The Kaweah River regularly flooded during the
rainy season and then again when the snow melted in the
mountains, carrying tons of rich alluvial soil
to this vicinity from the eroding Southern Sierra Nevada
Mountain Range before the Terminus Dam on Lake
Kaweah was built in 1962. The Kaweah River broke
into several distinct creeks in this general
area; all ending their journey at the huge Tulare Lake located 35
miles southwest of here. These creeks generated
a unique landscape including Valley Oak woodlands,
riparian forests, swamps and alkali meadows that
covered over 400 square miles, of which the Kaweah
Oaks Preserve is the last vestige.
Here you see a completely natural alkali meadow,
sandwiched between Valley Oak woodland (the Sycamore Trail) and a
riparian forest (south-west of the picnic area). For centuries, this area
was swamp most of the year with so many mosquitoes that the Indians wore
them like clothes! The constant flooding and evaporation in this level
spot eventually developed into the alkali meadow we see today. White-tailed
deer, Tule elk and Pronghorn antelope grazed on the abundant native grasses
that still thrive in this meadow during the dry season. The Gaweah
Tribe (yes, with a “G”) of the Yokuts Indians, who resided near Woodlake,
often hunted here with great success.
Before you begin your hike on the Sycamore Trail
take a closer look at this marvelous meadow. Look and listen for Meadowlarks
and Kingbirds attempting to scare up some grasshoppers,
beetles or crickets. Can you distinguish between the native and exotic
grasses and herbs? Notice the whitish alkali minerals
appearing on the surface of the soil. If you're
lucky you'll observe a pair of White-tailed Kites
Loggerhead Shrike flying
above the grasses searching for a meal. Find tunnels and trails in the
thatch made by voles, rabbits
and squirrels, but be careful not to
disturb the ground nesting larks and sparrows.
The Sycamore Trail
The Sycamore Trail is an easy 3/4-mile
loop trail that will bring you back to this location. Take the path that
goes down into the wooded area.
This guide details points of interest
located on the trail at the 12 numbered stops.
Watch for signs of wildlife all
along the path - tracks, scat, evidence of foraging for grubs, mole humps
and bumps, and flat grasses where an animal may have spent the night. Watch
and listen for hawks and songbirds that are abundant here at Kaweah Oaks
has smooth light colored bark
Platanus racemosa - This native giant is testimony
of an abundance of near-surface groundwater. It is an obligate phreatophyte,
meaning the tree needs access to ground water within the root zone. In
a normally wet year, you can dig a seven foot hole and hit water here at
Kaweah Oaks Preserve. But as waterflow in our creeks is decreased, so the
trees and wildlife decline. The Western Pond Turtle
population has declined since waterflow has driven them downriver seeking
the life giving fluid. Some end up on Highway 198 and don't make it across
Take time to play in the leaf litter - you might
find Alligator Lizards, beetle larva
and harmless spiders inhabiting this crunchy
oasis. Notice the huge leaves that are scattered about; sycamores have
the largest leaves of any tree in California. The California Sycamore is
an important member of our Valley Oak Woodland, providing homes for cavity
and open nesting birds, food for hundreds of insects and rich compost that
naturally fertilizes the surrounding plant community.
Red Willow-young growth is red
Poison Hemlock has mottled red stems
and ferny leaves
|2. Good and Evil - The healing
Willow (Salix laevigata) is on the left side of this path and
the deadly Poison Hemlock (Conium
maculata) infests the right. As in our lives, so nature has its irony.
The Yokuts put the willows to many good uses - all parts can be used to
relieve pain, reduce fevers and cleanse wounds by making a tea from the
leaves or bark or just chewing a bitter leaf. They also used the fine branches
for fishing baskets, snares, traps, and for camouflage. The Poison Hemlock,
introduced from Europe, had "medicinal" qualities, but not for healing.
