While traveling Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway take some time to stop at Hell's Kitchen Vista where huge boulders dot the landscape, including Balancing Rock, a local landmark noted by early travelers over the Emigrant Trail. This area is especially popular for recreational bouldering and climbing.
Located 1,000 feet below the Hell's Kitchen Vista is the North Fork Stanislaus River. During the Ice Age, glaciers descending the North Fork Canyon met the Highland Creek glacier and even extended down canyon to what is now Calaveras Big Trees State Park. When the glaciers retreated, they left some moraines and lots of erratic boulders here and in the canyon. These formations are called "roche moutonees," a French term for the rounded glaciated granite.
Sapps Hill, visible to the southeast, is a volcanic remnant, while Whittaker's Dardanelles are ragged extensions of the Dardanelles flow. At the bottom of the canyon lies the junction with Highland Creek, as well as Sand Flat, a primitive Forest Service campground reached by a rugged jeep trail west of Hell's Kitchen Vista.
Take time to walk the short trail that winds through the field of boulders and ponder the geological forces that deposited them here eons ago. The trail takes you to a number of unique erratics, providing yet another outstanding photo opportunity. An interpretive panel near the parking lot provides information about raptors such as eagles and hawks that frequent this magestic spot. As you leave Hell's Kitchen traveling east towards Tamarack, keep an eye out on the north side of the road for Whale Rock, one of the three prominent character rocks located on the Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway.