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2021 Rambler Hikes Page 1

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Kaweah Oaks Preserve          San Joaquin Gorge          Wawona Meadow Trail


Kaweah Oaks Preserve

After 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.

Prior 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 gates. 

A deeply worn trail Valley oak hangs over the trail

The 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. 

Ardyss and Allen emerge from a "tree tunnel" Wes heads into the woods


There 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 hike.

At 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.

The largest oaks are hundreds of years old The Ramblers: Allen, Ardyss, Dick and Wes

As usual, we close with Wes's post-hike summary:

The 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. 

Blessings,  Wes & Dick, April 2021

More photos

San Joaquin River Gorge

With 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 Lake.

We 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.

A nice cluster of golden brodiaea Ramblers on the trail

A 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 group photos.

Ardyss, Dave and Sue by the fallen Big Burl Dick, Dave and Sue on the Resting Log (photo by Ardyss)

It 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.

Another striking flower was in evidence in several locations, the pink-blossomed climbing brodiaea, which twists and winds around other plants, trees, or even itself.

Along 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.

A floral treasure - yellow Mariposa lilies Climbing brodiaea, twisted and tangled

Beyond 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.

Ardyss 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.

We 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 destination.

The 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 

Clouds to the east Wild grape vine climbing a pine tree

I 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.

I 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 their appearance.

--Dick Estel, May 2021

Wawona Meadow Trail
by Wes & Dick

The 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 sightseeing.

Information and map for the trail The view across the meadow

This trail circumnavigates the Wawona golf course and a long meadow in a 4-mile loop that took us into a deep 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.

Dogwood, nearing the end of its prime New leaves in red and gold on a big black oak tree

Our 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.

The 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 season.

The Ramblers: Jackie, Dick, Wes and Sue Lower end of the meadow, just across from the hotel

On 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 change.

The South Fork of the Merced River The historic Wawona Hotel

After 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.

A 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.

Although 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.

--Dick Estel, May 2021

More Photos








Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window)
(Photos by Dick and Wes)
Kaweah Oaks Preserve          Wawona Loop Trail
Kaweah Oaks Preserve
One of the trails we hiked on Rusty lichen on a dead branch With no leaves, the branch structure is revealed
Ardyss, Allen and Dick find rest A shady bench for Wes Vines throughout give the impression of a jungle
Wawona Loop Trail
A closer look at the dogwood blossoms This huge black oak shelters
a little forest of fir trees
19th Century visitors traveled
by wagon to visit Yosemite 
Before the hike: Dick, Dave, Sue and Jackie Dick and Jackie found a perfect resting log Sue on the trail
Related Links
Kaweah Oaks Preserve Visalia, CA Tulare County Treasures
Valley Oaks Hike Video 1 Hike Video 2
San Joaquin River Gorge San Joaquin River Trail  Prather
Wawona Yosemite National Park South Fork of the Merced River
Wawona Meadow Loop Trail    
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Updated May 30, 2021