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Leisurely Drives Along California's Back Roads


BASS LAKE, Calif. — There you are, hubcap to hubcap, locked in traffic on the San Diego Freeway, and all you can think about is your forthcoming vacation and a chance to hit the open road.

But a week later, with your holiday under way at last, there you are again, still buried in a long line of cars on U.S. 101 (or the 5, or the 10, or the 395), surrounded by your fellow vacationers.

Is there still an open road to be found?

In the ever-growing Southland, all roads increasingly lead to a SigAlert. Within the sound of Bill Keene's voice on KNX, the chances of finding a two-lane road for a leisurely drive through the countryside seem to grow slimmer every day as developers take homes and malls to once-remote areas.

But there are still open roads this side of Saskatchewan if you are willing to take the long way around--and if you're lucky enough to hit the right highway at the right time of day.

Heading into the Yosemite region from Los Angeles we chose the middle route into the park and made our first stop at Mariposa.

Using a more direct route, we would have left California 99 at Fresno (about 220 miles north of Los Angeles) and continued northeast through Oakhurst on California 41. But we knew from experience that 41 is heavily traveled, and we were alerted by our Auto Club Triptik to the possibility of road work and detours "during daylight hours."

Thus we took the long way around, continuing on 99 about 50 miles north to Merced, where we took California 140 east about 38 miles to Mariposa. We were rewarded for our round-about approach by an easy-riding, two-lane road with light traffic and no trucks.

Although not an especially scenic road, 140 takes you into the Sierra foothills on a straight route, with opportunity for high speed if you are in a hurry and with room for others to pass if you wish to putter along.

A leisurely drive takes you in good time to Mariposa, about 30 miles from the park. Mariposa has adequate motels and excellent (for a small town) restaurants, but neither are rural-village inexpensive, for you are now in Yosemite Land. (Our motel, a Best Western, charged us $66 a night for two; entrees at the better restaurants were in the $13-$15 range.)

Our favorite open road is also in Yosemite Land near Bass Lake just below Oakhurst, on the previously mentioned California 41 northeast of Fresno. Our favorite route really doesn't take you anywhere unless you happen to be traveling in the hills west of Bass Lake, and you probably wouldn't want to go there.

But to us it is important because it bears the family name, Teaford Saddle Road.

To be sure, the Mulhollands have their drive and Bob Hope has his Palm Springs street. But for ordinary people it's no small thing to drive on a road with your name on it.

Great-Uncle George is the one who left us our road-sign fame. He settled in the area in the 1880s, built a cabin alongside Bass Lake and later operated a ranch adjacent to Teaford Saddle Road (the saddle refers to the passage between two mountains, not to what our uncle was tall in). He is remembered locally as a longtime Madera County supervisor.

Teaford Saddle Road--all smooth blacktop, thank you--runs from Crane Valley Road (about seven miles south of Oakhurst) scarcely eight miles to Road 222, where a left turn will take you back to Bass Lake. All in all, a restful, scenic ride through the pines.

No, you probably wouldn't have reason to go there.

Our primary reason for going there was to crash a family reunion, one being held at Bass Lake by my brother's in-laws. And as we didn't wish to be overly obtrusive about it and wear out our welcome early in the game, we were happy to arrive on a roundabout route through Mariposa.

The next day we had our reunion within a reunion, joining our brother's family, out from Iowa, and a handful of relatives who live in the area for a luncheon at the Pines Resort.

Right away we upstaged the in-laws. There on the restaurant wall was a plaque bearing a photo of the historic cabin built by Great-Uncle George on the shore of Bass Lake. The site lay in front of us just outside our restaurant window, but the cabin had been demolished, with the land having been taken over by the resort.

After lunch, a descendant of Great-Uncle George led us on an excursion around the lake and onto Teaford Saddle Road. No crowding in the fast lane there as we zipped by a development called Teaford Meadows, a project unfortunately no longer in family hands.

It was all over too soon. You can't drive forever, up and down an eight-mile road. After a visit with another descendant, Great-Uncle George's only surviving daughter, we headed back to the Pines Resort. There you can stay in a two-story chalet in a forest setting, with pine-paneled interiors and a carpeted loft capable of sleeping five or six, at $90 to $130 a night. The resort also has cottages at $475 a week for two, and motel rooms from $45 to $58.

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