Date: August 12, 2016
Place: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Big Pine, California
Coordinates of Schulman Grove: 37.385581, -118.178912
Coordinates of Patriarch Grove: 37.527341, -118.198014
Length: Two 1/2 mile loops
* Altitude: 11,300 ft
The second phase of our family summer road trip was at the Eastern Sierra region. After a long day in which we spent a few annoying hours in traffic jams at South Lake Tahoe, hiked the beautiful Hope Valley Wildlife Area, drove down Monitor Pass, and took a dip in Buckeye Hot Springs, we ended up in the town of Bishop, the big city of Inyo County. We had big plans for the following day: to go up the White Mountains, hike at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, and hopefully see a Pinyon Jay - a bird that Papa Quail would very much love to add to his list of photographed sightings.
The first wildlife we saw there, however, was a golden-mantled squirrel that was hanging out right by the parking lot of the visitor center at the Schulman Grove.
|Rabbit Brush (Ericameria nauseous), near the Schulman Grove Education Center|
The naturalist told us a great deal about the bristlecone pines and their environment. He told us of dendrology - the science of timing past events and climate changes based on tree growth rings. He also told us of the bristlecone pine sex life, of which we found evidence growing on nearly every tree.
I listened closely to the talk. The chikas soon drifted off, looking at other things, and Papa Quail was soon off too - he saw some birds and followed them.
|Grey Flycatcher, Patriarch Grove|
|Cassie's Vireo, Schulman Grove|
|Uinta Chipmunk, Schulman Grove|
Like all other pines, the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine trees bear male and female cones on the same tree. The male cones are small and clustered at the end of the branch. They produce copious amounts of pollen and release it to be carried by the wind.
|2nd year female cones ofGreat Basin Bristlecone Pine|
The naturalist pointed at a small pine twig that was poking from the ground between some old cones. Papa Quail pointer his camera there too.
"This," said the naturalist, "is a 10 years old bristlecone pine."
I should probably add (for the benefit of scale) that the cones of this species are nowhere near the size of e sugar pine cone.
The talk took a while and it was nearly lunch time when it was over. At that point it was clear to us that we won't have the time to hike both the Schulman Grove and the higher, Patriarch Grove. So we de decided to pass on hiking the Schulman Grove again and drive right away to the Patriarch Grove.
The Road to the Patriarch Grove is a dirt road covered with loose sharp rocks. The naturalist warned us to drive slowly to avoid getting a flat tire. He told us that they get 2-3 of these each week.
|White Mountain - the road north to the Patriarch Grove|
There were also quite a few wildflowers in bloom along the road - mostly shrubs. We halted occasionally for Papa Quail to take a quick shot through a rolled-down window.
|Pine Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja applegatei)|
|Our hike on Cottonwood Overview Trail as captured by Papa Quail's GPS|
|White Mountain Buckwheat (Eriogonum gracilises)|
|Clokey's Fleabane (Erigeron clokeyi)|
|Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longavea)|
|Spike Fescue (Festuca kingii)|
To the northeast grew the rest of the grove - nicely spaced bristlecone pines, dark conifers dotting the pale earth of the mountain.
|Bristlecone Pine Forest|
Papa Quail immediately knew what that light was - a solar tower. With his zoomed photo image and the calculated direction and distance he was able to also identify which one. We were looking at the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project - a bombastic 'green' power plant that contributes most to the environment by incinerating unfortunate birds that fly through the mirror-focused sun-heated air around the tower.
|Crescent Dunes Solar Plant|
And these partially dead trees are very beautiful and impressive to look at.
As we made our way back to the parking lot I looked back at the hill. Such a beautiful and unique place it is. I hope to go back there again soon.
For a trail among the ancient trees it featured many much younger pines, all growing vigorously.
A few bird calls - and Papa Quail was off to follow the caller.
|Black-throated Grey Warbler, Patriarch Grove|
And as old as they may be, they are still reproductive, producing cones.
|1st ab 2nd year female cones|
|Ancient Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longavea)|
|Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis)|
|Alpine flames (Pyrrocoma apargioides)|
(And Papa Quail's niece wondered why did we have to hike the entire loop just to see the this tree when it is right by the car ... )
|The Patriarch (Pinus longavea)|
The rest of the family caught up with me and we all circled The Patriarch and admired it thoroughly, until one by one our little group dispelled and moved back toward the car.
Just as we were pulling out of the parking area Papa Quail noticed a mountain bluebird standing on a nearby dead tree.
The first time we've seen mountain bluebirds was on the White Mountains. We've seen them on several occasions since but here was an opportunity to finally get a good photo of this pretty bird.
|Mountain Bluebird, male|
|Mountain Bluebird, female|
One of the bonuses of mountain birding is that you also get to see the bird from above :-)
|Red-tailed Hawk, Juvenile|
|A view of the Sierra Nevada from the White Mountains|
|Desertsweet (Chameabatiaria millefolium)|
|Silvery Lupine (Lupinus argenteus)|
|Approaching the Schulman Grove of Great Basin Bristlecone Pines.|
|Soda Straw (Angelica lineariloba)|
The campground is at a considerably lower elevation than the bristlecone pine area. There are no bristlecone pines there, but the common Pinyon Pine-Utah Juniper community that is characteristic of the Great Basin mountain ranges.
On our first visit to the White Mountains we had camped there. Our elder chika was then the only chika and she was 18 months old. Papa Quail and I were busy pitching our tent, and when we finished and I turned to look at my daughter I found her standing by the nearest juniper and stuffing her mouth with its cones.
Needless to say I got panicked . But she didn't choke, and later I found out that juniper 'berries' aren't toxic. Still, it was a frightening experience.
|Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma)|
And it was there that we discovered that the jack that arrived with the car when it was brand new didn't really fit it. We had to get a rock underneath the jack to get the needed lift and even with that we had to dig some under the tire.
The whole ordeal took us over an hour, during which the chikas and even their cousins got into fights and ceaseless nagging. Needless to say by the time we were out of there on out spare tire we were all exhausted and not interested at all in chasing the pinyon jay any more.
|Pinyon Pine (Pinus monophylla)|
Many thanks to members of the Birding California group for their help in identifying the birds, and to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!