Friday, February 9, 2024

A Tour of Great Basin National Park's Bristlecone Pine Groves: Part 7 - Baker Lake Grove

See Part 1 (Overview)Part 2 (Wheeler Cirque)Part 3 (Mt. Washington)Part 4 (Magic Grove)Part 5 (Eagle Peak) and Part 6 (Snake Divide) of the Tour of Great Basin National Park's Bristlecone Pine Groves.

Today we're going to finish this series with a long-forgotten grove of Bristlecone Pines, very close to Baker Lake. If you look at the photo above, you see lots of trees. These aren't bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva). They are Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmanii), another tree species adapted to life at high elevations and in harsh climates. 

I had read that there was a bristlecone pine grove near Baker Lake, but was always doing other things at the lake or was in a hurry, so I didn't have time to look. Until 2023. That's when I joined some researchers for an overnight at the lake, which meant I had some time to explore.

First off, where is Baker Lake? On the map below, it's to the south of Wheeler Peak and to the west of Eagle 10842.

If you head to the northeast of the lake, you go up on to the moraine. You can turn around and see those awesome cliffs above Baker Lake (although the lake itself is obscured). 

And then you start seeing that the trees are different than the Engelman spruce. They're more twisted, have needles in clumps of five, and there's a lot of dead wood on a tree. Great evidence that we're seeing bristlecone pine!

I started wandering around and found some old tags on the trees. They were part of a study in the 1960s. I couldn't find final data on them, so contacted the Tree Ring Lab at the University of Arizona. They're in the process of digitizing their records and are keeping an eye out for more info on these trees. 

Some of them are so amazingly beautiful!

I appreciated that the tags had been put on the dead part of the tree so as not to hurt it. Even hundreds of years after the tree has died, the wood is still looking good. The extremely dense wood of bristlecone pines helps it to persist so long.

Some of the trees looked more alive than others.

Some of the old wood is stained, making for interesting contrasts.

I noticed how the tree base and boulders intersected for this tree.

There are even rocks nestled into the wood!

This gnarled, twisting tree is a stunner.

I kept walking around it, looking at it from all the angles.

Wow, I am definitely going to have to revisit this tree again, it is seriously amazing.

I found a nest in a split in one pine.

I didn't get to see all the bristlecone pines, but just seeing some of them was really cool.

I'm hoping to go back and spend a little more time. 

After all, Baker Lake is quite a beautiful spot.

Horses are allowed on the Baker Lake trail, and these horses were brought up by the Nevada Backcountry Horsemen to help the researchers transport their gear.

What a couple days, beautiful lake, ancient bristlecone pines, horses, and friends. 

This concludes the series on Bristlecone Pine Groves in Great Basin National Park. I hope you've enjoyed getting to know these groves a little better.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

A Tour of Great Basin National Park's Bristlecone Groves, Part 6 - Snake Divide Grove

See Part 1 (Overview)Part 2 (Wheeler Cirque)Part 3 (Mt. Washington)Part 4 (Magic Grove), and Part 5 (Eagle Peak) of the Tour of Great Basin National Park's Bristlecone Pine Groves.

In this blog post, we're going to visit the Snake Divide Grove of bristlecone pines. On the map below, it's lumped in with the Mt. Washington grove. It's actually just east of the "n" in Mt. Washington as its own little grove. The bristlecones grow on white limestone (see photo above). They are accessed via a slight detour off the Snake Divide Trail, which stays in the forest to the north of the bare limestone knobs.

The trees are actually on two bare knobs, but they grow as regular forest giants in between. Even when the trees are tall and closer together, they are still amazing.

The wood is also exceptional. You can see this tree right from the Snake Divide trail (which starts at the end of the Snake Creek road).

The trees aren't super big, but they are twisted and tenacious.

Part of the fun of visiting the bristlecones is to see how odd they have become.

They are so good at clinging on to life, even when they fall over.

Prevailing winds can often be figured out just by looking at the trees.

This is one of the least visited bristlecone groves in the Park, mainly because most people don't know it exists. If you want to see the more popular Magic Grove, it's not too hard to add on a detour to the Snake Divide Grove to see some underappreciated but gorgeous trees.

 The last part in this series is coming soon!

Sunday, January 7, 2024

A Tour of Great Basin National Park's Bristlecone Groves, Part 5 - Eagle Peak

See Part 1 (Overview)Part 2 (Wheeler Cirque)Part 3 (Mt. Washington), and Part 4 (Magic Grove) of the Tour of Great Basin National Park's Bristlecone Pine Groves.

One of the least-visited bristlecone groves in Great Basin National Park is the Eagle Peak Grove. Eagle Peak, also known as Peak 10842 (its elevation in feet) is between Snake Creek and Kious Basin/Pole Canyon. 

There's no trail to access it. I've gone up several times via the Snake Creek side, and it takes about 3 hours of hiking up very steep terrain with some bushwhacking. 

Although this grove doesn't get many visitors, it is fascinating due to the array of twisted trees and amazing backdrops.

A few of the trees have grown to adapt to the surrounding geology.

I really enjoy seeing how the trees twist around the rocks.

Near the top of Eagle Peak, you get views of Baker Peak, Wheeler Peak, and Doso Doyabi.

The weathered wood is beautiful.

The balancing act some of these trees have is amazing. This one nicely frames Pyramid Peak.

I  did find tags on some of the trees, so dendrochronologists have looked at some to determine their ages.

Some are too small to be of interest to the dendrochronologists, but they're still beautiful. In the fall, you can get great views of the Snake Creek watershed and the aspen changing color.

This is an exposed area, so not the best place to be during summer monsoons.

We practically ran off the mountain this day to avoid the lightning. The bristlecones just keep growing, showing the dominant wind direction. 
This is one of the hardest groves to get to in the Park, but if you make the effort, it's likely you'll have it all to yourself.

Two parts left to this series, check back soon!
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