Redwood Parks in Spring

Rhododendron, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

I set off into the darkness, toward the sound of the creek. Though I hadn’t been here in a long time, there was a familiar feel to a trail in a redwood forest. My feet knew the surface below me, and I smiled to myself hearing the sound of my footsteps on the wooden footbridge as Godwood Creek, shallow but swift, moved below me.

I might have hesitated on a dark night, but tonight with the moon above nearly full it was bright enough to read an interpretive sign on the reflective metal: New Growth.

I had come to Prairie Creek Redwoods multiple times, but never in the spring. Even in the darkness, I could see small white flowers adjacent to the trail. At an opening, I watched for bats and saw a few.

New growth. I couldn’t recall so much water here before, audible from a good distance away at Elk Prairie adjacent to the visitor center.

I knew this was a well-groomed, flat trail without obstacles or anything to trip on, but I placed each foot carefully. Not because I was afraid I would stumble, but because each footstep connected me with this forest of ancient redwoods.

There is something ironic about writing about an inherently wordless experience. It was about natural silence. Eventually, I tore myself away from the darkness and the creek to head back to my campsite. But I laid myself down on the same soft earth, to the soothing sound of the smaller Prairie Creek before it flowed into the bigger one.

More delights awaited me when I visited the trail in daylight. I had walked right past a large cluster of rhododendron blooms adjacent to the bridge, now just beyond where I could reach with my fingertips, and snapped the picture above. The new growth referenced in the sign was the vibrant green and delicate leaves of vine maple. The small white flower I’d seen was one of many, the blooms of redwood sorrel. This was the beginning of days meandering among the giants above me and tiny beauties below me.


What a treat to visit in the spring after a near-record wet winter. I had never been there when so much was blooming.

Western azalea

Bleeding heart

Giant trillium

Hairy buttercup


Coast twinberry

I meandered through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and neighboring parks, Redwood National Park and Jedediah Smith State Park, collectively managed together to best protect them. Trail damage was extensive from the winter storms with some trails still closed. For the ones that were open, they still had a lot of downed trees and limbs to climb over, under, or through.

Since May was still a bit rainy before the tourist season, I had little human company. The Ten Taypo Trail in Prairie Creek in some places was a carpet of moss from little use.

I was fortunate to observe lots of wildlife. Previously I had seen Roosevelt elk in the fall breeding season, when the bulls have their enormous antlers and aggressively vie for the cows. This time of year, instead the males herded together and the cows stayed as a separate group with juveniles. The young bulls had their new antlers for the season covered in velvet, and many of the elk had a patchwork of hair as they were shedding their winter coats. I watched them from a safe distance.

However, just because I gave them space didn’t mean they did the same. One day, I pulled my car over on the shoulder of the road to watch a herd, and they calmly strolled by just a couple feet away. I took the following photo through the open window.

It was nesting season for birds. This barn swallow glared at me when I got too close to his nest under the eaves of the bathroom at the Trillium Falls trailhead.

Everything was so lush, a tangle of green upon green, with every available spot occupied by something growing, including the dead logs that provided a home for everything from moss to whole trees that sprouted out of them.

Trillium Falls

Even the picnic table at my campsite had a couple tiny plants sprouting where rainwater had soaked them. I transplanted them where they wouldn’t get trampled, and gave them a drink from my water bottle before I reluctantly headed home.

Happy blogger in Redwood National Park

Time and Textures – The Company of Old Trees

Bristlecone pine portrait White Mountains 9-2015Bristlecone pine, Inyo National Forest

Craving the company of old trees, in September last year I ventured to the land of the world’s oldest living things—the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California’s White Mountains. I’d fulfilled a dream to visit with my first trip but at the mercy of altitude sickness, I was only able to stay for a few hours. The place beckoned me back. This time I had medication that enabled me to camp for several nights at 8,600 feet and hike the trails as high as 11,000 feet.

The bristlecone pines’ gnarled trunks speak to their endurance, through fires and thousands of winters in blasting wind, and snow that sustains them through the dry summers. Many parts die back with just a few branches sprouting needles and cones. They grow in nutrient-poor soil at a profoundly slow rate, sometimes reflecting 100 years in tree rings that are only an inch across.

The oldest known tree, Methuselah, is more than 4,600 years old. The trail winds through the grove where Methuselah grows anonymously among its neighbors that are 3,000 and 4,000 years old. Their shapes and textures are striking.

