Dick's Adventures of 2020 - Part 5

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Adventures of 2016         Adventures of 2017          Adventures of 2018          Adventures of 2019

2020 Part 1          2020 Part 2          2020 Part 3          2020 Part 4          2020 Part 6

Rancheria Falls          Nelder Grove
Rancheria Falls

This was my seventh trip to Rancheria Falls, Colton's second, and Jack's first. Getting to this impressive natural wonder requires a drive of a little over a mile on a rough dirt road off Highway 168 by Huntington Lake, and an easy hike of another mile.

My grandson Johnny dropped the boys off on his way to work on June 2, and after a quick breakfast, we got in my truck and made the 63 mile drive to the trailhead. It was supposed to be around 100 degrees in the valley, but at 7,000 feet it never got above 70.

Both boys have become good hikers, and kept up a steady pace, sometimes getting ahead of me, and sometimes stopping briefly to be silly. 

The little hikers Being silly and dramatic

When Colton and I went in July of 2019, the falls was at full capacity, sending a lot of cold mist and a strong breeze at us. This time I brought sweatshirts for all of us, but the water flow was down and the extra clothing stayed in the bottom of my backpack. Even with a lower flow, this is a very impressive waterfall, and Jack enjoyed his first visit as we sat on the rocks at trail's end, enjoying a snack.

After the main fall of 150 feet, the creek crashes its way down a steep canyon, with many lesser drops and cascades, making for a very spectacular view.

Rancheria Falls Snack time for Jack

We probably saw at least 30 other hikers on the trail, including a nice lady who volunteered to take our picture. A large group was arriving, so we started back in order to share the limited space at the viewing spot.

As we got stated Colton appointed Jack to be the "trail guide," literally picking him up and placing him by the path and extending his arm to point the way. Jack would hold this pose for a few seconds, then we'd continue down the trail, only to repeat the exercise several more times.

Jack, Dick and Colton, with a bit of the falls in the background Jack the Trail Guide also answered our questions about tree identification

When we got back to the truck, we set up our chairs and enjoyed a quick snack before returning to Clovis. We would have made a stop for pizza at Prather if we had not had a time limit - it was the final day of school (such as it is), and the boys had to go in and pick up their belongings before 3:30. However, we had a great time and enjoyed getting out of the valley heat for a few hours.

--Dick Estel, June 2020

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Nelder Grove

I would not begin to estimate how many times I have been to Nelder Grove - the visits started over 50 years ago! My daughter Jennifer was with me on that first visit, and many in between. For our most recent visit on June 9, I drove to Rod and Jennifer's place five miles outside of Oakhurst, and we took her Jeep to contend with the last few miles of dirt road into the area. The gate to the campground was closed, so we parked there and walked in, giving us about an extra mile of exercise.

We first walked the short trail from the interpretive center to the Big Ed Tree vista. This trail previously took you to the base of the tree, where you had to strain to try to see the top, but in the last year or so the trail was routed up to a hillside across from the tree, giving visitors a full top to bottom view.

Jennifer's Jeep (right) was first on the scene, but several others joined us The Big Ed is named for a former sawmill foreman

There are a few wildflowers blooming in the grove, including clarkia and the blue variety of chaparral, which is more commonly white, plus a number of species we could not identify.

There were examples of clarkia blooming in several areas in the grove Chaparral is common throughout the Sierra Nevada

We took the Chimney Tree Trail, which starts just before you arrive at the campground, and goes gradually uphill parallel to but out of sight of California Creek. After passing the California Tree and the Chimney Tree, it curves around, crosses the creek, and runs out to the Bull Buck Loop Trail, staying close to the creek most of the way. There are numerous large sequoia stumps along the trail, testifying of the days when the grove was heavily logged. 

Although hollow and charred by fire inside, the Chimney Tree is still alive The California Tree
This bridge over California Creek is a favorite photos spot for hikers One of 20 or so big stumps along the trail - 15 to 20 feet high

Near the end of the trail Jennifer captured one of the best photos I've ever seen of The Obelisk, a long-dead sequoia snag that has been sculpted by fire over the decades.

At the trail junction we turned left for the very short walk to the Bull Buck Tree, the crown jewel of Nelder Grove. If we had walked directly to this tree from the gate, it would have been a hike of a little more than a mile. But when you can drive in and park at the campground, the shortest part of the Bull Buck Loop is only a quarter mile, so the old giant gets a lot of visitors. This day we had it all to ourselves. Years ago a path was cleared through the forest and a primitive bench constructed where you can sit and enjoy a top to bottom view of the tree without any neck strain. We had our snack here before heading back to the car.

Jennifer named this burned out snag "The Obelisk" The iconic and majestic Bull Buck Tree

We met two other parties on the trail. One of them, a family of six, had just moved to Oakhurst from North Dakota. When we first arrived, ours was the only car parked at the gate, but when we left there were five or six.

We returned to Rod and Jennifer's where I picked up my car. Jennifer and I drove separately to Oakhurst and ate at the Pizza Factory. We had asked Rod to join us, but he was involved in a home repair project, so Jennifer got pizza to take home to him, while I enjoyed one of this restaurant's excellent sandwiches.

We said our goodbyes at the restaurant, already talking about another hike in the area later in June.

--Dick Estel, June 2020

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Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window)


Rancheria Falls          Nelder Grove


Rancheria Falls

Colton snacks on Goldfish Colton and Jack at the falls vista point Jack on the bridge near the trailhead
Nelder Grove
Photos by Jennifer and Dick
The Old Forester honors all those who have served
as superintendent of the Sierra National Forest
Busy insects of some type created
this unusual "sculpture"
Wood dust at the base of the tree
Sun shines through dogwood leaves Shelton's violet Western wall flowers
Related Links
Rancheria Falls Trail Rancheria Falls in July, 2019 Rancheria Video
Rancheria Falls Friends of Nelder Grove Nelder Grove Interpretive Area
USFS Nelder Site Dick's Nelder Grove Page Big Ed Trail




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Updated June 19, 2020