2021 Rambler Hikes
Hikes 2017 Rambler
Hikes 2018 Rambler
2021 Page 2
San Joaquin Gorge
Wawona Meadow Trail
Big Stump Loop Trail
Pine Logging Mill & McKinley
Kaweah Oaks Preserve
logging just two hikes in 2020, the Ramblers have been itching to
get back on the trail, and we resumed our activities on April 6 with
a visit to Kaweah
Oaks Preserve, a short distance from Visalia.
to being converted to agriculture, the San Joaquin Valley was a land
of marshes, lakes, rivers that flooded every few years, and
countless acres of valley
oaks. These magnificent trees now exist in scattered individual
specimens, plus a few areas of an acre or two up to a few hundred
acres, preserved and protected. Kaweah Oaks is one of these, lying
about eight miles east of Visalia just north of State Highway 198.
Sloughs and canals provide water, controlled by small dams and water
oak hangs over the trail
Ramblers had stopped at the parking lot here for a quick look after our
hike in the Dry Creek Preserve, a few miles east into the
foothills, in February of 2020. That was our last hike before
everything shut down, but we didn't know it at the time, and we
vowed to return and hike through the oaks. We had no idea it would
be 15 months before that happened, but on a sunny Tuesday Wes,
Ardyss, Allen and Dick drove separately to the trailhead and headed
into the woods.
and Allen emerge from a "tree tunnel"
heads into the woods
are a number of named trails in the preserve, that branch off in
various places and form loops, and I think we walked on at least
four of them. North of the section we were in is a wide open space,
with another grove and more trails beyond, but we did not venture
that far. Wandering around the section we were in gave us a two-mile
the end we sat on benches in the shade at the start of the trail and
enjoyed our lunch. Hopefully we can soon get back to the tradition
of eating in a restaurant after our hikes.
largest oaks are hundreds of years old
Ramblers: Allen, Ardyss, Dick and Wes
usual, we close with Wes's post-hike summary:
Ramblers are back! After a year of "lock down" we have
returned to the foothills and mountains of Central California. Sue
selected the first hike at the Kaweah Oak Preserve which is located
along Highway 198 between Visalia and Exeter. Since this hike is on
the valley floor, it's best to do it in early spring. Unfortunately,
Sue was called for jury duty and unable to attend. Four of us drove
separately to the Preserve to enjoy these beautiful valley oaks.
Ardyss read the stats on this Preserve which indicated there are 18
different hiking trails. We hiked four of those trails with a total
mileage of just a little over two miles. We had so much fun it's
hard to wait for our next hike. Dick has arranged for us to return
to the San Joaquin River Gorge for one of the last springtime hikes
in the area. Come join us.
Wes & Dick, April 2021
Joaquin River Gorge
the weather warming up rapidly, the Ramblers decided to seize the
opportunity for one more foothill hike on April 27, and returned to a
favorite destination, the San
Joaquin River Gorge. For the very first
time, Wes missed the hike, due to an issue that came up at the last
minute. Our group included Ardyss, Sue, Dave and Dick (me). It was
Dave's first visit ever to this Bureau of Land Management property
that lies on both sides of the San Joaquin River above Millerton
took the upper trail, officially known as the San
Joaquin River Trail. Sue and I had hiked
it in the past, but Ardyss had only been on
the Bridge Trail during her previous visit. Our hope was that we
would still see a good number and variety of wildflowers, and we
were not disappointed. Bright yellow common madea lined the main
roads, and we saw golden brodiaea (AKA pretty face) by the parking
lot and all along the trail.
cluster of golden brodiaea
on the trail
half mile into the hike is a special area. There is a nice log to
rest on, some Indian grinding
holes, a creek, and a blue oak with
the biggest burl I have ever seen. Sadly this tree fell in 2019, but
it is still an impressive sight, and we chose it as the spot for one of our
Dave and Sue by the fallen Big Burl
Dave and Sue on the Resting Log (photo by Ardyss)
was in this area that we saw a fair number of yellow Mariposa
lilies, one of my favorite flowers. In recent years nearly all that
I've seen have been the white variety, but there are also purple and
yellow variations, and we have found the latter at this spot on previous visits.
They don't grow in massive patches of color, but there were a few
dozen flowers across from the log, and scattered individuals
elsewhere along the trail.
striking flower was in evidence in several locations, the
pink-blossomed climbing brodiaea, which twists and winds around
other plants, trees, or even itself.
with late season flowers, some of the earliest blooming species were
represented by a few plants. No flower exceeds fiddlenecks in
numbers, with millions and possibly even billions of plants
throughout the foothills from the valley floor to about 3,000 feet.