Bristlecone grove on Methusaleh Trail White Mountains 9-2015Bristlecone pines siilhouette White Mountains 9-2015Bristlecone fire-scarred bark White Mountains 9-2015Even after they die, bristlecone pines can take thousands of years to decompose.

Fallen bristlecone that died in 1676 White Mountains 9-2015Log from a bristlecone pine more than 3,200 years old that fell in 1676

Along the Methuselah Trail, I came upon a tree that was about my height and I wondered about its age. Certainly it must have been at least a few hundred years old, perhaps 1,000 or more. I held its young green needles in my hand, a contrast in old and new.

Bristlecone branches White Mountains 9-2015

Walking among the bristlecones is a journey of awe. I am moved by their persistence.

Moonrise at Patriarch Grove White Mountains 9-2015
Moonrise over the Patriarch Grove at 11,000 feet

Acorn Woodpecker Season

Acorn smallerFor my birthday yesterday, I headed to my redwood retreat, twin giants in the Santa Cruz Mountains that I described in a previous post here.

This is a busy time of the year for the acorn woodpeckers. They gather their stash of fallen acorns from the live oaks and tan oaks and hammer them into their granary trees for the coming months. While other birds are pretty quiet this time of year since it’s past nesting season, yesterday the raucous family groups of acorn woodpeckers chatted away as they flew above me in flashes of black and white wings.

I settled in leaning against one of the two ancient redwoods. The young tan oak that had been a footrest in recent years looked dead, most likely another victim of the sudden oak death that has been ravaging California in recent years. The trunk was only as wide as my foot, and I lightly pushed my toes against it to see if was in fact dead. To my surprise, the entire thing toppled over, with its trunk rotten where it broke at the bottom.

I nested in the hollow that the former oak tree occupied, with the slope creating a headrest above me and the tangle of fallen branches providing a place to prop up my feet. I curled up and watched and listened.

I wonder how much of nature I miss by moving through it instead of being still. In that one spot for a chunk of the afternoon, I became a part of the landscape for a while. A tiny spider tried to use my shoulder as an anchor for her web. I could hear what sounded like a small mammal moving around beneath the layer of dead leaves and twigs. I watched the leaves of the tan oaks above me and the redwood needles even higher move in the wind that preceded the fog, then watched their colors change as they became still again once the fog arrived. All to the accompaniment of the acorn woodpeckers, which you can listen to here.

The light would be fading soon. I reluctantly sat up, disentangled the pieces of redwood and tan oak duff from my hair, and retraced my steps back up the trail. I snapped this photo of a fallen leaf from a big-leaf maple, the one deciduous tree around here that provides fall color.

Big leaf maple leaf 9-2014

Exploring Eastern Oregon’s High Desert

In September of 2013, it was a good thing I was already planning to depart when I did from Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in California. As described in my previous post, unseasonably heavy rain rolled in the day before, with a brief break in the evening.

Then it poured all night. I stayed dry and wouldn’t know until I got up in the morning that a pond had formed overnight under my tent. Note to self: spending extra on quality camping gear was worth it. When I took the tent down, it was such a soggy, muddy mess that I just stuffed it into garbage bags, one each for the groundcloth, tent body and rainfly. At that point it was hard to believe that this had been my bedroom for six days.

Tent wet in bags in car Prairie Creek 9-2013Fortunately, after my six-day camping trip, this part of my trip to Oregon involved staying indoors with friends and family. It was the beginning of what would be the wettest September in Oregon’s recorded history. But cool, wet days outside aren’t a big deal with a house to dry out in afterward. “It’s never like this in September” was the refrain I heard from everyone.

I was scheduled to visit my ranger friends at Crater Lake National Park, but with the entrances at 6,000 feet, all of the access roads were closed due to snow. Instead I went to their home in Bend, joining Liz there while Jason was at Crater Lake. We waited out the storm. And waited another day. And another one. The snow closure was making the news. It was even raining sporadically in arid Bend, with high temperatures barely breaking 60.

A positive about traveling on my own was the ability to spontaneously change plans. I had never explored eastern Oregon and in a hike with Liz, I discovered the beauty of the high desert in the US Bureau of Land Management’s Oregon Badlands Wilderness Area. We walked five miles on the Ancient Juniper Trail to the Flatiron Trail. After my time in the lush redwood forest, it was a contrast walking through the sparse landscape.

Rock formation-Oregon Badlands 1 9-2013With an environment shaped by volcanic rock, little rain and warm summers, the high desert is taken in only with close attention. It’s all about subtlety. In the Oregon Badlands, you could easily walk by the state’s oldest western juniper at 1,600 years because it wouldn’t look unusual. I may have done that myself. But I did stop to check out this one.

