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Madera's 'Bull Buck': The Buddha of Big Trees : The world's second-largest tree is far from the madding crowd in Nelder Grove.

February 23, 1992|STEPHEN ALTSCHULER | Altschuler is an Oakland-based free-lance writer and photographer. and

The county also has a rich Indian culture, with about 600 Mono and Miwok still living there. There are no separate reservations, but for a great display of Miwok history, visit the Wassama Roundhouse State Historical Park in Ahwahnee. A roundhouse was a structure used for ceremonies connected with births, harvests, mourning the dead and other major tribal events. Such buildings were normally burned when a tribal leader died and a new one was then built. This is one of only three in the entire state, dating back to 1903 and restored in 1985.

As for the Mono culture, the Sierra Mono Museum is in North Fork, the Mono's traditional cultural center. This tribe was known for its intricate baskets, many of which are on display at the museum, along with tools, clothing and medicines used by these people for centuries.

You can get an even closer look at the Mono culture by visiting Gaylen Lee, a Mono Indian, at his North Fork home. Gaylen and his wife, Judy, developed the self-guided Mono Wind Nature Trail with examples of a semi-subterranean sweat house, an acorn granary and tepee-like houses made from slabs of bark from incense cedar. (Such houses were in use up to the 1930s.) Medicinal and food plants are also described, including wild peach for the common cold, black oak for acorn meal and bear clover for whatever ailed you.

From time to time, Gaylen and his mother, Ruby Pomona, give workshops on Mono skills, such as making manzanita berry juice and acorn meal, creating brushes and soap from the soap plant and weaving baskets. The whole project is a tribute to Gaylen's grandparents, who taught him the old Indian ways and skills. The nature trail is not open all the time, so call (209) 877-2710 to make arrangements to stop by and meet the Lees.

There's more to this county, as well. Bass Lake features boating, swimming, shopping and Ducey's by the Lake--a renowned 50-year-old resort that was completely rebuilt in stone and wood after a 1988 fire. Its lakeside rooms have Jacuzzis, fireplaces and beamed ceilings.

The Yosemite Mountain-Sugar Pine Railroad offers a narrow-gauge steam train ride up Lewis Creek Canyon starting at Fish Camp, four miles south of Yosemite on State 41. You're close enough to Yosemite National Park at the end of the day to drive in to see the sunset near Inspiration Point. The Yosemite Valley vista from the turnout beside the Wawona Tunnel on State 41 is one of the most photographed in the world, with views of El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Falls.

We had a picnic dinner at this spot, but you could dine much more elegantly back at Ducey's, as you do your own reflecting on everything that's happened in Bull Buck's lifetime.




Getting there: To get to the heart of Madera County, take Interstate 5 north to U.S. 99 to Fresno, then California 41 north to the Oakhurst area.

Where to stay: Ducey's on the Lake, P.O. Box 109, Bass Lake, Calif. 93604, (209) 642-3131, has deluxe rooms for $100-$210 in winter, $140-$275 in summer. Other upscale accommodations are available at Marriott's Tenaya Lodge, P.O. Box 159, Fish Camp, Calif. 93623, (800) 635-5807, which offers rooms at $149-$350 in summer, from $99 in winter. Budget travelers will be pleased with the Oakhurst Lodge, P.O. Box 24, Oakhurst, Calif. 93644, (800) 521-4447, with rates $40-$60 in winter, $5 higher in summer. Bed and breakfasts include the Pine Rose Inn, P.O. Box 2341, Oakhurst, Calif. 93644, (209) 642-2800, with rooms from $48-$99. For information on camping, call the U.S. Forest Service in Oakhurst, (209) 683-4665; in Bass Lake, (209) 642-3212, or nationwide reservations at (800) 283-CAMP.

For more information: Call the Southern Yosemite Visitors Bureau at (209) 683-INFO or the Bass Lake Chamber of Commerce at (209) 642-3676.

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