Tuesday, December 19, 2023

My Favorite Books of 2023

A fascinating journey into remote Siberia to find fish owls; notable for the wilderness and cultural aspects.

I love to read. I also have stopped finishing as many books. If I don't like a book, I stop reading. There are more books out there than I have time to read, so why waste time with something I don't like? I may have stopped reading/listening to more books than I've gotten through this year.

I love getting book recommendations so that I can hone on in the "good ones." I figure it's only fair if I share my favorites to help pay back those who have helped me. 

Without further ado, here are my 2023 faves.

I learned a lot about the hearing impaired community from this one.

Lots of great ideas that go beyond giving money to giving time, compliments, and more.

Very fun sci-fi, listened to with Desert Boy.

This one made me so sad, but I'm glad the story is coming to light. 

An interesting trip to the jungles of Belize and the culture and politics of a little known country.

This is a long listen, but was interesting seeing how Russia changed over time.

Some insights into the National Park Service and what it's like to work there.

John Scalzi in a very different type of sci-fi novel. Desert Boy and I found this delightful.

Fictional history of Hedy Lamarr. I'd like to know more about her and also want to check out more books by this author.

A little long in some parts, but interesting journey of a coming of age story in Appalachia.

The kids and I have enjoyed listening to this one. Such a different life than we live (thank goodness!)

For those who like EMS and national parks, this is a great combo.

Tips to keep you moving at any age. I'll be incorporating some of their recommendations into my daily habits.

And my favorite book of the year:

This one takes me back to my political science roots. It also helps make so much sense of where we have conflicts in the world and why some economies work better than others. 

What are your favorites?
Here are some of my past:  2021 books2022 books

Sunday, December 17, 2023

A Tour of Great Basin National Park's Bristlecone Groves - Part 4 The Magic Grove

See Part 1 (Overview), Part 2 (Wheeler Cirque), and Part 3 (Mt. Washington) of the Tour of Great Basin National Park's Bristlecone Pine Groves.

The Great Basin Bristlecone Pines in the Magic Grove are some of the most amazing in Great Basin National Park. Some people consider this grove, which is to the northeast of Mt. Washington, to be part of the Mt. Washington grove. It's a 45-60 minute hike down to the grove on a steep mountain slope with no trail and no trees, so I'm going to consider it as separate grove. A co-worker coined the name The Magic Grove, and while you won't find that on any map, it's one that has been adopted by many park employees and locals. 

To get there, it's a two-hour drive, including over an hour on a very rough, very 4WD road. Then it's about an hour hike down the side of a mountain with no trail. An alternate way to get there is to hike 6-7 miles up the Snake Divide Trail from the Snake Creek trailhead. Some of the trail is marked, and some of the trail is still a sparkle in someone's eye. 

One tree in this grove (the one pictured at the top of this post) is so iconic that it was chosen to grace the Great Basin quarter in the National Park series of quarters. It was issued in 2013, and there was a special ceremony and unveiling in the Park.

This particular bristlecone pine is over 1,400 years old. One of the reasons it stands out is that it is a little isolated from other bristlecone pines on the Magic Grove. 

I love the "Quarter Tree," but I also have some other favorites. This one may have started as several trunks that joined together. I believe it's over 2,400 years old. That means it started growing before the first Christmas! 

If you move to one side, you can frame Mt. Washington in the dead branches.

Here's a view of the same tree at night, the night sky photo that launched my photography hobby. The orange glow in the background wasn't visible with the naked eye, I only saw it with a 20 second exposure. It was from the Hampton Creek fire, and when I saw that, I realized I would never get a photo like this one again.

Sunrise is also an awesome time to admire bristlecone pines.

The early morning light enhances the wind-shaped wood. This particular tree that has fallen over is featured by one of the Great Basin National Park Artists in Residence.

Back to the Quarter Tree at first light. I've enjoyed each opportunity I've had to visit this special bristlecone pine grove. With some luck and God's blessings, maybe I'll get to visit it again.

 Check back soon for another post about the bristlecone pines in Great Basin National Park!

Thursday, December 7, 2023

A Tour of Great Basin National Park's Bristlecone Pine Groves - Part 3 Mount Washington

See Part 1 (Overview) and Part 2 (Wheeler Cirque) of the Tour of Great Basin National Park's Bristlecone Pine Groves

The Mount Washington Bristlecone Pine Grove is quite extensive and is the only grove in Great Basin National Park that can be reached by vehicle. However, the road is extremely rough and requires a high clearance 4WD with an experienced driver to go up a technically difficult set of switchbacks and along some areas with a lot of exposure and other areas that are eroding with every rainstorm. It's located in the west-central part of the Park.

One of the unique things about the Mt. Washington grove is that it experienced a large wildfire in 2000 (Philips Ranch Fire) that burned through many bristlecone pines. Often, bristlecone pines are fairly solitary, especially at higher elevations, so when one catches on fire, it's hard for the fire to spread. In this case, the fire started at lower elevations in other trees, and then strong winds blew it uphill, blowing embers from tree to tree.

Even some rather isolated trees burned. Fortunately, young trees are growing back in portions of the burned area, and overall the fire seems to have stimulated growth of saplings. Here's an article about how the bristlecone pine recovery is going.

The top of Mt. Washington,  at 11,658 feet (3,553 m), is too high for bristlecone pines or any other trees. 