Beverly under Juniper-Oregon Badlands 9-2013Portrait with one of the largest junipers I’ve ever seen – Photo by Liz Ballenger

Juniper bark-Oregon Badlands 9-2013

Juniper bark

Juniper berries-Oregon Badlands 9-2013
Juniper berries

Much of the ground’s surface is nearly bare. A dead tree that can take hundreds of years to decompose in this dry climate provides important nutrients and shade that support little gardens. To discover the wonders of this landscape requires going slowly to observe closely. The beauty is in the textures and small signs of life.

Rabbitbrush and lichen-Oregon Badlands 9-2013Lichen on dead log with flowering rabbitbrush

Lichen-Oregon Badlands 1 9-2013Lichen close-up

Beverly in juniper tree near Bend Oregon 9-2013
Migratory wildlife – Photo by Liz Ballenger

Camping Retreat in the Redwoods – Part 2

Prairie Creek tiny portrait 9-2013There is nothing like an old-growth redwood forest for a reflective silent retreat. During my six days living at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in September 2013, I spoke only when needed, at the visitor center or giving someone directions. After walking a number of trails, I looked forward to the route I had saved for this final day here, my birthday.

It was sunny as I made breakfast, typical for late September and a reason why I had selected this time of year for my three-week trip in Northern California and Oregon. But I knew from the weather forecast posted at the visitor center it was supposed to rain, odd this early in the season.

Today I planned to revisit a magical spot I photographed in 2011 on the James Irvine Trail. I usually have no particular craving to have my own photo taken, but today I wanted to have a passing hiker take my picture in this redwood grove, to look at later when I needed a reminder of keeping perspective.

I hoped the weather would hold clear long enough for me to nest in that enormous redwood circle for a good long time, but I was also prepared if the rain came. In my daypack—rain jacket, rain pants, fleece jacket, fleece hat, all in a plastic bag. I wore my long-sleeved wicking synthetic turtleneck instead of the tee-shirts I’d been wearing the last few days.

My seven-mile loop began on the James Irvine Trail. Stunning, huge orange fungi grew on a trunk beside a bridge. I stopped to admire them and wished I could reach them to touch, but settled for sitting on the bridge and taking photos instead. Two band-tailed pigeons flushed, the sound of their wing beats unmistakable.

Orange fungus group Prairie Creek 9-2013Hiking on, the wind picked up and the sky darkened as the storm moved in. I knew I would recognize that special grove of interconnected tree trunks when I saw it. I stopped and looked up into it. So far the weather had cooperated and fortunately a couple other hikers happened by from the other direction. I asked one of them if he would take the photo of a wee human under the towering ancients. And the first raindrops fell just as he was taking the photo, creating an image of a dark blur covered in spatters. Time for the raingear.

The light rain quickly became a vertical flood, the kind of torrent usually seen in December, not September. I saw no other hikers as I continued on the Clintonia Trail. The birds and squirrels that had been chattering earlier were all hunkered down and silent now, with just the sound of the downpour.

I recalled the advice of my friend Ray in Alaska describing spending time outside there—you’re going to be wet, it’s just a matter of being wet and cold or wet and warm. My breathable raingear meant that I didn’t sweat like crazy like I would in waterproof materials, but with the surprisingly intense rain, the fabric eventually became completely saturated. My fleece jacket and hat would keep me warm even if they got soggy. The lower half of my body was a lost cause. I was soaked to the skin through my nylon pants under my rain pants. The Gore-Tex boots were the only thing that stayed mostly dry and gave me good footing.

I continued up and over the Miner’s Ridge Trail, grinning as I slogged through the huge puddles, dodging the numerous tree roots that make great footholds when dry but are slick when wet. I got to see the whole forest glistening without the distraction of other human company. I was in awe at my good fortune to be in the redwoods during the first major storm of the year. All the debris of the dry season came down with the raindrops like snow, a cascade of brown needles and twigs. The thirsty earth after the months of drought surely must have been happy. I swear I could feel it.

Banana slug Prairie Creek 9-2013
Banana slugs liked the rain

It was early afternoon. Had I not known better, I would have thought I was racing to get back to the campground by nightfall, as it was that dark under the forest canopy. I was warm and even hot as I moved quickly up and over the ridge, but soaked as I was with the rain not letting up, I wasn’t about to stop to eat my sandwich and cool down. I pulled an energy bar out of a side pouch of my pack without stopping, gulped some more water from the tube of my water bladder, and pressed on. Then ate the second bar en route, too.

