Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

The Sentinel Tree --- The most frequently photographed tree in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Roger here...  Today was odd-job day for me and laundromat day for Dianne.  Ho Hum.  However, yesterday was a very unique and memorable day for us.

Back in the day, when I was a junior high science teacher, I remember discussing the oldest living plant organisms with my students.  It was easy to assume that the giant redwoods and sequoias might be the oldest, because they were so big --- and they are old.  However, the twisty, gnarly bristlecone pine trees found in Utah, Nevada, and on a mountaintop near us in California are indeed older.

I know that a few of my former students read our posts.  And you guys thought that I was done teaching science :-).

I freely admit without shame that I am a tree hugger.  Due to my educational background, I know that life is interconnected and exists in a delicate balance.  I know if that balance is interrupted by nature or humans, the ecology of an area changes.  We should be so careful.  I wanted to see one of the bristlecone forests where the environment has essentially remained constant.  I wanted to see some of the oldest living organisms on the planet.

We loaded the dogs in the car and drove about 35 miles to the top of a 10,000 foot mountain on a twisty, steep, paved road in the Inyo Mountains.  The photo to the right taken along the way shows Bishop CA, our home base in the valley below.

(Dianne here:  At 10,000 feet the weather was a gorgeous, sunny 72 degrees; as we drove back down to Bishop it was back to 97-degree reality.  Neither of us will miss the record heat wave that we've experienced this past week or so, dry heat or not.)

Just before arrival at our destination, we (carefully) pulled off the road to stretch our legs and admire the vista below.  The snow-topped Sierra Nevadas were visible as far as the eye could see in both directions.

The Inyo Mountains (that we were in) on our side of the valley have a different look than the light gray granite of the Sierras across the valley.  In the picture on the left, Death Valley lies just beyond the Inyo Mountains in the center of the picture.  

Turning around to look back across the Owen Valley to the Sierras, the photo below gives a different perspective to the Palisade Glacier that we were close to while hiking the day before.

Dianne during one of our frequent stops to catch our breath
There were four hiking trails at the Visitor Center (managed by the US Forest Service).  When we arrived, we were already hungry (stretched stomachs) and unsure as to which trail to do.  We were already out of breath due to the altitude.  The effects of the 8000 foot elevation from the day before were quite different than the 10,000 foot elevation on this day.   Before hiking we decided to take turns --- one of us eating an early lunch while the other went into the visitor center.  I had a great discussion with Dave (the park ranger) during my time in the Visitor Center.  As we talked, he recommended that we hike the one-mile Discovery Trail.  He also gave me detailed information of the fascinating points of interest along the way.

We entered a different world as we started our hike.  The scattered bristlecone pine trees often have bizarre shapes.  Sometimes they have stripes similar to candy canes.  Sometimes they look as if they truly are from another world.


Due to the stark weather in this environment, and a lower concentration of bacteria, the trees that have died do not rapidly decay. The downed tree in this photo died in the mid-1600s at the age of 3000 years!

The first half-mile of the trail was an up-hill climb.  It would normally not be that difficult, but because we were at a 10,000 foot altitude, it was.  We followed the advice of Ranger Dave and progressed very slowly, while drinking a lot of water.   The benches along the way allowed us to catch our breath and take time to appreciate our surroundings.

The bristlecone pines do not grow in a closely-spaced, dense forest.  That being said, our views from the benches along the way were expansive.

We reached a set of steps near the summit of the hill.  Four of the living trees along this last push to the top are more than 4300 years old!  The Egyptians were building the pyramids of Giza during that time frame.

Contemplating the age of these trees as we stopped to admire them was mind-boggling.  

When these hardy trees eventually die, it is usually due to the soil being slowly eroded away from the roots (as shown in this example).  Since the soil is rocky (dolomite in this case), it takes a very long time for that erosion to occur -- according to the placard in front of this particular tree, it takes about 1,000 years to erode one foot of soil.  Sometimes the erosion causes the tree to topple.  Sometimes the erosion exposes the water-seeking roots of the tree.

I found it interesting that many of the trees (especially the ancient ones) had portions that appeared to have died, while green growth occurred in other areas.

New Life on an Ancient Tree
The trees have continued to evolve, as everything in nature does.  The pine cones on this tree were brown while the pine cones on the adjacent tree below were purple.

Thanks, Dianne, for taking such an amazing picture.

Dianne found this small cairn that seemed to be a signal that we would soon be turning a corner and thankfully walking downhill.

One last view through the trees before the descent.

The steep drop-off doesn't show very well in the photo
The trail skirted the edge as we ambled through the rocky, red quartz talus.

The photos below highlight views of the roads that we traversed along the way.

The pine trees and views were the stars along the trail; however, as we let our eyes wander, we found other plants...

... clinging to life in the rocky soil.

Professional landscaping was certainly not needed in this place.  

As we have traveled, some places exceed our expectations.  The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest was one of those places.  I even bought an Ancient Bristlecone Forest baseball cap.

Tomorrow, we will move our motor home up the road (elevation-wise and also north) from Bishop to the ski resort town of Mammoth Lakes.  The weather will be much cooler.  No snow, please!

The pet picture of the day shows a very bored Tequila.  She seems to be saying, "There are no lizards way up here.  I guess I will just have to look at these old trees." 

1 comment:

Sue Malone said...

We have been so busy with life Transitions that I'm not keeping up with blogs very well. Reading on the phone makes it even harder to comment so I confess to being a lurker sometimes. That said this post was so perfect I have to tap out my appreciation. Gorgeous photos of a place we love. Wonderful words about our amazing natural world. Thank you for reminding me of the back side of the Sierra and that it will still be there when we are back to more of our MoHo travels.