If you look closely, though, as you approach the summit, you might spot pieces of dead wood. Where did they come from? Well, during the Altithermal (Holocene climate optimum) roughly 9,500 to 5,500 years ago, it was warmer than it is now. This allowed bristlecone pines to grow higher on the mountain. When it cooled off again, the highest trees died, leaving their wood. In most cases, the wood disappears in a few hundred years, but bristlecone wood is so dense that it can stay on the landscape for thousands of years, which is why it is so important for climate studies.

Some bristlecone pines right outside the Park, on property owned by the LongNow Foundation, are being studied by the Desert Research Institute and University of Nevada, Reno to learn more about how they grow and interact with their environment. Sap flow measurements taken every 10 minutes for five years (wow!) show how these trees relate to soil moisture and other climate variables. Read more here. 

Most people who go up Mt. Washington just enjoy the beauty of the bristlecones. The trees take some amazing forms. 

Generally, the higher up the mountain you go, the smaller the trees are. Some interesting things are happening with the bristlecones in the upper zones that they inhabit. This study found that they have wider tree rings, meaning higher temperatures, in the last century than in the past 3,500 years. Another thing that has been changing is that we can now find more limber pines at higher elevation, as they "leap frog" over the bristlecone pines in some cases to live even higher on the mountains, as this study found.

Bristlecone pines can be 30 years old or even older before they produce their first cones. There are two different kinds of cones. Below are the pollen cones, very small.

The other kind of cone is a pine cone. You can see why they call it a bristle-cone pine. These cones are almost spiky! The seeds in them are very small.

There are some amazing cliffs and views in this area, and I like to wander along the edge. Here's a view looking east at sunrise.

This tree is quite amazing as it balances on the edge. 

Pretty much every time I pass this tree I have to take a photo! My nickname for it is Perseverance. It keeps on persevering even though the cliff is crumbling away, no longer supporting it like it used to. Nevertheless, part of the tree is still alive!

Part of the appeal of these trees is just how twisted they can get, and how colorful the wood is.

Mount Washington is an amazing place to soak in the atmosphere of bristlecone pines, both day...

...and night.
More bristlecone groves still coming...

Saturday, December 2, 2023

A Tour of Great Basin National Park's Bristlecone Pine Groves - Part 2 Wheeler Cirque

 See Part 1 of the Tour of Great Basin National Park's Bristlecone Pine Groves.

The easiest bristlecone pine grove to access in Great Basin National Park is the Wheeler cirque bristlecone grove. It's located below the stunning 13,063 ft Wheeler Peak. One of the things that makes this grove stand out is that the bristlecone pines are growing on quartzite rock (instead of the usual limestone or dolomite) and on glacial moraines that have only been uncovered by ice for 10,000 years or so.

To get there, you drive to the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and then take a 1.5 mile trail to the bristlecones. It's a fairly easy trail, but because it's over 10,000 feet elevation, you might find yourself gasping in the thin air! It's also only accessible from June to October unless you want to snow shoe or ski from Upper Lehman Campground, as during the winter the road is closed at that point.

On the trail there, you start passing some bristlecone pines before the interpretive trail with signs. This dead tree shows the twisted skeleton of a formerly majestic tree.

Even when dead, the bristlecone pines persevere on the landscape for a long time, their dense wood resisting erosion, wind, sun, and other factors that would break down other wood. In some cases, the trees even become home to lichens.

Bristlecone pines are five-needle pines, meaning that their pine needles grow in clumps of five. One of the easiest ways to identify them is to look for the signature bottle-brush drooping of the branches. The needles are grouped densely.

Looking up at the bristlecone pines also shows off the bottle-brush look. It also showcases that many of the bristlecone pines are only partly alive. There are sections of dead wood and live tree on many of the trees. The reason this exists is because of stripbarking. Where strips of bark still exist, water and nutrients can be delivered to the pine needles, and that part of the tree continues to live. Where the bark has fallen away, that section of the tree is dead.

The start of the interpretive trail begins with a sign about the grove. There's also a convenient bench if you want to sit a moment to catch your breath or absorb the magic of these ancient trees.

As you walk along the short trail, signs share some information about the bristlecones, such as how they are dated, how they grow, and what some threats to their existence are (we'll get into all those topics in this series). 

Several of the trees in this grove are over 3,000 years old. That's sort of mind boggling that they started growing well before what we call year 1. 

There was one tree not far from this area that turned out to be much older. In the 1960s, a graduate student doing research in the national forest (Great Basin National Park was established in 1986) used an increment borer to get a small straw-sized amount of tree core out so he could date it. The increment borer got stuck, so after hiking all the way down (there was no scenic drive at the time), he got permission from the US Forest Service to cut the tree to get his increment borer out. When he did, he found that the tree was estimated to be about 5,000 years old! No other tree in the area has been found to be that old, or even over 4,000 years old for that matter. You can read more about the Prometheus story here. Bristlecone pines were awarded more protection after that.

Visiting the bristlecone pines is one of the top visitor activities in Great Basin National Park. There is just something special about seeing these trees that have survived so long through all sorts of storms, droughts, blizzards, scorching sun, and more. 

The background of tall mountains and cliffs make for spectacular scenery.

Just thinking about the bristlecones energizes me in a way that other tree species doesn't quite do. 

During Covid, Comet Neowise appeared in the night skies. I wanted to capture the comet with epic scenery, so met up with a couple friends to go this spot (for two nights, since the first night didn't work out!). Perhaps these bristlecones were alive the last time Comet Neowise made an appearance.

Stay tuned for more posts about bristlecone pines in less visited areas of the Park!

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