I went as an assistant instructor on a class excursion to the Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountains with David King (Instructor at SD City College) and Steven Burns (Chrome Illusions instructor). I have been there many times over the last 48 years. My first introduction was high altitude helicopter testing at the 10,00 foot elevation there near the Schulman grove for the USAF out of Edwards AFB. It has become one of my favorite places to visit when I am in the Owens Valley.
On the trip up Hwy 395 we (student Luke Ce and I) stopped off at Fossil Falls and the volcanic Red Hill to take a few morning images. This is a great place to get barren landscape with various red colors of red volcanic sand. At 9am the temperature was already 91 degrees. The Coso Volcanic Field brought flows from the north east and later Red Hill, which can be viewed from Fossil Falls, released the younger lava. The flows occurred between 400,000 years ago and 10,000 years ago.
We then went up the Whitney portal road to the waterfall at 8000 feet to get used to the to the altitude we would experience the next day. But I decided to go even higher so we took another road further south to get up to 10500 feet. It is a high plateau with a lot of trees and camping. It was 79 degrees there while the temperature in Owens Valley was peaking at 109 degrees.
The next morning we watched the sunrise from the Alabama Hills. Smoke from fires to the east cast an intense red glow on the Mount Whitney peak during the early sunrise. I took both color and Infrared images.
It was warming up quickly and I decided to get up to the cooler air at the Bristlecone preserve. We were lodging at the Crooked Creek Station which is located in the Bristlecone/Limber Pine forest at an elevation of 10,200′.
This is WMRC’s most modern facility, and sleeps 50 persons at full capacity. The facility includes a classroom, computer room with broadband internet, a backup satellite internet connection, and a smaller meeting room. A full kitchen and dining facility operates during the open season, generally between June 1 and October 31 It is located in east central California just north of Death Valley, and on the western edge of the Great Basin, the White Mountains rise to a respectable altitude of 14,246 feet (4342m) above Bishop California. Here Pacific storms move eastward, the Sierra simply takes the majority of moisture, leaving the White Mountains with strong dry winds. Annual precipitation is less than 12 inches (30cm), most of which arrives as snow in winter. On a summer’s day the amount of precipital moisture in the air is about half a millimeter, the lowest ever recorded anywhere on earth. But these very hardships contribute to these mountains bringing forth trees so beautiful, so ancient they surpass the majestic Giant Sequoia of the Sierra by more than a millennium!
Weather here is cold and dry. The average max.-min. temperatures range from about 70°F (21°C) to 37°F (3°C) at the base, and from 36°F (2°C) to -26° (-32°C) in the alpine zone. Precipitation averages 4 in. (10 cm) at its base to 20 in.
Then it was time to settle in and get used to the altitude and meet the rest of the students.
Next morning after a great breakfast we drove on the dusty road to the northern Patriarch Grove (11,200ft / 3414m). This road is gravel, rough in places, but can be easily done with the family car. We are rewarded with sights you cannot find elsewhere. Patriarch Grove is located in a large open bowl, exposed to wind and weather. And yes, along with the astounding trees and landscape, you will find toilet facilities here, picnic tables and an outdoor display case. On the ride there you get to see the the geologic makeup of the White Mountains which is of quartzitic sandstone and granite bedrock. A large part of the soils on these slopes have been swept away by the extreme conditions. Also present are extensive outcrops of dolomite (limestone) a very ancient rock first laid down under water 500 million years ago, then slowly uplifted through time. Numerous fossils of this period can be found here. It has been speculated that one could have walked chest deep across the early Paleozoic sea located in the region at that time.
Here we spent the days exploring and photographing the trees and the surrounding landscape. I used a converted Canon 1DSMK2 to take Infrared images. The textures in the trees and bizarre shapes are very intriguing and as the lighting changes throughout the day so do the shapes and textures. The rarefied air makes you slow down and take more time with each images you take.
You get to experience the closeness of a very unique environment. The bristlecone pines are three species of pine trees (family Pinaceae, genus Pinus, subsection Balfourianae) believed to live longer than any other known organism, up to an age of nearly 5,000 years. Bristlecones grow in scattered subalpine groves at high altitude in arid regions of the Western United States. The name comes from the prickles on the female cones. The wood is very dense and resinous, and thus resistant to invasion by insects, fungi, and other potential pests. The tree’s longevity is due in part to the wood’s extreme durability. While other species of trees that grow nearby suffer rot, bare bristlecone pines can endure, even after death, often still standing on their roots, for many centuries. 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. The oldest bristlecone pines are single plants that have been alive for a little less than 5,000 years. (from Wikipedia)
If you have been to the Bristlecone area then you know what all about what I have written and if you have not been there you should experience it.
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