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Bristlecone pines on Griffith Peak January 13, 2014

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature.
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Bob and bristlecone.

Bob and bristlecone.

Come away from the waterlogged Smokies for a bit, and visit a desert mountain range in Nevada.

I was talking with a couple of friends recently about the bristlecone pines of the Southwest. I have great reverence for the bristlecones, a species that includes the world’s oldest living trees. But you will see that this post is not really about reverence toward nature.

First, a bit of background. Bristlecones live at elevations between 5,600 and 11,200′ in desert mountains. The oldest ones live in the White Mountains of California on the border with Nevada. White Mountain Peak, one of California’s two non-Sierra Fourteeners, is located near the groves that contain the oldest bristlecones. Up until recently, a tree called “Methuselah” was considered to be the oldest living specimen, at an astounding 4,789 years old. But in 2012 an older one was found, measured at 5,062 years old.

I have a book that I bought at the Death Valley gift shop that features drawings of bristlecone cross-sections with historical events indicated at points among the concentric rings: “Babylon flourished as a nation,” “Alexander the Great conquers Egypt,” “Religious Crusades to Jerusalem,” and “First man walks on the moon.”

The dense, resinous wood of the trees protects them against insect infestations, fungi, and rot. The Wikipedia article says, “Rather than rot, exposed wood, on living and dead trees, erodes like stone due to wind, rain, and freezing, which creates unusual forms and shapes.” In any case, they aren’t subject to much in the way of rainfall.

Mike, Bob, and I had done a hiking/backpacking trip to the Sierras. Now we were on our way back to Vegas for our flight home. But we were going to visit the Spring Mountains of Nevada, not far outside Vegas, before flying back East. The highest point in the Spring Mtns. is Charleston Peak (11,916′), but the dimensions of that hike were too big to fit into our schedule: 21 miles, 4900′ elevation gain, 11 hours. So we opted for the second highest, Griffith Peak, 11,056′, 3100′ elev. gain, half-day hike.

Charleston Peak is the distant point to the right.

Charleston Peak is the distant point to the right.

Behind the youngster bristlecone to the right (probably less than 500 years old), you can see Charleston Peak with its slides and talus fields. This was the view from the South Loop trail. The path switchbacked and climbed more and more steeply toward the top. No problem at all for us—we’d thoroughly acclimatized in the Sierras.

Finally we reached the top, which we had to ourselves. We could see miles in all directions. Around us, groves of bristlecones stood scattered across the dry, open slopes of the mountain. A great silence hung in the air.

I think it was Bob who came up with the idea of Interpretive Dance. He always had the funniest, stupidest, best, worst ideas. And so we had an Interpretive Dance session. I pictured Isadora Duncan in flowing robes, a long scarf of course fluttering from her neck, moving in harmony with the deep beneficent pulse of the natural world.

Mike moves in unison with the shape of the tree.

Mike moves in unison with the shape of the tree.

And so we spent a rewarding time on the summit before heading down to play a few rounds of blackjack at one of the Vegas casinos.

Bob has become one with the tree.

Bob has become one with the tree.