Skip to main content

The Sierran Death Highway, Blackrock Road

Back in 2016 I was pursuing dangerousroads.org looking for a interesting paved road akin to Kaiser Pass Road and Mineral King Road both which I had done earlier in the year.  I found what I was looking for in Blackrock Road located in rural eastern Fresno County at the confluence of the Kings River with it's North Fork.


Suffice to say that if I was looking roadways on dangerousroads.org it probably lends suggestion that Blackroad is somewhat on the hazardous side, it is.  Blackrock Road is an approximately 26-27 mile long one-lane road located in Sierra National Forest.  Blackrock Road is partially paved running from the Bailey Bridge at the Kings River north to the Wishon Reservoir roughly following the west bank of the North Fork Kings River.  Every documentation I've seen shows the road is really spelled "Blackrock" as opposed to "Black Rock" like the nearby Pacific Gas & Electricity Reservoir.

My goal on Blackrock Road was simple; I wanted to see all the unique bridges the roadway has to offer and the wide canyon view above Balch Camp.  I headed out in the morning took Trimmer Springs Road all the way east to the Bailey Bridge.






I would speculate that the Bailey Bridge was built sometime during construction of the Black Rock Reservoir.  According to Bridgehunter.org the Bailey Bridge has a 152 foot span over the Kings River and lies at an elevation of 1,023 feet above sea level.

Bridgehunter.org on the Bailey Bridge

The Bailey Bridge is a Pony Truss design with a metal grated surface.





As industrial looking as the Bailey Bridge is it does have a somewhat ominous looking design which fits the motif for what is ahead on Blackrock Road.





Apparently this is how you leave messages for people when you're out camping on the Kings River with no cellular coverage.  Blackrock Road continues to the left over the Bailey Bridge while the road to the right follows the Kings River to Bear Wallow Camping Ground.


Balch Camp is only a short 3 miles to the north of the Bailey Bridge.  The signage on Blackrock Road is surprisingly good considering how remote it is.





PG&E apparently put these warning signs up on Blackroad Road.  Even the tame parts of Blackrock Road have a myriad of mountain based hazards.


As narrow as Blackrock Road is approaching Balch Camp this is probably the widest part of the roadway.  There is a surprising amount of vehicle traffic coming and going from the company housing in Black Camp.


Balch Camp is located the confluence of the North Fork Kings River and Dinkey Creek.  Traffic heading towards the Wishon Reservoir on Blackrock Road is directed over a one-lane bridge over to the west bank of the North Fork Kings River.



This bridge over Dinkey Creek shows an elevation of 1,360 feet.  This bridge is the beginning of Sycamore Springs Road which heads northwest.  Blackrock Road continues to the right through Balch Camp.


Surprisingly Balch Camp actually has a bypass road which loops past the community and the PG&E housing.  Past Balch Camp Blackrock Road crosses this large drainage pipe descending the cliff-face.





Past the pipe the asphalt quality of Blackrock Road drops considerably at this cattle guard.


An amusing "No Shooting near the Residential Area" sign on the opposite side of the cattle guard.


Blackrock Road briefly follows Dinkey Creek before looping back on itself back towards the North Fork Kings River.




Shoulders really aren't a thing on Blackrock Road.  My suggestion if you are in a vehicle is to roll your windows down and listen for noise.  You generally can hear engines off in the distance as there is PG&E trucks on Blackrock Road with surprising frequency.  If you hear something the best idea is to stop and find a place wide enough for two vehicles because you'll be backing up otherwise.


It might not be immediately apparent from the first photo but the cliff-face is a huge drop as evidenced by looking right towards the helipad on the opposite side of Dinkey Creek in the second photo.



This Slow Sign has taken a shotgun blast or two.


From the Slow Sign the North Fork Kings River and Balch Camp can be seen below.





Up ahead the first of two wooden deck bridges can be seen on the cliff-face.





The speed limit on the first wooden deck bridge is 10 MPH.  There is a indentation on the bridge showing it was completed in 1968.








The first wooden deck bridge makes it really apparent how steep the cliff above the North Fork Kings River and Balch Camp really is.






Things really don't get much better continuing north.






Approaching the second wooden deck bridge there was an opportunity for a panoramic which shows how the steepness of Blackrock Road above the North Fork Kings River.







Another 10 MPH speed limit is signed approaching the second wooden deck bridge followed by a sloppy "Slippery Bridge" spray painted poorly in the rock.