A distant second, but still numbering the tens of thousands, are the
plant that displays a cluster of small white flowers, giving them
the name of popcorn flowers. The huge masses of these two flowers
that start blooming as early as February are long gone, but we saw a
few dozen of each, as if to remind us who was first and most.
treasure - yellow Mariposa lilies
brodiaea, twisted and tangled
this stopping place, our group began to shrink. We have very few
rules, but one of them is that no one has to hike any farther than
they want to. Dave turned back after our time at the Big Burl. Sue
stayed with us past the creek, but at the next drainage, there is a
very steep section, with loose sand on granite. She was not
concerned about going up it, but coming back down is a challenge for
all of us, so she started back to the parking lot.
has been known to follow Wes up steep granite slopes at Courtright
Reservoir, and this trail did not offer anything to slow her
down. We went as far as the place where a dead
bull pine fell into the arms of a blue oak, then started back.
Our round trip hike would total 1.6 miles.
got back to the parking lot and found that Dave and Sue had occupied
a picnic table, where we all sat and enjoyed lunch. Since we are not
yet ready to have our post-hike meal at a restaurant, we are
currently bringing our own food, in my case a Subway sandwich that I
picked up in Prather, a small town about ten miles from our hiking
weather was cool and breezy, enough so that I wore a long sleeve
shirt over my t-shirt. By the time we finished hiking, I could have
taken if off, but as we ate lunch in the shade the breeze came up,
and we all kept our outer tops on
grape vine climbing a pine tree
was happy to see a number of flowers that had not been out during my
earlier hikes at The Gorge, particularly purple and climbing
brodiaea, as well as yellow-throated gilia, buckeye, and elderberry.
did not know it at the time, but I would be returning just four days
later, hoping to see some of the blossoms that had not yet made
Estel, May 2021
by Wes & Dick
Ramblers are back on
our "every month" hiking schedule, and we are all
delighted. A scheduled hike at Wawona
last year was canceled due to weather, so we decided on that
location for a hike May 17. We
drove into Yosemite National Park for a walk along the
Wawona Meadow Loop Trail. Five hikers gathered near the trailhead.
Unfortunately, Dave Smith was unable to participate due to an
injury. While we hiked, he drove into the Valley for
and map for the trail
across the meadow
circumnavigates the Wawona golf course
and a long meadow in a 4-mile loop that took us into a
forest with the last of the white dogwood flowers still in
evidence. We also enjoyed the sight of new leaves on the black oak
trees, which start out with a mostly red coloring then turn to a
bight green in late spring.
nearing the end of its prime
leaves in red and gold on a big black oak tree
hiking group consisted of a new Rambler, my daughters'
mother Jackie Taggart, plus Sue Wirt, Wes Thiessen, and me (Dick
Estel). We've had a dozen or so people join us at various times, and
hope to see them all again on our future hikes this year.
golf course looked kind of shaggy when we started out, but as we got
back to the start of our route, we saw a huge mowing machine at work
helping the course recover from the ravages of the winter
Ramblers: Jackie, Dick, Wes and Sue
of the meadow, just across from the hotel
our way from Fresno we stopped at Deli Delicious in Oakhurst and got
sandwiches, and after finishing our hike, we got into Wes's
Highlander and drove a short distance to Forest Drive and enjoyed
lunch at a picnic table overlooking the South Fork of the Merced
River. We were also glad to see that the historic name of the Wawona
Hotel had been restored, after a dispute with a concession
franchisee required a temporary name
Fork of the Merced River
historic Wawona Hotel
lunch we walked across the nearby covered bridge and looked at the
exhibit of old buggies and wagons near where we ate. As we were
returning to the car, we met Dave, who had stopped on his way back
from the valley. His day was not as good as ours - he spent much of
the time in bumper to bumper traffic, but was at least able to enjoy
the scenery through the window.
few days later, permits would be required to enter the park, and we
speculated that people were trying to beat the deadline, and that
the park might be less crowded after May 21. Of course, "less
crowded" is relative and there are no summer days when the
valley is not bustling with tourists.
our group was small in numbers, we were enthused about getting back
on the trail on a regular basis. The weather was pleasant, the
scenery delightful, and we met only a few other walkers on the
trail. We hope these good conditions persist for the rest of our
hikes this year.
