Sierra National Forest

Nelder Grove

Nelder Grove is a 1,540-acre tract in the Sierra National Forest containing 101 mature giant sequoias intermingled in a forest of second growth pine, fir, and incense cedar. The grove is located in the center of the sequoia range, south of Yosemite National Park. This grove has been managed as an historical site preserving the uniqueness and historical significance of the giant sequoias and what has occurred beneath their branches.

Historically, this area did not see a heavy influx of white people until the Gold Rush, therefore, there is no written mention of it before the 1850's. Its history goes back much farther. Archaeological studies have found that the Southern Sierra Miwok were well aware of the grove and had been camping there while gathering acorns and hunting for several thousand years. The area's first historical reference appears in the 1851 diary of one of the soldiers in the Mariposa Battalion. Galen Clark of Yosemite was the next to see the grove in 1858. He named it Fresno Grove, as it was then a part of Fresno County.

The grove is named for John Nelder, who in 1849 left New Orleans and headed for California to quench his gold fever. By 1875 he had grown weary of prospecting and had built a log cabin in the shadows of the towering trees, on homesteaded land. In that year, John Muir was exploring the sequoia groves south of Wawona to establish the boundaries of Fresno Grove. The famed naturalist came upon Nelder sitting outside his new log cabin. Muir describes Nelder as "a fine, kind man, who in going into the woods has at last gone home; for he loves nature truly and realizes that these last shadowy days with scarce a glint of gold in them are the best of all." Nelder lived another 14 years and died when his cabin burned in 1889.

From 1878 until operations were shut down in the mid-1890's, Madera Flume and Trading logged extensively in and around the grove. Although their primary targets were sugar pine, ponderosa pine, white fir, and cedar, they also brought down some of the sequoias, especially those under eight feet in diameter. Evidence of those activities is still visible, including the cross-log and two-pole chutes used to transport logs to the mill. From 1888 to 1892, California Mill #4 was located within the grove itself, with a small-gauge rail tramway on which cars loaded with lumber rolled three quarters of a mile to the flume. Most of the larger sequoias that were cut were felled to make posts, grape stakes, and shakes after the mill had closed in 1892.

After Nelder's death in 1889, the land was sold to a lumber company and was acquired by the U.S. Forest Service in 1928. Since that time the grove has received custodial care, and large numbers of young sequoias have become established.

Nelder Grove contrasts sharply with sequoia groves in the nearby National Parks. There are no paved roads and no crowds blocking the view from the big trees. The forest is also much denser, and as a result, the giant trees seem to appear suddenly as the visitor walks through the forest.

An interpretive center is located near Nelder Grove Campground and contains several interesting historical replicas and displays. Two restored historical cabins form the center of the interpretive site with life-size replicas of cross-log and two-pole chutes located along the original beds loggers used at the turn of the century.

A large scale relief map or 3-D model of the grove, with all the big trees shown, is on view during the summer season. There are several giant tree stumps and the "Big Ed" giant sequoia in this area. The biggest sequoia in the grove is within a nice, short walk by trail.

The "Bull Buck Tree" was at one time considered a contender for the title of "The world's largest tree." Precise measurements are impressive, however, with the height of 246 feet and a circumference at ground level of 99 feet. The trail to the "Bull Buck Tree" starts in the lower campground near the restrooms.

There is a one-mile-long, self-guiding interpretive walk along the National Recreational Trail, "The Shadow of the Giants," located in the southwest corner of the grove. Signs along the path tell the story of the giant sequoias and their forest neighbors as the trail meanders along the banks of Nelder Creek. Picnic tables and restrooms are located at the beginning of the trail.

Another feature of the grove can be seen by walking about three miles from Nelder Grove campground to the Graveyard of the Giants. Visitors will kind several large sequoias that were killed by a wildfire. This is unusual, as the thick bark of these giants usually protects them from injury. On a nearby ridge is a group of sequoias known as "Granddad and the Kids." Beneath an isolated, mature sequoia with one huge branch outstretched like a protective arm, are several young sequoias.

The forest service says that its management objectives for Nelder Grove are to protect the larger trees and the historical remnants of Native Americans and logging in the grove, while fostering the establishment of new seedlings and the growth of the younger trees.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 25 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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