Saturday, August 10, 2013

Bristlecone and Glacier Trail, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Wheeler Circque and Peak, from Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive Viewpoint

The end of the hike will bring us to Wheeler Cirque, a glacier hollowed valley enclosed by sheer cliffs as shown in the above picture. Halfway of the hike, we will be passing the ancient bristlecone pine grove. The bristlecone pines are the oldest single living organisms known in the world.
An Ancient Bristlecone: Gnarled but Very Much Living the Testament of Life 

These ancient bristlecones have so much to tell us, having witnessed the rise and fall of civilizations, survived changing climates and persevered through major developments of world's history. They live several thousand years in the harshest conditions, a living testament that longevity is not so much about having all the luxuries of life, but it is about the will power to thrive in the harshest conditions. With gnarled limbs, they stand strong. Seeing their twisted and convoluted limbs, seeing them looking up to heavens, it was like hearing them whisper....."LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL AND SO MUCH WORTH LIVING!!" Despite their limbs may look bizarre from all the twisting and contortions, they are VERY BEAUTIFUL to me. How I wish I could sit there longer with them, to listen to their soft whispers about Earth's history and about how beautiful our life is TO LIVE.

Trailhead: Bristlecone Parking Area, which is the end of the 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and next to Wheeler Peak Campround, you can't miss it. 

Mileage: 4.6 miles round trip, 1100 ft elevation gain.

Let me bring you to the hike:
The start of the hike is in a thick forest of pines, and some aspens. There is a little stream running near the trailhead by the foot bridge. 
The first part (going to Bristlecone Grove) of the hike was relatively smooth and very gently goes uphill over a trail of dirt, stones and/or stone steps. After about a mile, the trees became more spread out, and we started seeing bristlecone pines.
First Exposed Area
Bristlecone Pine Grove
The bristlecone pines are three species of pine trees believed to live longer than any other known single organism with the Great Basin bristlecone pine specie to have lived the longest: over 5,000 years. They grow in scattered subalpine groves at high altitude in arid regions of the Western United States.
 Grove of Ancient Bristlecone Pines
Because bristlecone pines grow just below the tree line, where air is thin, temperature is cold, soil is dry, high winds constantly whipping vegetation,  and growing season is short, the bristlecone pines grow very slowly. It may be interesting to note that these very harsh conditions are what makes these bristlecone pines tough and live long.
Because they grow very slowly, their body becomes very dense that makes it resistant to insects, fungi, rot and erosion. Also, they thrive right below the tree line in the harshest conditions where vegetation is very sparse, limiting chances of wildfire. Birds may occasionally bring their seeds to lower elevations with much favorable conditions. There where the soil is richer and the environment friendlier, the bristlecones grow FASTER and MAY LOOK HEALTHIER  (without the magnificently twisted and convoluted forms). But deep within, their woods do not have the hardness and resilience to achieve the legendary age of several thousand years.
Going back to the trail, after reaching the Bristlecone Grove in about 1.4 miles and 600 ft ascent, there is a very short interpretive loop with some signs explaining the scientific significance of the trees, how they were dated, and how they survive in such harsh climate. There was also a park ranger at the time we were there to answer questions and explain more about these magnificent trees. The oldest one marked in the loop is 3200 years old and still looking very strong.
3200 year old bristlecone vs __?__ old human :)
The very old bristlecones, are not marked to protect the trees from vandals.
After the Bristlecone Interpretive Loop trail, we followed the signs towards the Rock Glacier trail. The trees became sparser and sparser, and the trail was mostly on loose rocks. From the interpretive loop, we have learned how to identify the bristlecone pines through their needles which grows in bunches of five. We used what we learned to look for bristlecones among the trees that we met in the trail to Rock Glacier. So happy we were each time to find bristlecone such as the one below.
Bristlecone and Wheeler Cirque in the background
Past the bristlecone pine grove, we had been walking on loose rocks which are glacial moraines. Because of the condition of the trail, where I needed more caution as I walked on those loose rocks, I put my camera inside my backpack to allow myself to walk more cautiously. The pictures below of the Wheeler Cirque were all taken by my cell phone since it was easier to take cell phone in and out of my pocket. 
Yellow Wildflowers lining the trail
Though it may look like everything is rock where we walked, but taking deeper look at those rocks were some of the  most beautiful bouquet of wildflowers so wonderfully arranged by nature. 
Bouquet of Wildflowers Along the Trail
Because of the very sparse vegetation going to the Wheeler Cirque, we now have the magnificent view of the rugged mountain peaks unobstructed by trees. Though it was 118F ( 47.7C) at the desert floor in the valley, but up  at the trail were snowfields for us to cross.
Panorama of Snowfield and Mountain Peaks
Raising the Hiking Poles to Cross the Snowfield :)
It was the first of July when we hiked here, so we could very well imagine that come winter, we may need our snow shoes (going up) and ski ( going down) to hike this trail. 
The foot of the glacier is at the sign "Rock Glacier", a little bit disappointed that we were not really seeing the "foot of the glacier" similar to what we saw in some other glaciers where we could really see the thick blue ice. However, unlike the many glaciers we saw in Alaska, Washington and California, Rock Glacier in Nevada is unique in such a way that most of it is now covered by those glacial moraines (rocks). Though we did not see the glacier underneath those rocks, but we heard it rumble from the melting ice underneath the Earth. When we heard it, we looked at each other and asked: "did you hear that?" and I was like, "yes, I heard the glacier cried!" And it will continue to cry as it continues to shape this land, eroding the mountains where the ancient bristlecones thrive.
On our way back to the trailhead, because we had such ample time, we hiked with a purpose of finding a baby bristlecone! We wished to find a baby bristlecone side by side with an ancient bristlecone, but we did not find one. Instead, we found a baby several feet away from an ancient bristlecone.
Petting the Baby Bristlecone (how old do you think this baby is? )
Look at hubby's adoring eyes on seeing the baby bristlecone. It may be the great great grandson/daughter of Prometheus, the oldest living tree known in the area and could have been the oldest living tree right now but sadly were cut to death for research purposes before this place became a National Park for preservation of these magnificent trees. How old do you think is the baby in the above picture? 
The baby we presume is perhaps at least 400 years old. With the very slow rate at which bristlecone grows, at 400 years old, they are just about knee high. Since that  baby was almost waist high, we presume it is older than 400 years old. How can a 400 year old be still a baby? Well, compare that to the middle bristlecone in the picture above, which is at least 3000 years old! And the oldest living bristlecones ( not identified) live for 5000+ years! Thus, a 400 year old bristlecone is still very much a baby compared to the length of time its great great grandparents lived!
Leaving the Bristlecone Grove Filled with so many happy and inspiring stories from the ancient bristlecone and the sad Rock Glacier :)

