Saturday, July 5, 2008

Bristlecone Pines

trail We hiked up to the Bristlecone Pine grove on the northeast flank of Wheeler Peak on our way up the Glacier Trail. The Bristlecone Pine trail and short loop through the pines is a 2.8 mile round-trip hike from the Wheeler Peak camp.

In order to fully appreciate the bristlecone pines, I think it's wise to be able to identify the other two major needled trees on the trail: the Englemann spruce and the limber pine.

The Englemann spruce, seen below, is a typical spruce tree with short, sharp needles. [Remember: square, sharp spruce and flat, friendly fir - when needing to tell spruce trees from fir trees - with the square v. flat being the respective cross-section of the spruce and fir needles, and the sharp v. friendly referring to the ouch-factor of the sharp spruce needles and the non-ouch-factor of the not-sharp fir needles.] The spruce trees had tons of cones on them.

englemann spruce
The limber pine, a pine tree that supposedly can easily be confused for the bristlecone pine, is a pine tree with needles in packs of five, and the needles being about 1.5 to 3 inches long. Seen below, its needles are concentrated in little clumps near the ends of branches. Cones are different between the two pine trees, but I'll not get into that.

limber pine

Bristlecone pines also have needles in packets of five, with the needles being about 1 inch long (possibly overlapping in length occasionally with the length of the limber pine's needles). The bristlecone needles have a distinctive look, however, growing around a branch in such a way that you will think you are looking at a million green bottle brushes. All the photos below are of the bristlecone pine.

bristlecone pine
bristlecone pineThe bristlecone pine in the photo above is about 18 to 20 feet high to the branches in the top of the photo; it's about 6 feet to the little hole in the lower center of the tree.

Most of the trees in the grove are old, very old (the oldest known one that was cut down to count the tree rings was 4,900 years old in 1964 - see the story of "Prometheus" on this page).

MOH and I did, however, see some younger trees than the ones I took photos of, trees with thinner, straighter trunks. Many of the oldest trees in the grove are only alive on some branches. Other groves in the park have taller, more rapidly growing trees where soils are developed on more favorable limestone rather than less favorable quartzite.

bark Above, bark and needles of the bristlecone pine up close; below, some nicely shaped branches.


The grove of bristlecone pines is growing on a glacial morraine composed of Prospect Mountain Quartzite, all blocky and angular and hard to walk on.

trees on quartzite
Looking back down the U-shaped glacial valley from the morraine above the bristlecone grove, you can get a great view of the grove itself, the lumpy, disorganized morraine, and the northern Snake Range decollement or detachment fault in the far distance. Most of the trees in the center of the photo in the mid-distance are bristlecone pines. The trees on the left side of the photo are spruce trees.

trees on morraineIt was a great day for a hike!


Anonymous said...

Wow. Just looked up Wheeler Peak on Google Maps. Eastern Nevada, and it looks very empty. You could fit quite a few Englands into there, and no one would ever know.

Scenery is outstanding - reminds me just a little of the Atlas Mountains or even the hills round Tahoe, without the casinos.

And great trees. Thanks for those.

Silver Fox said...

Roads, I didn't say much about the location of Wheeler Peak - it's 5 miles from the very small town of Baker, where you can get food and find some wifi; about 65 miles from the larger small town of Ely; 142 miles to the nearest airport in Cedar City, Utah, which is a bit off the road; and 234 and 286 miles from the bigger airports in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Most people arrive by car, many from traveling Highway 50, which is a destination in and of itself.

It is like the Sierra Nevada around Lake Tahoe - without as much snow or trees and no big lake. The Atlas Mountains look beautiful. Have you done any running there?

David Bressan said...

Thanks for the post - brings back a lot of memories.

A very unusual scenery indeed the Bristlecone pines- so unusual that the BBC choosed the location for .... see for yourself :)

Silver Fox said...

David, Dimetrodon Hunt (the video) is great one for dinosaur afficionados - but somehow the Bristecone pines don't seem that old!

Wayfarer Scientista said...

aren't bristlecone trees fabulous??

Silver Fox said...

Oh yes, the bristlecones are quite neat, and well worth the hike. Haven't seen the ones over in California, but they must be great, also.