Again the second wooden deck bridge shows a construction date of 1968.







Ahead Blackrock Road drops to gravel/dirt past the Black Rock Reservoir.  I wasn't certain of the condition of the roadway north to the Wishon Reservoir but based off some videos I had seen prior to my trip it appeared to require high clearance at minimum.  I turned around having seen what I came for (easier said than done) and headed back to Balch Camp.








Information regarding the Black Rock Reservoir and it's construction history are scant to say the least.  There isn't much information out there regarding the topic, Balch Camp or even Blackrock Road.  Surprisingly the Black Rock Reservoir, Balch Camp and Blackrock Road are all shown the 1935 California Division of Highways Map of Fresno County.  Black Rock Reservoir is listed the Williams Crossing Reservoir:

1935 Fresno County Highway Map

The Black Rock Reservoir is located approximately 4,000 feet above sea level.  More information about Blackrock Road can be found on dangerousroads.org and fs.usda.gov.

Blackrock Road and dangerousroads.org

Forest Service on the Black Rock Reservoir

In regards to the title of this thread, I just thought it sounded cool and I'm not aware of anyone actually dying on Blackrock Road.  The terrain of Blackrock Road on it's own merit is definitely the most difficult to deal with on any paved roadway in California I've been on.  Kaiser Pass Road probably is more difficult given the somewhat significant amounts of traffic it gets  in my opinion.  I ran into three vehicles north of Balch Camp but I was able to see them far enough away to be in a good position that it wasn't much an issue getting by.  That said, Blackrock Road isn't something that suffers people with vertigo or anything but skilled careful driving.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Donner Pass; hunting for the Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Road and abandoned Central Pacific Railroad Tunnels

This past weekend while returning from Lake Tahoe I crossed over the crest of the Sierras at Donner Pass.  My goal was to seek out the old Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Road and the abandoned Central Pacific Railroad tunnels.


I've written about Donner Pass several times before; the history of crossing dating back to 1844 up to the construction of Interstate 80 can be found here:

Old US Route 40 on Donner Pass Road

As stated in the Donner Pass Road article above the original purpose built road over Donner Pass was the Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Road (DF&DLR).  The DF&DLR was a wagon route over Donner Pass which was constructed by the Central Pacific Railroad to assist in construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad.  In 1861 the State of California granted the Central Pacific a 10 year franchise on toll rights to the DF&DLR which completed by 1864.  The DF&DLR was used to finance the Central Pacific's construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad fr…

History of the Big Oak Flat Road (Yosemite National Park)

This week I hiked much of what was the original alignment of the Big Oak Flat Road which is located to the north of the modern roadway.  Unlike the original alignment of the Wawona Road the Old Big Oak Flat Road is surprisingly intact.


The complete history of the Big Oak Flat Road including the original alignment can be found on a 2002 report from the U.S. Department of Interior on the Old Big Oak Flat Road.

U.S. Department of the Interior on the Old Big Oak Flat Road

The Big Oak Flat Road began construction east from the mining community of Big Oak Flat in towards Yosemite Valley in 1869.  The Big Oak Flat Road was constructed by the Chinese Camp and Yosemite Turnpike Company which had secured the franchise rights for a toll road to the Yosemite Grant (the designation prior to Yosemite National Park).  By the summer of 1871 the Big Oak Flat Road reached the northern cliffs above Yosemite Valley which is when the Chinese Camp and Yosemite Turnpike Company ran out of funding.  After the…

Old US Route 40 on Donner Pass Road

While completing California State Route 89 between Lassen Volcanic National Park and US Route I took a detour in Truckee up the infamous Donner Pass Road.


Generally I don't dispense with the history of a roadway before the route photos but the history of Donner Pass is steeped within California lore and western migration.  The first recorded Wagon Crossing of Donner Pass was back in 1844.  The infamous Donner Party saga occurred in the winter of 1846-47 in which only 48 of the 87 party members survived.  Although the Donner Party incident is largely attributed to poor planning and ill conceived Hastings Cutoff it largely led to the infamous reputation of Donner Pass.

The first true road over the Sierra Nevada Range via the Donner Pass was known as the Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Road.  The Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Wagon Road was completed by 1864 to assist with construction of the Central Pacific build the First Trans-Continental Railroad over Donner Pass.  The website belo…