The adventure started out in an attempt to find the mythical Western Red Pine ended in not having access to the area, which will not be free of snow until about the fourth of July. But all was not in vain. After talking with a Park Ranger first he laughed when I told him where we wanted to go, he informed us that it was still covered in deep snow. When I told him what we were looking for, he summoned the National Forest Service Forester and assured us that she knew her trees.
A nice lady [Sir George was able to determine she was from New York, although she lost most of her eastern accent] and explained that we were looking for ‘Red Pine’. ‘Doesn’t exist out here!’ She said that it was Douglas fir [Psuedotsuga taxifolia] that people called red pine and didn’t know the difference. I explained to her that people now may have not known the difference, but the pioneers did and I sited some historic sources backing up my claim. At this point she realized that I probably knew what I was talking about.
Then she pointed out the 130 year old Black Willow [Salix nigra] trees across the street that were planted by the pioneers of that area and was originally brought from Nauvoo Illinois when they came west in the mid nineteenth century. She had a hardwood expert come in and evaluate the trees, at first skeptical when hearing of black willow that old, it wasn’t until he saw the trees that he believed that they were 130 years old. Black willow seldom survives over 100 years. The western climate seemed to be ideal for their long life.
By the time we left she said that she was going to start looking for Red Pine and will keep in touch. She also pointed out that while most of the people think the conifer forest are made up of pine trees, most of the ‘pine’ trees were actually Engelmann Spruce [Picea engelmannii]. She also said that while people call the other trees cedars they are all Junipers [Juniperus spp.]. She works with school groups, so hopefully in the future people may know the difference.
Speaking of pine she said they were hard to find and pointed out two Ponderosa pines [Pinus ponderosa] planted in the parking lot of the ranger station, to show people what the pines actually look like. She said that the only pines you could find in the remote areas are Bristlecone pines [Pinus aristata]. She pointed out on the map the remote location where they grow. So jokingly I said ‘well then you don’t mind if I cut some down?’ To wit she replied ‘if it standing dead and you have a $20.00 firewood permit you can cut down all you want if they are shorter than 4 feet. Longer pieces require a ‘pole permit’ which cost a bit more money.
I was flabbergasted at that comment thinking they were all protected, not the case here. She said that it is very remote and no one goes there but there are standing dead. She also described how I could identify those even if dead, they grow different in this area and are not as windblown as most Bristlecone pines in other areas show.
So when the weather improves we will venture forth again in search of both the mythical Red Pine and with a saw and ax the legendary Bristlecone Pine.