Estel, May 2021
Stump Loop Trail
is a place I've hiked with family and the Ramblers probably about a
dozen times, dating back to the 1980s. On June 15 a varied group of
regular and guest Ramblers drove up from the San Joaquin Valley to
the big parking lot just past the Highway 180 entrance to Kings
Canyon National Park. Our crew consisted of Dave Smith and his
daughter Megan, Allen Ward, Sue Wirt, myself (Dick Estel), and my
great grandsons Colton and Jack Upshaw.
we got our boots and packs on, we stepped off on a short downhill
stretch that leads to a basin that was heavily logged in the late
1800s. There are a very few big sequoias along the trial, with
probably the biggest about 100 yards down the trail.
biggest tree on the trail
there are many big stumps. The first one is fairly easy to climb on,
and Colton and Jack did so. A
little farther down the trail is perhaps the tallest stump in the
area. Even if it could be climbed, it's surrounded by brush, mostly
with small thorns, so we enjoyed it from a distance.
are many more stumps of various sizes, as well as sections of
sequoia trees on the ground. These trees are very brittle, and many
shattered when they fell, rendering them useless for lumber. Some of
the wood was often recovered for use as shingles.
excellent climbing stump
not so much
the trail we passed the site of the Smith-Comstock mill, which
operated from 1883 to 1885. The mill site is a meadow with partial
logs and stumps, surrounded by forest. Perhaps most unfortunately,
none of the companies that logged in this area made a profit. The
story is well told in Hank Johnston's book, They Felled the
Redwoods. It's one of several books he wrote about logging and
railroads in the Sierra. They are often hard to find, but are sometimes
available at forest visitor centers, and on line at Amazon and Ebay.
(That last link also lists a number of books by a different Hank
trees were turned into lumber
site is quiet now
next point of interest was "The Castle," a name bestowed
by Colton several years ago to a huge jagged stump. It looks as if
something broke off a huge sequoia, leaving not a flat-topped stump,
but a cluster of spires. Such an event is pretty much unheard of,
and the tree's history is unknown to me. Both boys have discovered
they can easily climb up into the spaces between the spires. On his
first visit, when he was not quite four, Colton reached
heights that had me holding my breath.
reaches for the top
this place the trail splits. Going to the right continues the loop;
the left is a spur trail out to the Mark
Twain Stump, the most dramatic evidence of our lack of respect
for nature. In the 1800s it was decided to cut down this magnificent
tree, cut it into sections, and display it to skeptical easterners,
who doubted the claims of the sequoia trees' huge size. A plaque at
the location shows the tree as
it fell. The result was that the easterners remained skeptical,
claiming the tree was a fake, and we were left with an interesting
stump, but fewer and fewer giant sequoias.
are stairs that allow most people to visit the top of the stump, and
Jack, Colton and I enjoyed a snack at the top. As we sat there, I
recalled being there with their father Johnny
when he was two.
the stump there is another branch of the trail that leads to the
park entrance, offering a shorter walk for those who don't want to
complete the 1.63 mile loop.
Allen and Dick amid the ferns
Brothers on the Mark Twain Stump
made our way back to the main trail and continued our clockwise
loop. Where the trail curves around to the north, it goes through
the Shattered Giant, a fallen redwood that split into sections and
provided a source for shingle makers. Recently a bypass has been
constructed for those who don't want to walk the uneven stretch
through the tree. Only the youngsters, Megan, Jack and Colton
followed the original route.
|Megan makes her way through the tree
our way we enjoyed a number of wildflowers, including both blue and
white chaparral, and pale yellow wild iris. There is also a place
where two sequoias were planted about 1888. They are now well over a
hundred feet tall. Another display along the trail is a
"feather bed," where loggers laid down a thick layer of
branches in the hope of cushioning the tree's fall.
variation of buck brush (a member of the chaparral community)
the trail we observed a number of brush piles, stacked up to be
burned when the weather allows.
soon arrived back at the parking lot, and occupied a shaded picnic
table. With restaurant service still limited, we had each brought
our own lunches, and finished our outing catching up our other
recent activities, and discussing our July hiking plans.
Estel, July 2021
waiting to be burned
from left: Megan, Jack, Colton, Dick, Allen, Sue
Logging Company Site & McKinley Grove
the July Ramblers hike I wanted to suggest something that would be
fairly easy for our members who have had some recent health
challenges - including a heart procedure, knee replacement, and
general mobility issues. The Pine
Logging Company mill site is a mostly level area, so visiting it
would be an easy walk, not quite a hike. From this location we would drive a few
miles to the McKinley Grove of giant sequoias, where a short paved
trail offers another low key stroll among the redwoods.
