Los Tulares is a quarterly publication of the Tulare County Historical Society that appears in March, June, September and December. Members of the society look forward to receiving their issue in the mail every quarter. It serves two basic purposes. First of all, it keeps members informed about news and activities of the society, but more importantly it documents the history of Tulare County. Through stories and articles from contributing authors, Los Tulares has become a trusted source for our county’s history. Published continuously since 1948, Los Tulares is an amazing source for researchers throughout the world. The editors work hard at keeping it the pride of the society. The issues are fully indexed, and back issues may be ordered through our online gift shop.
Would you like to contribute a Tulare County related article to Los Tulares? Please click below for author guidelines:
Please enjoy the following story from the December 2016 publication of Los Tulares:
Traveling to See the Big Trees
By Wilbur Bergen
The mountains that dominate the eastern side of Tulare County, and which include groves of the majestic Giant Sequoia trees, have attracted tourists as well as loggers from the time settlers first arrived in Tulare County. The groves that are in what is now Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest and Balch Park were first visited by sheep and cattle ranchers grazing their animals during the summer heat in the valley. Soon residents of the valley began retreating to the mountains to escape the valley heat and to see the gigantic trees.
To my grandparents, Leonard and Sarah Estella Bergen, being Minnesota natives, the idea of trees as big as the Giant Sequoias must have seemed like a myth. Indeed, when slices of the giant trees had been sent east for expositions, they were referred to as the “California hoax”. So when the Bergen’s settled in the Strathmore area in 1909, they were anxious to see the big trees.
Sometime around 1912 (I am not sure of the exact year, but several things point to 1912 as the most likely year), the desire to see the big trees took them on a trip to the Mountain Home area. This was no small undertaking at the time. Taking the trip with my grandparents were their two children, my father John and his sister Hazel, my grandfather’s brother Urna, and Jessie Bergen and their five children, also Strathmore residents. They traveled in one wagon, a buggy, along with some pack animals. The trip took two days each way. From the photos I have, it appears that at least a few other Strathmore families joined them in the Mountain Home area, although it does not appear that they traveled together.
The route they took for this adventure is not known for sure. We know from my father’s stories and from some of the photographs that the overnight stop was Milo. Milo no longer exists, but still shows on many maps. It is located just northeast of the intersection of Balch Park Road and Yokohl Valley Road north of Springville.
There was a wagon road that was used for hauling lumber from the sawmills in the Mountain Home area to Strathmore for loading on rail cars. This route was probably followed. The best information I can find indicates that the route went east from Strathmore along what is now Avenue 196 to approximately the Frazier Valley Cemetery. From there the likely route went north a short distance and northeast up the next valley. The road up this valley connected to the Jordan Trail near Milo where there was a small store, a post office, and a place to camp. There were several residents in the area. We believe that there were families there that the Bergen’s knew and they probably visited with them, but we cannot be sure. The photo I have that I believe to be this visit shows everyone dressed up for dinner. Apparently, even if traveling by wagon dressing for dinner was important.
The second day of the trip included a short distance south to near the location of present day Bear Creek Road. Then they turned east to join up with what is now Rancheria Fire Road, which took them to Mountain Home. A map that is included in Floyd Otter’s book The Men of Mammoth Forest shows this route including a spring identified as “Pine Spring” and a watering trough on this road.
From Mountain Home on to what is now Balch Park the route is more uncertain. I have not been able to locate maps that show how they would have gone at that particular time, but the area was being used for both logging and recreation purposes. So there must have been roads all over the area that they would have used.
Once at the Mountain Home area, camp was set up and the families enjoyed viewing the huge trees and the stumps of those trees that had been felled by loggers. They also visited the “Indian Bathtubs” located to the west of the lower lake at Balch Park. These are assumed to be grinding holes used to grind acorns into meal.
When I was about seven or eight years old, my father wanted to show both me and my brother Robert the Balch Park area. At least this is the first visit to the area I remember. One thing that my father noticed was a coffee can lid nailed to a hollow log at Balch Park. There was a lid nailed in exactly the same place in the photos of the 1912 trip. It looks like the same one. The quality of the metal in that lid must have been excellent if it lasted that long.
Some of the photos definitely show the area of Wishon, where the forks hydro-electric project was under construction. Either there was a separate trip and the pictures got mixed together or, more likely, there was a side trip to see the project. There was a trail that would have taken them from the Balch Park area to the relatively short distance down to Wishon. Only the men and children are shown in the photos, so I surmise that the men took the kids on a day trip to see this area. Since my grandfather was involved in the building industry and had planted orange and olive trees that were still being watered with a water wagon, he was probably interested in the project to provide electricity for irrigation. In a sad irony, my grandfather was killed in July of 1913, when he was electrocuted because of an incorrectly wired pump that had been installed on his property.
After a few days of hunting, fishing, sightseeing and relaxing in the cool mountain air, it was time to return to the daily routine and heat of the valley. The trip started with cutting down a small tree to drag behind the wagons for brakes.
My father would have been somewhere around nine years old when this trip occurred. It impressed him a great deal. He lived his whole adult life in the Strathmore and Springville areas and made many trips to the mountains, including Sequoia and Yosemite. He was an avid hunter and fisherman, so he visited most areas of the local mountains. In fact when he died of a heart attack at age 78, he was deer hunting in the Hume Lake area. The last thing he told me before he left was “I don’t care if I get a deer. I just want to be in the mountains.”
Even though he had a lot of experiences in the mountains, he always talked more about this trip than any other. He carefully preserved the photographs my grandparents took with an inexpensive box camera and had printed on postcards. The quality of photography and the printing leave much to be desired by today’s standards, but he made sure they would be passed down to my brother and me.
Wagons loaded with all the equipment for a week in the mountains including feed for the animals. [Courtesy of the author]
The hollow log in Balch Park. Note the coffee can lid on the right side of the log just above the prop. Standing in the log (left to right) are Urna Bergen, Jessie Bergen, Sarah Estella Bergen, my grandmother. I believe the younger people on top of the log are (left to right) Bob Bergen, son of Urna and Jessie, my father John Bergen and my aunt Hazel Bergen. [Courtesy of the author]