Thursday, January 7, 2010

road trip anecdote, the bristlecone pines

In August 2009 we traveled up highway 395 to Reno Nevada and Lassen Volcanic National Park. On the way we made a slight detour for our first camp out of the trip. We started out from LA early in the morning so we were turning East off the 395 at Big Pine a bit before noon (even with some noodling around on the way for photo ops at Fossil Falls and Independence).

The road winds up hill for quite a few miles with very few guiding signs. We had to wonder if we were going the right way. At last we found Grandview campground at 6,000+ feet elevation. I liked this campground
in spite of some initial trouble finding a spot. It's what they call "undeveloped, dispersed" so there were dirt tracks leading this way and that into the juniper forest. There were pit toilets but that was it other than a flattish spot for a tent. The fire pits were just rock piles but that suited me fine. I could cook on a very small fire with the rocks piled to hold a pot, better than the metal fire rings that don't shield the fire from the wind. After lunch and setting up camp we drove the rest of the way up the mountain to the surreal Bristlecone Forest. These are some of the oldest known living things, and some trees here are more than 4,000 years old.

Even more altitude there, 10,000+ so we didn't
walk far (we got crazy winded). A short hike in the thin dry air wore us lowlanders out right away. The oldest of the trees are so weird and gnarled. The ones that bear the brunt of the harsh winter weather turn out to grow the slowest and thereby become the longest lived. In fact it is likely that they would grow even older if their shallow roots were not inevitably exposed by erosion. The very old ones eventually just tip over when they loose their footing.

We returned to our camp before sun down and had an early bed time for the next day's adventure. After the moon set that night we had a very nice dark sky.
I could see why Grandview is a favorite campsite for amateur astronomers. It was thrilling to look up during my brief foray out of the tent to empty the ol' bladder. It was cold. With no cloud cover and the dry, dry air the temperature dropped right off the thermometer after dark. In the morning we packed quickly and headed off for more sights of the Owens Valley.

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