South-of-Yosemite Wonders

Approaching Bull Buck
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I had to view the tree from a distance to grasp its stature and size, and then approached slowly, letting in the fact that it is 2,700 years old. Twenty seven hundred years, I said to my friend, and then proceeded to name some of the major names and events that happened since that time, like Christ and Buddha and the Battle of Hastings and Mozart and Jefferson and Gettysburg and Little Bighorn and Gorbachev and the Year 2000.

The thoughts were a bit overwhelming, so as a kind of reality check, I went up and touched the surprisingly soft and springy bark — bark that helps the sequoia survive fire because of its thickness. I strained my neck to take in all of its 247 feet and its 71 feet of spread at its crown. As for photography, no combination of lenses seemed sufficient to capture the grandeur of this tree. From 35 to 200 mm, I knew the pictures were doomed to mediocrity, and would not come close to conveying the spirit of Bull Buck. But don't let me stop you — give it a shot . . . with a wide angle or perhaps a close-up lens to capture the texture of the bark.

Nelder Grove also has a self-guided mile-long interpretative walk called "The Shadow of the Giants Trail," starting from nearby Sugar Pine Road. The trail follows Nelder Creek, as signs explain the natural history of the giant sequoias and the surrounding environment. You can get more history of the area from Marge and John Hawksworth, volunteer rangers who have lived in the grove for many seasons and are usually available to answer questions.

Bull Buck Tree typifies Madera County, which is filled with hidden treasures, somewhat lost in the grandeur of Yosemite. If you're willing to backpack about 10 miles in, for example, you can see an awesome miniGrand Canyon as the San Joaquin River cuts a deep gorge, guarded by a group of sharp peaks called the Minarets. Or if driving is more to your liking, try one of only three roads in California that meander through national forests and have a scenic byway designation. The Sierra Vista Scenic Byway loops from Route 41 north of Oakhurst (the same road that leads to Nelder Grove) to North Fork, covering 92 miles of sometimes spectacular forest and mountain scenery. From different vantage points you can view the Minarets and much of the Ansel Adams Wilderness, 13,157-foot Mount Ritter, a natural wonder called Globe Rock, propped up like a hugh bowling ball near the road, Mammoth Pool Reservoir, and the San Joaquin River. Much of this can be seen from Mile High Vista, about 14 miles from North Fork.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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