UNFORTUNATELY, THERE ISN'T MUCH LEFT OF THE Yosemite Valley Railroad. However, much of the YV roadbed is still visible and some of it can be driven in a regular passenger car.
The YVRR station in Merced as viewed from Main Street just northwest of R Street. A shopping center now occupies this general site.
There are only a few visible remains of the YV in Merced. However, to follow the route, start at the Southern Pacific Railroad Station on 16th Street at N Street. The YV tracks were directly in front of the station, about where a road has now been built between the station and the main SP tracks. From the SP station, the YV tracks swung northerly over next to the curb line of 16th Street and then crossed 16th Street between Q Street and R Street and then bisected a vacant field at the corner of 16th Street and R Street; a Walgreens Drugs now occupies this field.
The YV also had a spur which crossed 16th Street between N Street and M Street to serve two ice houses; the ice houses (Merced Ice and Cold Storage Co. and Fresno Consumer's Ice Company) were in the general area now occupied by the Bank of America.
Once on the north side of R Street, the YV tracks crossed Main Street (a dirt road in those days) and came alongside the northwesterly side of the YV Merced station and general offices. The offices were located on the northwesterly side of R Street just northeast of Main Street; a shopping center, school, and houses now occupy the site of the station and yards.
From the station, the mainline followed R Street past the yards (between 18th and 22nd Streets) and then crossed the AT&SF tracks with a 90-degree diamond; an interlocking tower was located in the northerly quadrant of this crossing. The YV also interchanged with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad via a turnout and connecting track in the easterly quadrant of the crossing.
Once past the AT&SF tower, the tracks crossed Bear Creek just northwest of the current R Street highway bridge. From there, the tracks headed northeast, bisecting the eucalyptus grove just beyond the Merced shopping mall; if you stay on R Street past Santa Fe Drive/West Olive Avenue, you will notice bridge abutments for Black Rascal Creek next to the eucalyptus grove a few yards north of the road next to the park.
Turn left onto West Yosemite Avenue. As you complete your turn, look to your right toward another eucalyptus grove. The YV crossed Fahrens Creek in this grove on a short trestle; the abutments for that bridge are now being used for a bike bridge.
When you reach Highway 59, the site of the Yosemite Portland Cement Company plant is on your right. A spur from the YV entered the plant from the east, while an AT&SF spur served the plant from the south. Turn right on Highway 59 toward Snelling.
Continuing north along Highway 59, the YV mainline is running parallel to Highway 59 to the east. If you turn right onto Bellevue Road, you will cross the old right-of-way approximately 3/4 mile east of Highway 59. The old roadbed is being used as a road by ranchers and is very obvious.
Returning to Highway 59, continue north toward Snelling. The obvious railroad roadbed on the west (left) side of the highway is the old Oakdale branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Approximately 3-1/4 miles north of Bellevue Road, begin watching for the old YV right-of-way coming in from the east (right) to parallel the highway for the next several miles.
Stay right toward Snelling on Highway 59 at the wye with Oakdale Road. Approximately 1-1/4 miles past the wye is Edendale Creek; the old YV bridge over this creek was still in place until finally being removed in the late 1990s or early 2000s although the abutments are still visible. The fenced railroad right-of-way continues to follow the highway to its crossing of the Merced River near MP (milepost) 13. Until recently, the support piers for the pair of steel railroad bridges over the river were visible just northeast of the highway bridge; they are now gone.
From here, the railroad right-of-way moves away from the road and is more difficult to follow. If you watch carefully, the right-of-way will swing in from the right and follow Highway 59 for a short distance (the raised embankment is the tip off) and then continue straight while the highway turns to the east before entering Snelling. The old right-of-way will also turn easterly after crossing the highway to reach Snelling.
The Snelling station site is now just an empty field with nothing left. It was located on the westerly side of Third Street one block north of Emma Street; telephone poles hint of the old right-of-way. East of Snelling, the right-of-way continues straight and nearly touches the Merced Falls Road at LaGrange Road. Continue on the Merced Falls Road (County Road J16) east toward Merced Falls. Once past Henderson Park east of Snelling, glimpses of the roadbed can be spotted approximately 400 yards north of the highway.
Merced Falls, looking east down the YV mainline from near the Merced Falls Road grade crossing. The station is on the right in the distance.
Continue east on County Road J16 until you reach the site of Merced Falls. The lumber mill was here and the foundations of the large mill are obvious along the river. Unfortunately, they are now posted "No Trespassing". Just before the Merced Falls Road reaches the site of the "town" of Merced Falls and makes a hard left turn, look straight toward the lumber mill; the dirt road follows the log spur toward the log dump adjacent to the river. As you turn left at the jog in the road, you will see an old fence and foundations on the left; this was the lumber mill superintendent's house.
