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Photo by Debra Sutherland

A Misty Day with the Dogwood Blooms at Nelder Grove

I never imagined the beauty that Nelder Grove held on a day when the floating mist was hiding the tops of the towering Giant Sequoias. Raindrops on dogwood blooms and leaves made me stop and admire them. And, have you ever wondered how some of these big trees got their names?

Where: Sierra National Forest, Nelder Grove
Distance: 2.1 miles, but you can walk much farther or shorter if you wish
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Range: 5,121′ – 5,666′
Date: May 12, 2017
Maps: Ahwahnee Topographic Quad
Dog Hike? Yes

Dogwoods were in blooming at Nelder Grove and we chose two short hikes, the Chimney Tree and the Shadow of the Giants Trails, where we knew many dogwoods could be found.

Brenda Negley’s new book “Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias: A Granddaughter’s Stories” was a big help to providing background for our hike and this blog. The book is full of background on this amazing grove of Giant Sequoias, along with the history, information on each giant tree, the other vegetation and the critters that live here.

Nelder Grove is about 1,540 acres and located in the Sierra National Forest. The United States Forest Service acquired the land from the Madera Flume and Trading Company in 1928 and this is a wonderful place to learn more about the rich history in this area. Native American history, mining, logging, cattle camps, pioneer history, wildlife and diverse vegetation are all here for you to see firsthand. Of course, one of the big highlights of the grove are about 100 mature Giant Sequoias, growing in 4 separate groups.

Nelder Grove is named after John Nelder, who came to California from New Orleans to seek his fortune in gold. He came to the grove in 1875 and built a cabin, living there for 14 years.

The Friends of Nelder Grove have a wonderful website where you can read quite a bit of information about this area, including an interpretative guide that you can download or print to take with you to give yourself a guided tour. There is also a map of the trails that you can print out and bring with you.

We headed north on Highway 41 out of Oakhurst, turning right on Sky Ranch Road, following it past the turnoff to Nelder Grove (Road 6S47Y) to Road 6S90 on the left where the Nelder Grove Campground sign was. We headed up the dirt road to the Interpretive Center where the cabins are located, parked and used the port-a-potty located there.

Edwin Zerlang (1944 Roosevelt High School Yearbook, Fresno, California)

We took a short .2 mile walk to say hi and wave to Big Ed, one of the named Giant Sequoias in Nelder Grove. The name came from a foreman from Soquel Mill, Edwin Cousins Zerlang III. According to the California Birth Index, he was born in Fresno County April 26, 1927 to Edwin Cousins and Leta Irene Irene Berringer. Sadly, he passed away October 27, 1948.

Many said that this was his favorite tree and when he drove by with a crew, he never failed to wave at his tree. Employees from Soquel knew this was his favorite tree and every time they passed this tree they would wave hello to “Big Ed.” Eventually the name stuck. So, next time you come up to say hello to Big Ed, be sure and wave!

We got back in the car and drove about a tenth of a mile past the interpretive center to a large parking area shared by the trailheads for the Chimney Tree and Graveyard of the Giants trails. We headed up the Chimney trail which is a little over a mile in length.

We hadn’t walked too far before we spotted some beautiful dogwoods blooming along the trail.

And it wasn’t too much farther before we were surprised to see the creek running down the trail.

Deb Sutherland

Photo by Debra Sutherland

Turns out this is the location where the small creek broke out of its banks.



We stopped to check out the Chimney Tree, which has a burned out center like a chimney, but the outer shell of the tree is still living. Looking up toward the top, I could see that it still towers over the other trees.

A dogwood was growing right next to the tree and had lovely blooms.

For some reason we got off the trail while we were taking pictures of the Chimney Tree and I wondered where an old logging road would take us, so we following it, until the going got a little tough in the light rain so we headed back down after a while. I don’t think my hiking buddies were real pleased with my selection of this route. After I got home and downloaded the GPS information, I could see that it would have tied in with 5s38, so I want to redo this one at another time to make a looped hike.

Cross Country Up and Over Wet, Down Logs (Photo by Debra Sutherland)

After we got back on the trail, we followed it back down to where it intersected with the trail to the Bull Buck Tree.There are a couple of stories on how the Bull Buck Tree got its name. One story is that the felling foreman or woods boss was called the “Bull Buck” and he told the crew to preserve the magnificent tree for posterity. The Bull Buck Tree was so named because its size made it boss of the woods. The other story is that it was only spared because of its massive size. Because of its huge size, it would have taken an estimated 2 weeks to cut it down back in the 1800’s and the weight of the tree as it crashed on the ground would have broken it up into bits, leaving many worthless pieces, not worth their time.

Misty clouds hid the very top of the Bull Buck tree from us on this day while blooming dogwoods framed the base of the huge tree for us.

Bull Buck Tree in the Mist (Photo by Debra Sutherland)

Bull Buck Tree Framed by Blooming Dogwoods (Photo by Debra Sutherland)

In her book, Brenda Negley recalled when the American Forestry Association came to measure the Bull Buck tree back in 1975. Before that measurement, the Bull Buck Tree was possibly the largest of all Giant Sequoias. The Bull Buck and the General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park are thought to be close in age, about 2,700 to 2,800 years old. So this visit’s purpose was to measure both trees. 28 specialists that included engineers, foresters, naturalists and public information people were all there to authenticate the measurements and witness this historic event.The Bull Buck tree’s circumference at 4.5 feet above the ground was 84.2 feet and the General Sherman tree measured in at 83.9 feet, but that wasn’t the final say in the matter. More measurements such as the height were taken to calculate the volume of each tree and the General Sherman tree was the winner and still holds the distinction as the largest Sequoia by volume. In the lists of largest Giant Sequoias, Wikipedia shows that the Bull Buck tree is currently #43. The largest tree in the grove, the Nelder tree, is also listed at #22. It was named after John Nelder and measures 266.2′ high and 28.6′ in circumference.

