If somebody who has never seen Porterville, California goes there and takes a look around they would see your typical Central Valley agricultural town. Porterville is a small city of 40,000 people with your typical amenities tucked up against the foothills of the southern Sierra Nevada. Not much is noteworthy about the town. But much is noteworthy about those hills.
The hill just to the north of town is known as Lewis Hill. Looking up there from town it looks sort of greenish-brown with not a tree or significant rock outcropping to be found - basically just a bald grassy hill. And most people would never ever have the desire to go explore it. But thanks to the Sequoia Riverlands Trust a portion of this hill is protected and once a year it is open for the public to explore. That day was yesterday (March 3, 2007).
My fiance dropped me off where the other hikers were congregating and he looked up the hillside and didn't have much to say. Indeed, even when you are at the foot of Lewis Hill it still doesn't look like it would be a worthwhile visit. All you see is grass and a few rocks. Ho hum. But I trust that the preserve was created to protect something wonderful. And I wasn't disappointed!
Hiking up Lewis Hill
The Lewis Hill Preserve protects 110 acres of Lewis Hill as a conservation preserve. Here there are two very rare flowers including the striped adobe lily (Fritillaria striata
). This flower only grows on a few scattered hills in the area and no where else on earth. Why? Because it prefers a certain type of soil that comes from a certain type of rock. Those that are familiar with the Sierra Nevada know that in its central and southern portions it is mostly granite. Well, Lewis Hill ain't granite. It is made instead of a mix of dark volcanic and metamorphic rocks. And wherever this rare rock type occurs in this part of the world you may find this rare lily growing on it in late February and early March.
The hike along the northern slopes of Lewis Hill isn't too hard but there is no trail and the terrain is rough and uneven thanks to the numerous huge gopher holes hiding in the grass so it isn't too easy, either. In about 1/3 mile you will come to some dark rock outcroppings and it is here where we started to find the adobe lilies along with numerous other flowers. I can show you how beautiful the lilies are by showing you a photograph, but oh how I wish I could let you get a whiff of them! They smell heavenly! They are closely related to the leopard lilies that grow higher in the mountains and like them exhibit one of the best wildflower smells that I have ever smelled. So be sure if you ever get a chance to meet this flower to get on your hands and knees and smell them, too :)
Striped Adobe Lily
Along with the adobe lilies we saw blue dicks (yes, that's what they're called!), lomatium, poppies, wild onion, fiddlenecks, popcorn flower, soaproot, and a lone rare white shooting star. And some very cool rock outcroppings with very colorful lichen. And, oh yeah, the views of the Sierra Nevada were drop dead gorgeous yesterday!
View of the Sierra from the top of Lewis Hill
After walking amongst the wildflower gardens on Lewis Hill for a couple of hours, we all headed back down. Back down to town with its quaint and not-so-quaint neighborhoods, its strip malls, its traffic, and its noise. Ho hum.
From Hwy 190 in Porterville go north on Plano Road which is located 1.5 miles east of Hwy 65. Drive north 4 miles to the crest of the first hill. Park off to the side of the road. The Lewis Hill Preserve is on the west side of the road. There is a barbed-wire fence surrounding the property and technically the preserve is only open 1 day out of the year so I'd recommend you go with a guide on that day or contact the Sequoia Riverlands Trust
The preserve is technically open to the public just one day a year. But permission can be granted to visit it and hike to the top of the hill other times. Contact the Sequoia Riverlands Trust
for more info!
Please practice Leave No Trace ethics
during your visit.
The closest campground to Lewis Hill would probably be the Eagle's Nest or at Lake Success.
Eagle’s Nest Resort
27798 Hwy 190, Porterville, CA 93257
Camping, general store, hot showers!
30300 Hwy 190, Porterville, CA 93258
(559) 781-2078 – marina
Camp, fish, boat, picnic, hunt.
External LinksSequoia Riverlands Trust
Tulare County Foothills Weather Forecast
USDA Plants page on Fritillaria striata
CA Dept of Fish & Game page on Fritillaria striata