Sunday, October 26, 2014

10/25 Bristlecone Pine Forest

This was a Wow day.  I only have one of those about every month. I was headed from Bishop, CA, to the town of Pahrump for a couple of nights, so I could visit Ash Meadows, but more about that tomorrow.  I did not even know I would drive past this forest of our oldest trees on earth, and it was 15 difficult miles off the state road, but I decided at the last minute that I might never be back here, so I had better stop while I could.

I am really glad I did.  First, the drive down the state road was exciting enough.  This was the sign on the main road that caught my attention. My GPS was taking me east on the state route past this place anyway.  (If you were to continue south on US 365, you would end up on the west entrance to Death Valley, so this is north of there.)

The state road (CA 168) had almost no traffic but was paved and looked OK.

It turned out to be pretty steep and VERY winding!  Lack of traffic made it fairly easy, however, as it followed a canyon east. 

Luckily, this one lane section was only a few hundred feet long.  At this point, I had driven 10 miles with only one vehicle passing me, so I was not worried about a single lane.

To get to the bristlecone grove and visitor center, I had to turn onto an even smaller road.  However, I figured since I was already at 7,000 feet, this new road was bound to not be too steep.  Good logic, right.  What I did not know was that bristlecone pine live only at 10,000 feet.  Fantastic views on the way, however.

As you get to about 9,000 feet, the pinion pines get thinner and smaller, so we are almost there.

Starting to see the taller bristlecones.

 Finally, above the "tree line" are the extremely rare and very old bristlecones.

You can identify a bristlecone pine by the prickly pine cones and the thickly needled long branches.  The younger trees have a more triangular shape, but the older ones are gnarled and have a lot of dead wood, with just a little greenery. 

One reason these trees live so long is that they grow in places nothing else will grow and where there are few insects.  They also are extremely resinous, so insects cannot eat them.  They grow very slowly, some living as long as 5,000 years!

The ranger talked about how they measure growth rings. Most of the bristlecone pines have rings where one inch equals a century of growth. As part of the tree dies, another branch will grow.  He said this tree was 4,000 years old.

Me in front of an old stump of a tree that died 400 years ago. I was dressed for desert conditions when I got up this morning, but at 10,072 feet, it was really cold, even with a jacket on.    

Another old tree.

Looking down the mountain at the road I will be taking.

This is a baby bristlecone, about 18" tall.  Wonder how long it will live?

Look, no guardrails!  I would have been terrified to drive this road when I first got my motorhome, but no problem now.  Just have to keep your eyes on the road and make sure you don't drop the tires off the edge.  Actually, I drove mostly in the middle of the road because there was so little traffic.

Beautiful vista! 

Almost down to the valley and the slightly larger state road.

Made it.  Check out the lack of traffic. 

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