This trip I decided to do some exploring up in the McIntyre/Belknap/Wheel Meadow Grove areas up near Camp Nelson. I took the Camp Nelson Trail, from which I got to Gutless Goliath, Near Gutless, Old Knot Head, the Domino Trees, the Clothespin Tree and the Bent Tree. I managed to find all of them in one long day’s walk using the maps and directions in Flint’s book. This hike added two more of the big ones from Flint’s Top 40 list (Gutless Goliath and the Near Gutless) to my score, and I must say, some of the other trees are pretty remarkable sights to see as well.
The Clothespin Tree is the first you get to on the trail. It actually straddles the path and is big enough to walk or ride a bike through. In the old days tours on horseback were routed through it since the opening is about 4 feet wide and 12 feet high. The tree at breast height has a circumference of 45 feet, so it is just under 15 feet in diameter.
The Bent Tree is also a remarkable sight. It has an open-mouth-shaped hole in it about a hundred feet up, and the tree bends about ten degrees precisely at that point. Likely the lack of support from the cavity, along with a softening of the bark from heat, allowed the tree’s upper section to slightly collapse the damaged area after being hit by lightning. Its cavity is blackened, apparently having burned after the lightning strike that created it. I have seen other instances where bark of a tree has flexed after an intense fire. I expect as the internal column of the tree burns and the extreme heat is reflected and multiplied inside the opening, the outer casing of the tree (its bark area) becomes a bit malleable and exhibits almost plastic deformation. It can sometimes get to the point where it will collapse or expand somewhat depending on the forces that are causing stress on it at the time—in this case, the top half of the tree pressing down.
The Old Knot Head Tree is a unique sight, with a burl growth around it halfway up its bole that is nearly twice the size of the tree’s diameter at that point. Standing under it you wonder … if it fell, would it hit other trees like a hammer and drive them into the ground like nails? Burls, I understand, are like scabs that develop over a damaged part of the tree that has suffered an infection. Old Knot Head must have had quite an infection.
The Domino Trees are three large sequoias that have fallen, one into the next and then into the third, creating a pile of parallel boles on the ground similar to the Tumbled Twins in Long Meadow Grove. They have been down for quite a while, maybe a couple hundred years, and they retain only small amounts of bark on their aged heartwood cores.
Getting the two biggest trees checked off on my list was momentous, but I’m glad I also took the time to explore a bit and see the other interesting trees in the area. I have never seen any specimens quite like the Bent Tree or the Old Knot Head and am pleased to have made their acquaintance. It’s amazing how their individual life events have shaped them so uniquely and distinctively.