After following the road around the left turn and past the superintendent's house and just before turning right toward Lake McClure, you cross over the mainline right-of-way; the view west (left) will be looking straight down the right-of-way. All of the area north of the highway was once lumber drying yards. The station was on the river side of the mainline approximately 100 yards east (right) of the turn in the road. Foundations along the north side of the main road are the remains of the hotel, pool hall, etc. Brick foundations west of the road leading to the Barrett Cove Recreational Area are the remains of the steam lumber drying kilns. By looking carefully at the parallel embankments west of this road you can see ties from the narrow gauge gravity tram railroad which was used to move lumber from the drying yards to the steam kilns, box company, and planing mill. Just south of the mainline is the foundation of the YV turntable.
Follow the road toward Lake McClure. This road soon becomes a Merced Irrigation District toll road. After rolling up and down over a couple of hills, the grade of the road stabilizes; this is a signal that the road is then following on the old YV roadbed. This portion of the YV was rebuilt in the mid-1920s to allow for construction of the Exchequer Dam; the original roadbed continued along the west side of the Merced River and is visible in places directly adjacent to the river. As the road continues toward Lake McClure on a 1-1/2% grade, watch for the abutments of Bridge 29A, a 260'-long plate girder steel bridge constructed as part of the relocation. The road jogs around the gully but the abutments are still in place and very obvious.
When you crest a hill and see the dam itself as the road drops down, pull over. This is near the YV siding at Starr; the YV right-of-way continues along the same climbing grade on the left. Look up along the roadbed and you can see Tunnel No. 1 in the distance. As you start down the road again, look up a gully halfway down the hill for a view of the footings of a large wood trestle.
After passing the turnoff to the original dam site, the road will climb back up to the roadbed. It is sometimes possible to turn left on a short spur road here which gives access to the roadbed which you can use to drive back down to Tunnel No. 1. If you turn left from this spur onto the roadbed (and the chain is not across the road), you can drive up to Tunnel No. 1 and the site of the section houses at Exchequer on the north end of the tunnel. With a 4x4 or a vehicle with good ground clearance, you can drive through the tunnel to the south end (a dirt berm partially blocks the south end of the tunnel).
Continuing on the paved main road, take the first right turn toward the top of the dam. You will be back on the roadbed for a short distance until the road drops down to avoid the need for a bridge across a gully. When the road climbs back up to the roadbed, watch carefully on the left side. Curving up this road will give you a quick view of Tunnel No. 2 on the left as the road again leaves the right-of-way for the last time. This tunnel is now part of the dam and has been plugged with concrete. This is the end of the visible right-of-way until Briceburg further up river.
During the last California drought, it was possible to drive to the Barrett Cove Recreation Area and see portions of the right-of-way near the old Barrett station. However, these areas are typically under water.
The town of Bagby is also completely gone now except for some foundations. During the summer when the water in the reservoir is low, the area around Bagby is out of the water and can generally be seen from the Highway 49 bridge over the Merced River. It would also seem that you should be able to hike the old roadbed upstream from Bagby toward North Fork. However, the roadbed has slipped out just upstream of Bagby and it is not possible to get around this slipout unless you have a boat to get upstream of the slipout.
Back at the dam, you need to turn around and head back toward Merced Falls and then to Mariposa. Retrace your route and, just before reaching Merced Falls, turn south on Hornitos Road. Cross the Merced River and then drive on to Mariposa, either through Bear Valley or Cathys Valley. To reach Mariposa via Cathys Valley, continue on Hornitos Road 7.5 miles to Hornitos and then 6 miles further to a junction. The Hornitos Road turns right toward Cathys Valley and Highway 140 (6.5 miles from the junction). Mariposa is 12.5 miles northeast (left) along Highway 140. The other option is to continue straight at this junction onto Old Toll Road for 7 miles to Highway 49 at Mt. Bullion; then turn right on Highway 49 and continue 5 miles to Mariposa. Turn left onto Highway 140 in Mariposa.
From Mariposa, follow Highway 140 east toward Yosemite. As you reach the bottom of the Bear Creek Grade north of Midpines, look across the river at Briceburg and you will see the right-of-way again on the north side of the river.
If desired, you can cross the Merced River on the suspension bridge just west of Briceburg (turn left onto the dirt road just past the old gas station which is now a BLM museum), cross the river, and then turn left and drive the roadbed for approximately 6 miles downstream. A nice campground is located at Railroad Flat, which was actually the site of the passing siding at Harte on the YV. You can easily hike downstream from Harte on the old roadbed to North Fork; if the flows are low on the North Fork of the Merced River, you can continue hiking down river nearly to Bagby (a slipout will keep you from reaching the site of Bagby itself). Because of rocks and damage to the roadbed, mountain-biking this section of roadbed would be difficult. Back at Briceburg, you can hike upstream for a couple hundred yards to the site of one of the larger wood trestles on this section of railroad.