Eventually, I got to the junction back at the James Irvine Trail. I realized I could get to the visitor center to dry off a bit before they closed. The park staff had gotten a fire going. I joined two parties of soggy cyclists from Germany, South Africa and Canada as we took turns warming up and hanging our wet gear around the fireplace.

There was a timely break in the rain when the visitor center closed. Back at my campsite, I found a pond in the parking area behind and beside my car, so I moved it forward to avoid the moat that was clearly here to stay through tomorrow. My tent was in good shape as expected, but I got a sense of how hard the rain had fallen when I saw the splatter of duff and dead needles fully a foot above the ground and completely under the rainfly, with bits of duff stuck to the mesh part of the tent body. I changed into dry clothes and finally ate my sandwich, pleased that I had hustled for the last four miles up and over a ridge with no break, not bad 10 months after my knee replacement.

I knew whose company I wanted for my birthday evening, so I drove a few miles down the road looking for the local herd of Roosevelt elk. I parked by the road and headed down the footpath. Peering over the bushes, there was the big bull and the herd of cows. It was rutting season so I wanted to give the bull a wide berth. They were far enough away that I could creep down into the edge of the meadow. Given my distance, it was a surprise when the bull looked up and started walking toward me. I darted up the path and then looked to see if he was behind me. He was slowly herding the cows closer together, and I then saw it wasn’t me he was concerned about. When I got back into my car, another bull walked 15 feet away and into the meadow.

I arrived at my campsite just before dark. After dinner, I celebrated with cookies and sang the happy birthday song to myself, grateful to have a spectacular birthday in the perfect place for the fluke of the first storm of the year.

Prairie Creek giant redwood grove 9-2011 smallerThe 2011 image of the grove I revisited

Camping Retreat in the Redwoods – Part 1

Redwoods and ferns looking upIt has been nearly a year since I took my three-week trip to Northern California and Oregon to connect with nature, family and friends. My journey in September and October 2013 included peaceful solitary time in nature, getting soggy in the season’s first rainstorm, and a bit of drama, the natural one of the wettest September in Oregon history and the human one of being in a national park when the federal government shut down. So here begins a belated series of posts including stories and photos about my travels from last year.

At a time of a difficult transition in my life, I was irresistibly pulled toward a solitary camping retreat for my birthday and the fall equinox, and knew where I needed to spend time to reflect and recharge—the old-growth redwood forest of the North Coast. I headed to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, home to some of the world’s oldest and tallest trees in the remaining 3% of pristine redwood forest. After a long period of recovery from my knee replacement and being restricted from hiking, arriving at the campground felt like coming home.

Picking the ideal campsite was important for a six-day stay and the campground was largely empty when I arrived. I lucked into Site 44, surrounded by a canopy of trees and shrubs to minimize the moisture that would inevitably be all over everything and act as a windbreak. The best feature of this site was the private creekside spot accessible down a short path through the trees, where I would be able to watch the daily show of bats feeding over the water at nightfall.

Prairie Creek campsite 44 9-2013This was the kitchen, living room and bedroom. The sign on the table reminds campers to properly store food and remove crumbs to keep wildlife wild.

 Prairie Creek campsite 44 creek view 9-2013My campsite’s bonus room

There is something about the company of such enormous trees that always inspires slowing down and being introspective. On my arrival day, I was drawn to an open area in the campground for a walking meditation beside two giant redwoods. I naturally slowed down so much that I barely moved with each step, focusing on the feel of the earth beneath me, conscious of deep roots, and feeling my awareness widen.

We are always of this earth, we just forget it. So began my personal journey of remembering and restoring. For more from Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, see Part 2.

Images of Wood in a Little Known Park

A favorite outdoor place is in the heavily populated San Francisco Bay Area, but even those who are familiar with regional trails usually don’t know what I’m talking about when I say I’ve gone for a hike at Phleger Estate. Truth be told, I had never heard of it either and would not have been able to find the hidden trailhead if a friend hadn’t shown me where it was. Phleger Estate is the southernmost segment of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a second-growth redwood forest that is only occasionally accessed by hikers from the more heavily visited Huddart Park near Woodside. I go in a different way to a more remote section, where it’s common for me not to see another human all day even on warm, sunny weekends. On a recent hike there, I was appreciating the patterns of wood and took these photos.

