Journey to Bull Meadow

This is a guest blog by California American Rivers intern, Jon Fairchild. Jon’s internship is supported by the Patagonia Employee Internship Program.

Bull Meadow, CA | © Jon Fairchild

Bull Meadow, CA | © Jon Fairchild

As a very fortunate American Rivers intern, I had the opportunity to do a couple of days of field work in the Stanislaus National Forest near Yosemite National Park. Our objective for the trip was to do some stream and meadow assessments in the Tuolumne watershed. I was really looking forward to it because I would get to learn more about meadow health and restoration, river ecology, and riparian ecosystems; but also because I knew our destination was well off the beaten path and getting there wouldn’t be a walk in the park. I had been in this area before and I knew that accessing it was less than easy.

Our destination was Bull Meadow on the Jawbone Ridge overlooking the Tuolumne River. Bull Meadow Creek is a tributary to the Clavey River, which flows into the Tuolumne. The Clavey River is one of the last free flowing rivers in California making it very unique and a perfect candidate for Federal Wild and Scenic designation. I was also particularly excited to be near the Clavey because I had kayaked on this river years earlier and had fond memories of the experience.

I knew from my previous visit to these parts that the roads were not easy to navigate and, at times, unfit for any vehicle other than a high-clearance 4×4. My last visit involved hours of looking at maps, discussing potential routes, and troubleshooting nasty road conditions. This time we were also using a different access, coming from the south rather than from the north, so I wasn’t going to be able to rely on memory to help get us there.

Our trip to Bull meadow was promising to be an adventure, which made me excited. In addition, the area we were visiting was severely burned by a large fire, the Rim Fire, less than a year prior to our visit. This created the potential for hazards like falling trees, land-slides, and sinks in the road. For that reason most of the roads in that area where closed to the public and we weren’t going to get access to the meadow unless we had a good reason for it. Luckily meadow restoration constituted a good enough reason and we were permitted to access the area once we demonstrated that we had the proper safety equipment.

The drive out to the meadow was surreal. Most of the landscape we passed was full of black charred trees on a crispy orange and black ground. The blacken trucks of the trees were all that remained and because of the lack of foliage there was much more light and we could see more of the landscape than we were used to. Unfortunately it looked pretty barren and it was easy to see that it would be a long time before the forest fully recovered.

Fortunately the roads were in much better shape than we anticipated and we arrived at our destination sooner than we expected. Bull Meadow was vibrant in comparison to the rest of the landscape and was quite a sight to see so far back in the wilderness. It was obvious that the meadow was one of the first parts of the forest to recover. In addition, the fire had burned many of the trees that had been encroaching on the meadow due to its impaired hydrology. This would help keep this part of the meadow from being converted to forest over the long run, a natural form of meadow restoration. Although our travels to the meadow were not as eventful as I was expecting, the meadow proved to be a great destination and another great reason to get out in the wilderness. I look forward to the next time I have a chance to seek out a place like Bull meadow.