In light of that information, can you believe that this small cone of the Bull Buck tree can produce such a big tree?

We walked through the campground because we wanted to check out the apple tree that was in bloom. So what is the history on this meadow and apple tree? In 1928, the United States Forest Service acquired the grove, and in the following year issued a special use permit to Mr. O. A. Kelley to provide a summer camp for disadvantaged kids, most of whom came from the San Joaquin Valley area but some came as far away as the Bay Area. From 1930 to 1933 Oscar Kelley and his family ran Camp Beulah. The average stay was two to three weeks and the children had access to a croquet court, took short walks to see the “Big Trees” and even hiked to Fresno Dome (about 5 miles away). In the fall of 1933 a new law was passed stating that a registered nurse must be present at all times in any camp for children. The Kelleys felt they were financially unable to comply with the new law and the camp closed in 1933. The family lived in the area of Nelder Grove until 1937 when they moved down to Fresno Flats (Oakhurst) and in 1938 the buildings in Nelder Grove were torn down.

It was drizzling pretty good at this point so we ate our lunch in the car then drove back the way we came in, turning right on 6s90 and following the sign to the Shadow of the Giants Trail. The road had a couple of big ruts in it on our visit but if you take your time and carefully negotiate the bumps, a car should be able to make it. . . but that could change for the better or the worse. This trail is looped and is about 1 mile long. We started our loop to the left, following Nelder Creek upstream.

We helped a couple who were from Houston, Texas and celebrating their 25th Wedding Anniversary get their picture taken, then they returned the favor for us.

We crossed a wooden bridge, then following the creek back downstream on the other side.

I thought the raindrops on the new dogwood leaves was very pretty.

Dogwoods were blooming on both sides of the creek but I think the prettiest ones were on the east side.

We headed back down the trail, lined in dogwood blooms in places.

Photo by Debra Sutherland

We crossed one last bridge before making it back to our car.

My mom and I headed back up to hike the Shadow of the Giants trail a couple of days later, on Mother’s Day. The dogwoods were still looking very nice but had leafed out more. Many other plants had also started to wake up from winter. Small yellow flowers were blooming along the trail, some wild iris were getting close to blooming and the wild azaelas had leafed out. Pretty incredible what a couple of days can do.

While researching this blog, I utilized Brenda Negley’s new book “Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias: A Granddaughter’s Stories” for background on the trails and big trees on this hike. It is full of detailed information that I cannot recommend enough if you would like to learn more about this very special place. Her grandparents, William “John” and Marjorie “Marge” Hawksworth, were the first volunteer campground hosts in Nelder Grove and protected it for 20 years from 1975 to 1995. Brenda spent many a summer up there with them, learning their stories and the history. If you would like to purchase your own copy, it is available locally at Branches Books near Von’s in Oakhurst.

There is a wonderful website maintained by Friends of Nelder Grove that you can access at this link: Friends of Nelder Grove Website. It has maps that you can print out, an interpretive guide that you can download for your visit plus much more.

Dog Hike?

I think this can be a great dog hike and have taken my dog many times. There are a variety of trails, some very level and others with some elevation, to explore. In the summer you might need to bring extra water for your dog because the creeks may be dry. I left Sally home on this hike but it is one of her favorite hikes in the area.

Friends of Nelder Grove share the following related to dogs in the grove: Practice Responsible Pet Ownership. This means controlling your pets’ interactions with people and wildlife in natural areas. Please keep your pets leashed within developed recreation sites. We also ask that you “scoop the poop.”

Nelder Grove is located within the Sierra National Forest and they have a link to dogs in the Sierra National Forest called Canine Camper that you can access here. Even though this is not classified as a wilderness area, here is what they have on their website:

Domestic pets are allowed in wilderness areas. You are responsible for their actions as well as their welfare. Pets should either be leashed or under direct voice control. When camping in areas with other visitors, pets should be kept on a leash. Wilderness visitor’s who plan to travel into an adjacent National Park should be aware that National Parks do not permit pets.

We ask the public to remember these rules when taking pets into the wilderness.

  • Bury feces.
  • Do not tie up dogs and leave them unattended.
  • Do not allow dogs to chase wildlife.
  • Leave unfriendly or loud dogs at home.


Travel Directions to Nelder Grove (Courtesy Neldergrove.org)

Nelder Grove Map with Trails (Courtesy Neldergrove.org)

Topographic Map of Shadow of the Giants Hike on the Left and Chimney Tree/Big Ed Loop Plus a Little Extra Hike on the Right

Chimney Tree/Big Ed Loop Plus a Little Extra Profile

Shadow of the Giants Profile


Negley, Brenda L., Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoia: A Grandaughter’s Stories, Otter Bay Books, 2016
Wikipedia List of Giant Sequoias

Prior Blogs on This Area:

Hiking From Nelder Grove To Kelty Meadow October 26, 2015
Hiking With Sally In Nelder Grove
New Nelder Grove Online Information
Nelder Grove Hike With Mom And Sally
Nelder Grove Dog Hike



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