathered granite arch, Jackass Meadow, Fresno Dome, and Globe Rock -- a giant round granite boulder balanced on much smaller base rocks. The Byway opens after snow has melted -- usually by sometime in June. Much of the road is paved and the remainder is passable by any car with a careful driver. It makes a fun summer trip that avoids the crowds common to the national parks of the Sierra. There are plenty of places to hike, camp, and fish.

Even if you don't check out the "exact center," you can always use your newly acquired California trivia to stump your friends and relatives who don't read the newspaper.

Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman and local historian who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com

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