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Another "big tree": the valley oak.

Another "big tree': the valley oak

Every year, visitors by the thousand admire the Sequoia giganteum of Sequoia National Park. But another species passed on the way to the park is fully as admirable: the valley oak, Quercus lobata. It may lack the sequoia's Believe It Or Not height stats, but it's long-lived, handsome, and unfortunately rarer than it used to be. One fine place to see these trees lies on the main route to Sequoia: The Nature Conservancy's Kaweah Oaks Preserve, just east of Visalia.

Q. lobata once formed a 400-square-mile forest in the San Joaquin Valley, providing acorns, the main food source for the Yokuts Indians. But 19th- and 20th-century farmers found the alluvial soil better suited to orchards than oaks, and the trees themselves valuable for firewood.

Other oaks fell to expanding cities. This 324-acre grove was the proposed site of a golf course; it remains thanks to the conservancy's California Critical Areas Program, which preserves examples of California's fast-disappearing native habitats.

Kaweah reserve is easy to explore

After you get an introduction to the oaks at the kiosk displays, pick up a printed guide and walk the flat trail into the woods. This is not a neatly trimmed park but a stream-laced tangle of grasses, wild grapes, and oaks, nearly as multilayered as the gallery forests of the tropics. Not all the plants are native, but the conservancy is rooting out exotic species.

Among the birds making their home here are four species of woodpecker, each drilling a different size nest in the trees.

Adjacent to the woods is an alkaline meadow, lumpy with sedges and in portions still grazed by cattle. Across it grow Fremont cottonwoods and western sycamores; you may spot a golden eagle perching on a topmost branch.

To reach the preserve, take State Highway 99 to Visalia, then drive east 12 1/2 miles on State Highway 198. Turn north on Road 182 and drive 1/2 mile; the gate is on your left. Park off the road, go through the gate, and walk to the kiosk and the mailbox that holds trail guides. For more details, write or call the preserve, Box 3840, Visalia 93278; (209) 627-4328.

Photo: Valley oaks' wide branches support viny undergrowth; kiosk interprets oak woodland

Photo: A 13-mile drive from State 99, preserve is on route to Sequoia
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Title Annotation:Kaweah Oaks Preserve, California
Publication:Sunset
Date:May 1, 1986
Words:391
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