Back to school

Half Dome – Yosemite 

   Welcome back from Christmas break.  I sure enjoyed watching the Bowl games with Chester Cheetah (the mascot of Cheetos).  Now that everyone is back in town, we’re going to jump back into our Half Dome education. A few of you read the blogs and got light years ahead of those who partied until dawn. That material will be on the mid-term!
    So let’s jump back into it. During the winter months it’s a good idea to bone up by reading Yosemite related books if you have park fever. Today we will discuss “Travels Along 120 – The Big Oak Road,” by Dave Gookin. I found this paperback for $6 at the Groveland Museum last year. It’s a self-published piece of 126 pages with hand drawn illustrations. Gookin wrote the book in 1983 – wow 25 years ago, but he does a good job of telling the story of the “poison oakers” who lived along that highway from the 108 junction through to Yosemite. Lots of history about Jacksonville, Big Oak Flat, Groveland and the places along the road.
    I was thrilled to read his account of Priest Grade. Its named for William Priest, a mining man, engineer and one of the first Yosemite commissioners.  If you have driven 120 to the park, you surely have been up it as it takes you up about 1,575 feet from Moccasin to the top. The windy, steep (17% grade) road that you see to the southeast (after passing the fish hatchery) is the original path that was first a wagon route called The Grizzly Gulch Road. In its day it could take a heavy cargo wagon 5 hours to get to the top. It has become the “old grade.” It was built in the rush to exploit the park in the 1850’s. Today a strong car engine is limited to 20 mph but can get you up the 2.7 miles in about 10 minutes.

Highway 120 "New" Priest Grade

The longer road (6 miles) to the north was built in 1915 and is officially now the Priest Grade. It is a more sane 4% grade. This one will slow you down as tour busses and motor homes wisely take this route. Turn off your A/C going up. About ¾ to the top on the left is a large collection of decaying classic cars. I’m told the KEEP OUT signs mean it and nothing is for sale.  At the top of the grade both roads converge at Priest’s Station. In its heyday it sported a hotel that also served meals to weary travelers. A huge fire up the gulch in 1926 burned it and the spot has not recovered ever since. Coming the other way, your brakes may smell bad or smoke if you take the Old Grade. Not advised.
    In October the Wally Anker family reopened Priest Station as a restaurant and store. They have cleaned up the property, added a deck overlooking Grizzly Gulch and paved the parking lot. The Priest Station site still contains the original water well, which Anker hopes to restore.  An old garage on site serves as their office. Stop by and hve a coke!
Unrelated thought worth quoting: “You may be a little cold some nights, on mountain tops above the timber-line, but you will see the stars, and by and by you can sleep enough in your own town bed, or at least in your grave.” – John Muir, April 1898

*Mr. Half Dome – Rick Deutsch –


One Response to “Back to school”

  1. Lynn Says:

    Very nice post and accurate to what we have come to understand is the story of the two Priest Grade roads and Priest Station up at the top. I believe bringing the Priest Station property back into the family, the Ankers stand a good chance of success. The location is beautiful for watching sunsets and the lights shimmer as a beacon for all those climbing “The Grade”

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