The condemned Greek philosopher, Socrates, was forced to drink a potion
made from Poison Hemlock and he died. Can you smell the hemlock - the scent
reminds us of dirty socks. The mottled red stems is a clue that this plant
is very toxic. Here we can see how an introduced species has pushed out
our native species. Introduced plants have no natural control and can take
over an are very quickly if not eradicated. We are trying to control the
hemlock and thistles that grow vigorously in the springtime.
Valley Oak leaves
Rubus discolor - On the right side of the path
there is a large colony of blackberry vines. European settlers introduced
this blackberry to the Central Valley in the early 1900's. This berry vine
generally has five leaflets per leaf, while the native blackberry only
has three. The delicious blackberries ripen from July through August and
you're encouraged to consume as many as you like, but leave plenty for
the birds and coyotes. Overshadowing the left side of the path is a lovely
mature Valley Oak tree (Quercus
lobata). This fine example of a Valley Oak is probably 300+ years old
- much older than the USA! This very tree probably supported the food needs
of many families of Yokuts that foraged this area. They ground or chopped
the acorn nuts and stored them for year-round use. They also found the
root of the "White-root Sedge”
(Carex barbarae) very useful in making their fine basketry.
Sedges may look like a grass, but they are not. Find a bloom stalk and
feel the stem below the flower. Is the flower stalk square, round or triangular?
Clue: Sedges have edges.
California Blackberry leaf and flower
Rubus ursinus - Here is a small colony
of our native California Blackberry. The small blackberries ripen
in late May and June. Notice the difference between the native and the
introduced blackberry - can you identify the native? In most cases, California
natives are "kinder" plants. The native berry has smaller prickles
(thorns), leaves and stems than the Himalayan variety. Unfortunately, the
invader is more vigorous and often takes over the native's space. Behind
you is a colony of Salt Marsh(Baccharis
douglasii). This is the only area on the Preserve where you will find
this plant. When it's in bloom look very closely at the flowers. You might
find some interesting insects and spiders interacting here. The Crab
Spider (Misumenoides formosipes) can be observed waiting patiently
for an unsuspecting moth or fly. It's a little tricky to find one because
their coloring perfectly matches the flower color they are hiding on. You
will find the same spider on annual sunflowers, but it will be a bright
yellow instead of creamy white.
Clematis ligusticifolia - This native vine has a
beautiful white flower that blooms in July and August. The spent flowers
transform into unique fluffy and wiry seed heads that some folks call "Old
Man's Beard." These seed heads last well into winter and add much interest
to the winter landscape. Virgin's Bower can reach high into the Valley
Oaks to create a stairway to the forest canopy for small ground creatures.
Male Bullock's Oriole
a spring and summer visitor
|6) Birding Bench - Rest awhile and listen
to our many songbirds. You might test your skill at pishing or birdcalling
- South American style. It's just like making the sound to tell someone
to be quiet - "SHHH,"but put a "P" in front. PSHHH, PSHHH, PSHHH, three
times with enthusiasm! Wait 20 seconds and try it again. Watch the canopy
for curious feathered friends that want to see what all the ruckus is about.
Can you see or hear any of the birds listed below?
Kaweah River Delta
and McKay's Point
|7) Deep Creek - Deep Creek
is a natural tributary of the Kaweah River. Water that naturally flowed
through these creeks for centuries recharged the unconfined aquifer that
lies beneath Kaweah Oaks Preserve. This underground water source supplied
water to the shallow rooted Valley Oak and California Sycamores in this
Riparian Forest and Oak Woodland. Deep Creek is one of many natural waterways
now used as irrigation ditches to transport agricultural water from both
the Kaweah River and the Friant-Kern Canal. Waterflow is mainly controlled
by the Tulare Irrigation District at McKay's Point, eight miles upriver
from Kaweah Oaks Preserve. It is unfortunate that water has become a political
issue and this protected land is not considered in the overall scheme of
water distribution here in Tulare County. We can only hope that the magnificent
trees and wildlife here at Kaweah Oaks Preserve will adapt to the ever-changing
||8) Perfection - This extraordinary specimen
of the California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa) grows to its
full potential here at KOP, growing to 100 feet tall, straight up. Many
bird and insect species depend on the California Sycamore's high canopy
for their nesting sites. These trees support an abundance of life forms
so important to the Valley Oak Woodland habitat. Virgin's Bower monopolizes
the sunny location in front of the sycamore.
