THE SOUTHERN GATEWAY STOP
Elevation: 2,289 feet
WHAT TO DO IN OAKHURST
Some Favorites From Our Expeditions
Chat with California’s only remaining grizzly — Oakhurst’s Talking Bear. He’s got a lot to say, including boasts about his keen hearing and powerful nose that can catch a whiff of Karo syrup from miles away. He also passes on some campfire safety advice from his cousin Smokey.
Take a side trip and drive the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway, where attractions include formations that look like eagles’ beaks and the geographic center of California. Plan on lunch at the Jones Store and save room for the cheeseburger.
SoCal’s Yosemite Entry Point & a Link on the Golden Chain
The favored route for Southern Californians and others from downstate comes to Yosemite’s southern entrance through Oakhurst. (From late spring into fall, the eastern entrance is an alternative, taking the longer scenic way up Highway 395 to Lee Vining, which is the gateway to the park’s east entry atop Tioga Pass.)
With California’s fifth-largest city only about 45 miles away, Oakhurst used to be known as Fresno Flats before adopting its current name in 1912. It’s a crossroads today, the junction of Highways 41 and 49. Highway 41 continues on to Yosemite’s southern entrance, while the historic “Golden Chain Highway” 49 links Gold Rush towns from here all the way to Vinton more than 300 miles to the north. Oakhurst was certainly involved in the Gold Rush, but more as a supplier. There weren’t many precious nuggets to be found in the area, and those who weren’t selling wares to prospectors came here for ranching.
Sierra Online’s Hometown: A Sacred Place for Gamers
Still, a popular computer game about the Gold Rush was created here. Fans of classic computer games likely know Oakhurst as the home to Sierra Online. Throughout the eighties and nineties, Ken and Roberta Williams and the rest of their team produced revered games that included the King’s Quest series, Leisure Suit Larry, The Colonel’s Bequest, Hero’s Quest/Quest for Glory, Gabriel Knight.
The most locally inspired was probably Gold Rush!, in which a man leaves his newspaper job in Brooklyn to chase the California gold. Players were given a choice of routes — overland on a stage coach and wagon train or by ship via Cape Horn or Panama. Death lurked at every turn in the form of rotten meat, kicking horses, jungle ants, ship-sinking icebergs, gum-blackening scurvy, cholera, starvation, gun-toting bandits, and on and on.
The Talking Bear: California’s Last Grizzly
Grizzlies have long been extinct in California, but Oakhurst still has one. And he talks. A Century 21 realtor put it in place and has provided the voice, which offers facts about California’s state animal, among other things. It’s not the original, which was retired in 2013 after decades of photos and people climbing on its back.
Remembering John Candy: Bass Lake & The Great Outdoors
Just beyond Oakhurst lies Bass Lake. It’s long been a popular recreation area, but the lake that’s largely responsible for making it such is relatively new. The made-made reservoir used to be a meadow and was created when the San Joaquin River tributary Willow Creek was dammed in 1901 for hydroelectric power. (Today, Bass Lake is owned by Pacific Gas & Electric.) Later, it was polluted by a lumber company, which was required to restock the fish. The chosen species was bass, giving the reservoir a new name.
The historic Ducey’s Bass Lake Lodge was a filming location for the John Candy-Dan Aykroyd film The Great Outdoors. Cast and crew spent several weeks filming there. After a kitchen grease fire leveled the place soon after, it was rebuilt, and the bar now has memorabilia from its time as a film set. The restaurant has also created a test-your-appetite food challenge in homage to the Old ‘96er, the gristle-laden, Paul Bunyan-sized steak that Candy eats to score a free meal for his family. (The modern version replaces steak with a monster burger and fries.)
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