Circular shape on madrone 10-2013Bark patterns on a madrone tree

Phleger Estate bark beetle gallery 10-2013

Bark beetle gallery on a fallen Douglas fir

Phleger Estate bench 10-2013

My Three-Week Trip Summed Up in Four Photos

I returned yesterday from my three-week vacation in Northern California and Oregon. I’ll share more details and photos soon, but for now these images capture the gist of how it went.

Prairie Creek tiny portrait 9-2013Tiny me in the company of giant redwoods

Tent wet in bags in car Prairie Creek 9-2013The mess of my tent after the first of 12 record-setting days of storms—one bag each for the soaked and muddy body, rainfly and ground cloth (yes, I headed indoors)

Crater Lake view with two trees in foreground 10-2013

Crater Lake with unusually early snowfall

Crater Lake government shutdown sign 10-2013

An interesting challenge for my travel plans

Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

Navigating an emotionally difficult transition, I knew today that it was time to head alone into the forest. An early arrival gave me a head start before the crowds that mob Muir Woods National Monument on a summer weekend.

I headed toward the TCC Trail in adjacent Mt. Tamalpais State Park, a largely untraveled path where I always have solitude. I hastened past the tourists over the pavement and boardwalk with my trekking poles tucked under my arm, until I heard the comforting sound of my boots on dirt. And began my walking meditation.

In traditional Buddhist practice, a simplified definition is that walking meditation cultivates mindfulness and awareness of the body and spirit through walking back and forth on a path of only a few yards. I have had powerful experiences walking just a few feet over and over. But today was about being expansive, covering more ground and deepening my practice.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn wrote: “In daily life, our steps are burdened with anxieties and fears. Life itself seems to be a continuous chain for insecure feelings, and so our steps lose their natural easiness. Our earth is truly beautiful. There is so much graceful, natural scenery along the paths and roads around the earth! … Do you know how many forest paths there are, paved with colorful leaves, offering cool and shade? They are all available to us, yet we cannot enjoy them because our hearts are not trouble-free, and our steps are not at ease. Walking meditation is learning to walk again with ease.”

I focused on walking with ease.

I was flooded with the thoughts of recent wounds that are tender. I let the thoughts and feelings come and go, intermingled with my accelerated pulse and quickened breathing as I headed up the steep slope. I opened to be mindful of where I was, listening to the calls of band-tailed pigeons, pileated woodpeckers, chickadees.

In a wave of sadness, I reached out to feel a redwood’s fibrous bark. Along the trail I stopped to pick up my first acorn of the year, still green and covered in fuzz, and was reminded of the evolving seasons of the heart.

Eight miles of beauty, acceptance and healing. The journey continues.

Thich Nhat Hahn’s quote is from his book The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation.

The Wisdom of Ancient Trees

The feel of soft duff beneath my shoes with each step. My pulse quickening as I ascend the winding trail. The sound of the creek as I descend. These are the familiar elements of my pilgrimage to a secret spot in the Santa Cruz Mountains. They are the constants through the things that change through the seasons: light and shadow, warm air and flowers at trail’s edge or chilly wet days with fungi all around. The creek a trickle over the lip of a drop-off or a full waterfall. I have walked this trail for more than 20 years now, leading to twin ancient redwoods.

I first discovered these two giant trees on a hike to a different destination with my housemate when I lived and worked at an outdoor school in the area. I just happened to look up, and the trees off-trail down the slope were so enormous and compelling that I had to stop. I didn’t know then how special this spot would be to me all these years.

Last weekend, I clambered down through the thick duff, moving aside a few branches of a redwood sapling, sinking into years’ worth of needles and rotting deadfall. I stepped carefully on a route that deer have apparently made their own as well, conscious to disturb things as little as possible. And arrived at the two giants growing about six feet apart, survivors from the days of logging that tower over all the second growth around them.

I nestled against one and faced the other. The bark is a landscape unto itself, with spider webs and lichen on the blackened fire scars and way up the brown trunk. There is no way to see through the canopy to the tops of the trees above me, but I love just looking up as far as I can.

The young tan oak growing between them was not there when I first visited. Now it is at least twice my height, and its narrow trunk provides a comfy footrest.

On this day the air was chilly but still. The creek downslope was low and not audible. I could hear the birds moving around. It’s acorn season and the acorn woodpeckers were busy, chattering in their family groups and hammering acorns into their granary trees for later in the season.