I first "discovered" the mill site in
1998, when we used to camp along the Rock
Creek Road, about a mile in from the Dinkey Creek Road. At this
location a rough dirt road went southeast. It was a "wonder
road," as in "I wonder what's down that road," so I
drove down it a mile or so to where it ended at a creek. There had
been a bridge there once, but it was long gone..
the creek I spotted the unmistakable signs of an abandoned logging
and mill camp -
a huge rusty sawdust burner, and at least 100 old buildings, in
various states of disrepair. I walked over and explored the area.
There were piles of old wringer washing machines and other vintage
appliances. Receipts in the old store dated up to the 1970s. I
returned several times with family members, and later learned that
the mill operated from 1937 to 1979.
recently a US Forest Service fire station and work center were built
near the mill site, visible from the Dinkey Creek Road. This allowed
easy access via a short paved driveway. A historical society removed the trash and the
worst of the buildings, and restored some cabins, the store, school
house, office and other buildings. Informational signs have been
south from across the creek
buildings before the clean-up (2007 photos)
last month, we had a group of seven - my great grandsons Colton and
Jack, their great grandma Jackie, Sue, Allen, Julie and myself. We
were delighted to have Julie with us for the first time since June,
2017. We drove up in three vehicles and met in a rest stop just east
of Shaver Lake. From here we drove in a caravan to the parking lot
at the forest service work center. The boys had been here earlier,
and the thing of greatest interest to them was the sawdust burner,
so we went there first.
devices were used in many mills up through the late 20th century to
dispose of the tons of sawdust produced by a big mill operation.
These days every part of a tree is used in some way, such as
particle board from sawdust. There were steam-operated mills that
sometimes burned the sawdust to heat water in the boiler, but for
the most part, there was more sawdust than could be used this way.
all went into the burner through a small door on one side, which
helped us appreciate the size of the unit. In fact, out of a half
dozen burners I have seen at old mill sites, this is the biggest.
The bottom is a sort of pit, with a narrow level area all the way
around, and the boys ran down a little path to the bottom. Then we
all walked around the outside of the burner, taking a look at the conveyor
platform on one side that apparently carried the sawdust into
the burner, we walked over to the restored buildings.
"Restored" is a relative term; some of the buildings are
in pretty good shape overall, but may have places where the floor
boards are rotted or the stairs are only half there.
nicely restored office building (2008 photo)
|As in the
pandemic, there's a shortage of goods in the store (2008 photo)
the restored buildings are mostly in pretty good shape, and all have
signs explaining the building and other aspects of life at the mill.
Like many such operations in the mountains, it closed down when
winter snows made work impossible, and the workers and their
families returned to lower elevations. The burner was not installed
until the 1950's, and sawdust was originally placed in a large pile
and set on fire, where it burned throughout the work season until
doused by winter snows.
went into the store, the schoolhouse, the office, and one or two
other buildings before returning to our cars and setting off for
part 2 of our adventure. We drove the short distance to the junction
with the McKinley Grove Road, and the few miles to the
grove. Many of the big trees are visible from the parking lot,
and there is a fairly large number of them for such a relatively
small area. The grove saw only limited logging in the 1800s (one
source says it was never logged), and it has been fully protected
since early in the 20th century.
sequoia in McKinley Grove
and her great grandsons, Colton and Jack
the adults strolled the short paved path at a sedate pace, Jack and
Colton ran almost all the way around the loop, then came back to
walk with us. When we got back to our cars, the boys took over the
camera and took both serious and silly photos of the scenery and
the day's Ramblers - Sue, Jackie, Julie, Allen
snaps Jack in a whimsical mood
had already scoped out a location to have lunch, the Pizza
Factory in Prather. This chain, which focuses on locations in
small towns, is one of our favorites, with excellent sandwiches and
pizza. The boys were more interested in the game consoles, having
brought eight one dollar bills, and eventually arrived back home
with 50 cents and enough leftover pizza for their whole family that
bit of an explanation is due here. My Nikon Coolpix camera, which I
have used for nine years, recently died. I have an older Canon
digital 35 mm format camera, but it's not taking very good photos,
and it's too heavy to carry on longer hikes. I didn't expend much
effort getting new photos since I've photographed these
places several times. That's my excuse for using a number of old
photos with this report. I'm hoping my new cell phone will work out
as a regular camera. Stay tuned.
Estel, July 2021