How I wished we could stay there til the sky is very dark for Milky Way and Bristlecone. However, we did not want to hike back to the trailhead in the very dark, thus, we just content ourselves with bristlecone and Milky Way in two separate pictures! 

What is my most favorite trail in this park? I must say it is this one, the Bristlecone and Glacier trail, for the legacy of the bristlecones brings so much hope and inspiration for me.
Oh Bristlecone Tree

Your trunks scoured and blasted away, 
Polished by ice and high winds 
Into shiny silvery gray surface
Your limbs twisted and contorted in unimaginable ways, 
yet, oh yet,
you live several thousands years! 

Oh Bristlecone Tree
   Your gnarled beauty speaks so loudly
of a living testament
that we are not strengthened by luxury
but by growing faith through adversity!
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  1. 3200 year old bristlecone vs ? old human photo has got to be my favorite in this series! why? because I dunno how old is the nature lover guy who together with you inspires me so much too! ...I also do not know how young is the baby bristlecone haha...whisper to me please hehe, love the bouquet of wildflowers! oh I see blue ones on the far right of the shot!! the poem is worth framing with the photo wonderwoman!!! :)
    P.S. on some sort of blogging break here because of my thesis proposals...but of course as always...your Joys of Simple Life give me the right smile to carry on....having a hard time writing factually hahaha...:)

  2. Parang nakakatakot tingnan ang bristlecone tree. Nakapilipit talaga. If only it could talk, it would tell of many things it has witnessed all these years.

  3. Trees do talk. They talk in such a way that we never know or understand.

    We can only imagine, imagine and imagine.

  4. Wow..these trees are just amazing and fantastic to see, Betchai! I'm just lost for words looking at your photos!

  5. Another set of lovely and inspiring photos from you ate. Yes, inspiring because they make me want to cancel all my to-do's for the whole year and try to get in touch with nature like you :)

  6. Oh it's nice to see you and Khai in some of the photos here. Say Hi to him for me please. Take care sis.

  7. It's nice to know some facts about Bristlecone. I never heard about it until I stumbled here. And it's amazing that they live for a very long time. Actually the crookedness of their body made them look more beautiful and attractive.

  8. Holly molly, those bristlecone has really seen its days. I wonder how old is the human? hehehe

  9. It's amazing that there are flowers around that area.

  10. Fantastic photos of bristlecone tree. Whah, I have featured it in one of my articles. Hanggang picture na lang ang paghanga ko. Someday..someday, I'll gonna see those great trees.

  11. It is like a contradiction of barren and green. It is nice to know that there are trees growing in the Nevada hinterland.

  12. I really like those twisted trees.

  13. Oh my word!!! Such beautiful place to hike and see contrasting vista. A hot dessert on the valley and a snowfield on top. God really has a way to tell us how beautiful his masterpieces are. I would love to see that place sis!

  14. Absolutely beautiful pictures and narrative, betchai. I felt like I was there all along with you. The bristle cone trees are indeed beautiful, love those twists! And, the baby one is so cute :) It's actually difficult to believe he's 400+, but I guess he's doing very well to look so much younger than his age ;)

  15. That is one amazing and exciting hike. Those trees really caught my attention. Their unique features made them even more interesting.

    Thanks for the another great hiking with you.

  16. I love all your photos specially the bouquet of flowers. I hope I was also there and seeing all beautiful creations up close.

  17. The Bristlecone trees are amazing and beautiful, lovely pictures and poem! :)

  18. That Ancient Bristlecone is so cool! A testament to life for sure. I am always amazed by Nature and it's will to survive.

  19. Gorgeous bristlecone trees. I can't imagine what is more beautiful. I am very fascinated by living subjects that are not harmful to earth or mankind.

  20. wow! such amazing creation of God! looking at those trees, I was taken right back to middle earth and I imagine Treebeard right there. I wish my family could someday visit there too. :)