Wrapped in my warm layers, I visited with one tree, then the other. I leaned against the trunk, reached up and touched the bark beside me. I closed my eyes, opened them, closed them again. Here I have found strength from these enduring ancients when I could not muster my own. I have grieved here after the death of friends. Sometimes I have silently celebrated the miracle that I am alive on this earth and thanked the universe for that blessing, leaving rejuvenated and mindful of all I have to be grateful for. A few times, I have brought people I love, so they could also benefit from these twin trees’ wisdom.

I cannot explain the depth of my connection to this place, but it is home for me in a way that nowhere else is.

Trip Report, Part 6: Prairie Creek Redwoods

Officially surrendering to altitude sickness, I high-tailed it across the state. I spent five days living in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, the most spectacular old-growth redwood forest I know of. The park was saved in the 1920s, long before other redwood areas, so it has big tracts that have never been logged. With only about 3% of old-growth redwood forest remaining, you can find much of it here. I’d been here before but never had such a big chunk of time to explore.

It was quite the contrast going from the dry Great Basin at the base of the Sierras to the moist coastal forest. In the Buttermilks, I was slathering lotion on my hands several times a day to keep my skin from cracking. At Prairie Creek, I poured a little water on my tent fly to remove some bird scat and two days later the ground was still wet in that spot.

I was impressed by how far this park has come over the years in preventing wildlife from being habituated. When I first visited Prairie Creek many years ago, bears ran through the campground looking for food. This time, not even the Douglas squirrels or gray jays were habituated. Birds and squirrels were all around me at my campsite, but all were focused on their natural food of tree cones and elderberries.

Late September was the ideal time to visit. The weather was great and I had lots of solitude on the trail. It was the perfect place to spend my birthday, diving deep into the company of wise ancient trees.

I am awestruck every time by just how massive the ancient redwoods are. I felt like an elf there.

This shot gives little sense of scale, but this was an enormous grove of redwoods on the James Irvine Trail. To get a sense of its size, see the previous photo. In this picture, you can compare the trees to the trail and ferns below. I parked myself in a hollow here and just took it all in for a while. I felt so connected to everything that it seemed like I could easily have just dissolved into that spot.

And here are images that show the intricacies of what’s going on at a small scale.

I was struck by the contrast of the red undersides of the redwood sorrel against the green of the upper surface and the color of the fallen log.

Here’s a close-up of a redwood sorrel leaf and a forest inhabitant.

Redwood sorrel flower

Blue-bead lily

The cones of the Sitka spruce are delicate.These evergreen trees grow beside the redwoods.

I’m too lazy to learn the species of fungi, but here are a bunch that were interesting.

Trip Report, Part 5: Ancient Bristlecone Forest

I hardly know what to say here. Here I am, the professional writer, and words are not coming easily. I don’t know how to describe the feeling of this pilgrimage to the world’s oldest living beings, a longtime dream fulfilled. A number of the bristlecones in the White Mountains are nearly 5,000 years old.

I am sharing photos, but they don’t capture the tears in my eyes as I sat beneath the Patriarch Tree, a massive elder that is well over a thousand years old. In the words of PBS’s Nova website: “The Patriarch Tree is recognized as the largest bristlecone pine anywhere. Though only 41 feet tall, it is massive, with a fluted, multiple trunk 36 feet in circumference.”  Here is the view as I rested against its hard bark.

These photos were taken at Patriarch Grove at 11,000 feet. You can see why the dolomite of this range gives it the name of the White Mountains.

The bark of the bristlecones is beautiful. Here’s a close-up.

I was struck by the contrast of a slow-growing youngster. A ranger showed me the tree in the next photograph. Seen here beside a cone from a mature tree, this tiny sapling was four inches tall–and 10 years old.

You really have to want to get to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest area in the White Mountains. It is up a windy road in the middle of nothing before you reach the visitor center at 10,000 feet. This part is all paved. Then if you want to go to the Patriarch Grove at 11,000 feet–and of course I did–it’s a dirt road from there. That last part of the trip was extraordinary–I really understood the expression of feeling like I was on top of the world.

If you drove the 12 miles straight through it would be 45 minutes. But I took longer because the views were incredible. I stopped often to just stare, and to take a few photos of trees and lichens. At one point, a prairie falcon flew just above my car and scattered a flock of songbirds.

Here is a view of the landscape from the road, looking out over the bristlecone forest.

Here is a lovely snag (dead tree). Further down in the grove by the visitor center, there is a fallen tree that looks quite intact, but it’s been dated back to the 1600s. These trees barely decay. Mind-boggling.

Lichens on the rocks.