||9) Sensational Sycamore - What fun it
is to watch your child playing on this natural "Jungle Gym" with
a fort in the middle. For that matter, it's sheer bliss to pretend you're
a kid again, too. Go on, try it! This sycamore has been sick for centuries
- Anthracnose is a common fungal disease of the California Sycamore. It
causes spring defoliation and limbs to weaken and break from the main trunk.
It is this weakness that promotes the lateral limb growth that is so much
fun to climb. So it's not so bad to have a weakness, now is it? If you
are sitting on the bench look left to the top of the tallest sycamore tree.
Now bring your eye down the main trunk a bit. Do you see the large nest?
Watch for the Red-tailed Hawk parents flying overhead.
|10) Fallen Oak,
Quercus lobata -
10 Oak-root fungus probably weakened this tree and it could not support
its own weight any longer, it fell in 1999. In a few years the grapevines
will hide this oak from view. Take a closer look at the hole just above
the roots. It has a colony of ants harvesting something there. In wet periods
you can watch the ants as they take a drop of the brackish liquid and haul
it up to their nest somewhere in the canopy. A Valley
Oak has a surprising amount of life forms living on, in and around
it. Valley Oaks can live to be 600 years old, all the while hosting bee
hives, ant colonies, termites, fungi, and countless birds in its hallowed
Oak Apple Gall
A Cynipid Wasp Gall
|11.) Oak Apples - Valley Oak trees are hosts to seven different
gall wasps. Seen here are hundreds of old Apple Galls, which developed
after Cynipid Wasps stung stems in
early spring and laid their eggs. The tree responds to the chemicals
from the wasp and quickly produces an apple-like matter that the wasp larva
consumes until it pupates into an adult wasp. Galls
are often invaded by other parasites or eaten by raccoons and opossums,
who dearly love the sweet treats inside. Other galls are the Hershey Kiss,
Urchin, Brain Coral, Jumping, Bullet, and Woolly Bear Galls; each caused
by a different wasp. Yokuts Indians harvested old Oak Apple Galls and used
them for tinder. We have no explanation as to why this tree has so many,
while the neighboring trees have few.
|image coming soon
||12.) Willows - These willows
(Salix lucida) were planted as part of the Preserve Management Plan
back in the 80's. Kaweah Oaks Preserve, although basically natural, has
needed some habitat restoration and exotic weed eradication. Management
is a never-ending task taken on by a few dedicated volunteers. We need
more help in keeping the trails open and comfortable to hike. Please call
our office at 738-0211 and volunteer to assist in managing Kaweah Oaks
Preserve for everybody's benefit.
We hope you have enjoyed your hike and that this
information has provided a better understanding of the Kaweah Oaks Preserve's
Riparian Forest and Valley Oak Woodland landscapes and their inhabitants.
Thank you for helping keep Kaweah Oaks Preserve
natural by leaving it as you found it and not disturbing the native wildlife.
Come again each season of the year and observe
the many changes in the plants, birds and animals. You will be amazed and
delighted to see how well it all works together.
Trail guides are available to lead groups
on a nature walk through the Grapevine, Sycamore, Swamp or Rose Trail.
Call Sierra Los Tulares Land Trust at 559 738-0211 or go online at
to schedule a guided tour.
Become a member of Sierra Los Tulares Land Trust
and help protect this and other precious places in the southern Sierra
foothills and the Tulare Valley.
Donations are appreciated and tax-deductible.
You can mail a contribution to:
711 N. Court Street, Ste.
Visalia, CA 93291