Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest

During our recent road trip with Ania and Moli on the way from Yosemite to Death Valley we stopped for a short hike in Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest. We all loved it. Nature was stunning, weather was perfect, there were hardly any tourists and once we set up on the hike (4.6 mile loop) we only met one other group of hikers, moreover they were going in the opposite direction than we were.

Although bristlecone trees are not impressive in size (usually they are not bigger than 3-6 meters), still somehow they make you feel small and humble when you realize how old they are. The park that we visited is home to the oldest of them (e.g. Earth's oldest living inhabitant "Methuselah" lives there). Of course we all wanted to talk with Methuselah, but unfortunately his location was not marked, as park rangers were afraid that it could get vandalized by tourists.

The secret to the bristlecones durability is partly explained by the harsh climate that they have endured throughout the ages (with summer temperatures reaching 25 degrees Celsius, and winter - 30 degrees, snow cover up to 3 m deep and with roaring winds reaching 320km/h) and the fact that no other plant would withstand such extreme conditions. That means that the bristlecone do not have to compete with anybody for scarce resources. Moreover, the dry, low in oxygen air common at this height helps preserve the trees from rotting and from potentially devastating fires. But all this also means that the bristlecones grow slowly (each year increasing in girth only around 0.2 mm). However, also this slow growth is beneficial for them as it makes their wood very resinous and dense, and therefore, impervious to invasions from bacteria, fungus or insects. Another strategy that they adopted for surviving is the gradual dieback of bark and the water-conducting tissue (xylem) when the tree is damaged for whatever reason. Moreover, even dead bristlecones trees can remain standing for hundreds of years after death and they fall only when the supporting roots finally decay or get undermined by erosion. Those almost-dead trees look really bizarre but also beautiful.

Here are few pics from this part of our trip:

A view from our car on the way from Yosemite to Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest:

Again, a view to magnificant Sierras from our car:

Sierra Nevada as seen from a viewpoint in the White Mountains:

Moli, Ania and I sitting on the dead bark of bristlecone in Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest:

Not dead yet bristlecone tree:

More bristlecones:

Cones of bristlecones :-) :

A view from the (Methuselah) trail to Sierras: