The Middle Fork of the Tule River runs through Wishon Campground east of Porterville, California. It is a nice place to enjoy the Sierras in the winter. The campground’s elevation is just under 4,000 feet, which means that winter campers will often wake up with frost on the ground (as we did last month) although it will quickly disappear. The forest is quite diverse with valley (Quercus lobata) and canyon (Q. chrysolepis) oaks intermixed with California incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), white fir (Abies concolor) and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa). There are also giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) just up the trail in Mountain Home State Forest. The giant tree next to Spencer is the largest canyon oak I’ve ever seen. It’s near the bank of the Middle Fork of the Tule River maybe a mile above Wishon campground (you’ll come to a fork in the trail and will want to take the lower path leading down to the river). There’s a large hole at the base big enough for a grown man to sleep in and cook dinner on a stove.
But what surprised me most on our hike (along the trail just north of the campground) was the small groves of California nutmeg (Torreya californica) that grow like inconspicuous understory shrubs. In fact, at first, I passed several and wondered at their large flat needles, trying to figure out what sort of fir it could be. I didn’t realize that California nutmegs occurred so far south. As I was to learn later, this is probably the southern-most distribution of the species. Although I bet a few may creep over into Kern County if somebody were to make an effort to find them there.