South-of-Yosemite Wonders

The World's Second Largest Tree and More Sierra Spectacles
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The approach to the world's second largest tree is a quiet one. California's Crown Jewel, Yosemite National Park, is only a few miles away, but here there are no crowds pressing to be first in line. There are no cars within a mile of it, and even then just a scant few. There are no rangers herding people along, nor are there restraints around the giant tree preventing a closer approach. No, you can walk right up and hug"Bull Buck" — that's what it's called — like you would your favorite uncle. There's one other tree taller, but it's not as wide at the base. Bull Buck has a circumference at ground level of 99 feet!

Go see the largest tree — it's the General Sherman Tree — in Sequoia National Park to the south, if you like; that is, if you can squeeze past the other tourists gawking at it from just off the main road. But if you want a more meditative experience, if you want to remember an event for the rest of your life, and perhaps conjure up the image from time to time to gain some peace of mind, then go to Nelder Grove, just five miles south of the entrance to Yosemite.

A few miles off Rte. 41 north of Fresno and Oakhurst, weave your way on Sky Ranch Road (Road 632) to the grove as you enter the Sierra National Forest. Follow the signs to the picnic area at the Bull Buck trailhead, park, and begin a mile walk into eternity.

It's an easy hike, so even young kids can come along, and summer and autumn are ideal times of year in this part of Madera County. The trail starts to the left of the parking area, weaving through a forest of second growth pine, fir, and incense cedar, with 106 mature Sequoia giganteas scattered throughout. Most of the grove's redwoods were harvested in the 19th century after its original owner, John Nelder, died. Nelder was a 49er who failed at mining and retreated to this land to become a hermit. He did, however, guide John Muir through the grove when the great naturalist traveled south of Yosemite, a fact mentioned in Muir's writings.

The sight of Bull Buck after about a mile of gentle ups and downs through a dense, mostly evergreen forest has to be one of the most downplayed natural wonders in existence. This behemoth is not treated as if it were a museum piece or tourist attraction but remains an integral part of the forest. In fact, I wasn't sure at first if it was the right tree for I didn't have a sign directing me. But its unusual size marked it as the probable tree, and a wooden sign and plaque nearby confirmed it.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 3 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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