Bristleconing: from Charleston to San Francisco

Original Publication DATE: 7/7/2012

Spring Mountain National Recreation Area

Rising from the lowlands at the edge of the Mojave and Great Basin deserts, the Spring Mountains are renowned for flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world. This endemism occurs because these mountains exhibit extreme vertical relief, temporal isolation, and a geographic position on the boundary of two deserts. Charleston Peak, the highest mountain in the range at nearly 12,000′, is a stark contrast to the desert 9,000′ below. Vertical relief is a barrier to migrations and, as a result, relict species have persisted and  new species have evolved. It is postulated that at least 25 species (15 vascular plants, 1 mammal, 9 invertebrates) are endemic to the Spring Mountains (Spring Mountain Conservation Agreement 1998).

Into the wilderness.

I chose to visit and get into the high country to experience what must be one of the most extensive stands of Bristlecone pine (Pinus longeava) anywhere. Blanketing the ridgelines above 9,500′, these trees are often quite large and picturesque–many shaped into massive single-trunked individuals. Optimal abiotic condition here have encouraged some of the largest specimens of this species on Earth.

The mixed-conifer forest at 9,500′ includes white fir (Abies concolor), limber pine (Pinus flexilis), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), common juniper (Juniperus communis), and bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva).
Common juniper (Juniperus communis) grows below and among the bristlecone pines with the Mummy’s Nose in the background.
The Palmer’s chipmunk, (Tamias palmeri) endemic to the Spring Mountains, prefers mixed-conifer and pinyon-juniper woodlands between 7,000 and 12,000 feet.
Bristlecone pine in the foreground and Mount Charleston (the rocky-bald) in the distance–bristlcones grow all along the extensive high-elevation ridgelines and plateaus.
Just glorious!
Bristlecones bristling.

San Francisco Peaks – Kachina Peaks Wilderness

The wilderness in the San Francisco Peaks is named for Hopi spirits called Kachinas. To the Hopi, a Kachina represents anything from the natural world or cosmos which is revered–from an element, to a feeling, to a location, to–for me on this trip–the Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine. These volcanic peaks, in Northern Arizona, are ~300 Miles as the crow flies from the Spring Mountains. In the highest reaches of the San Francisco Peaks grow Pinus aristata. We climbed into the Kachina Peaks Wilderness two days after visiting Pinus longaeva in the Spring Mountains and I celebrated my Kachinas and compared these two species which I consider the crowing jewels of the inter-mountain West.

Entering the wilderness.
A windswept Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine on the flanks of Humphrey’s Peak–with Mount Agassiz in the background.
Bulbous bases and distinctly furrowed bark with reddish-plates decorated the volcanic scree-slopes during the climb.
Needles and cone of the Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine.
View from the summit of Humphreys Peak looking toward Grand Canyon country.

World distribution of pines in the subsection Balfourianae–©Backcountry Press

AUTHOR: Gambolin’ Man
Excellent reportage, photos and gambolin’!