Back on Highway 140 and turning upstream, you will now parallel the right-of-way the rest of the way to El Portal. The remains of a couple of bridges are still in place as well as a number of buildings at Emory which was the site of a large limestone quarry operation. The large white structure was one of two "hotels" or boarding houses for the workers. The incline railway at Emory is very visible, climbing the steep hillside above Miller Gulch. The crusher was located at the top of the incline along with the hoisting machinery; the quarry was located east of the crusher. Both are visible from the highway.
The Ferguson Slide has closed a portion of Highway 140; traffic is diverted to the north side of the Merced River and then back again. The detour uses a short stretch of former YV roadbed to bypass this slide. (Vehicles longer than 45' are prohibited from using these bridges.)
Further up the road, you can see the 8700'-long logging incline at Incline if you watch carefully. To view it, stop at the Cedar Lodge Motel near Indian Flat and look north across the river. The major peak is Trumbull Peak; the logging incline hoist house was near the top of this peak. If you look carefully, you can easily make out the remains of the concrete foundation for the hoist house just below the peak as well as the incline track roadbed. Tracks ran from the hoist house around the east side of the small peak and then directly down to Incline on the opposite of the river.
The station at Incline; an orchard now occupies this spot. The road into Incline is located where the tracks once existed.
Before reaching El Portal, turn left across the Foresta Bridge onto the Foresta Road. On the north side of the river, you can turn west (left) and follow the old roadbed to Incline and then continue several miles further down river if desired. The Moss Canyon water tank was located just before crossing the first bridge just west of the turn onto the right-of-way; look for the footings located on the cut along the north (right) side of the roadbed just beyond the rafting put-in.
While all railroad buildings are gone from Incline, two miles downriver, the area is still interesting with some evidence of the past logging operations including a few ties still in the ground near the old fuel reload spur. The logging incline foreman's house still exists to the west of the station site; the station site itself is marked with a sign.
If desired, you can continue driving down the old roadbed a few more miles to the Clearinghouse Mine. However, the roadbed beyond this mine was washed out in the January 1997 floods and is no longer open to vehicles.
Returning back to the Foresta Bridge, continue east on the road which follows the river upstream rather than recrossing the river to Highway 140. The YV had a wye located in the area now occupied by the Yosemite National Park sanitation plant. The road we are now on was the tail of the wye; the mainline followed the base of the ridge and is closed. This wye was used to turn passenger trains which were then backed the remaining 2.5 miles to El Portal. When the first logging incline was in operation at El Portal, log cars were also turned here to get the log car bulkheads on the downhill side of the cars; the design of the second logging incline at Incline eliminated the need to turn these cars.
Beyond the sanitation plant and the end of the wye, the road moves steeply up onto the abandoned mainline grade which it then follows into El Portal. The curve around this first ridge line is Hogback Bend, the sharpest curve on the railroad (18 degrees). Beyond Hogback Bend are some new condos built by the Park Service; these are near what was once National Lead Company, an important shipper on the railroad. Although tunnels up the hill would lead one to believe that the National Lead Company mine was above these condos, the mine was actually on the south side of the river and was connected to the plant by an aerial tram.
As you continue on this road, you are driving on the abandoned roadbed toward El Portal. As you reach El Portal, you'll see the Bagby water tank to the left and the Bagby station in front of you. Both were relocated from Bagby before the townsite was flooded when the Exchequer Dam was raised in the early 1960s.
In recent years, the Yosemite Fund has provided funding for restoration of the Hetch-Hetchy Railroad Shay and YV caboose No. 15 which are on display in El Portal. The have also funded the rebuilding of the turntable in the original turntable pit. The restoration project used metal parts from the Bagby turntable. The next project will be restoring and repainting the Bagby water tank.
Looking east from near the El Portal turntable. The Bagby station has been relocated to the far side of this turntable pit; the white building beyond the turntable is now a NPS building. Engine No. 29 is parked in this photo about where the Post Office now sits.
The road/mainline passes the Post Office and some other buildings; these buildings are all within what was once the yards. Opposite the community building are three small houses. These were once railroad houses; they have been remodeled over the years by their owners. At the end of the road behind the Standard gas station is a concrete pad; this pad was next to the train shed. The fenced area occupies a portion of the waiting platform area of the El Portal station. This was the end of the railroad; the road from here into the Park was built by the railroad and is now part of Highway 140.
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