Having just fallen in love, so to speak, with the pinyon pine, I'm distressed to learn that the species may fall prey to "forest mortality" in the Southwest (as discussed a few weeks back here).
What can be done — if anything? Are these forests doomed, or — ?
With my young nephew Eli Huscher went back to the Walker Pass area of the PCT this past week to explore this question. I'm not a scientist and have no answers as of yet, but I think it's an important question.
I'll begin with a picture of the tree that inspired this new-found devotion. (The pinyon's not the most spectacular of trees — but in the harsh desert landscape of the Mojave, it's a hero.)
Okay, the rest of the pics I'll put below the fold — please enjoy!
Here's Eli, myself, and my old truck as we headed out.
Here's a photo of some of these trees near Walker Pass, in the mountains at about 5000, fifty or so miles northwest of the town of Mojave. A lot of them near the pass do not look well.
Heading south from Walker Pass, at about mile 645, the trail comes up to a mesa at 7000 feet, and tracks with a road used by motorcycles and ATVs. It's pretty bleak.
Eli found a couple of flags lying in the road — don't try to take these Americans' guns!
Sharing the road with the motorized — who were actually pretty considerate.
After five miles, at 641, the trail turns off the track and into a pinyon forest. At a higher elevation, and with a northern exposure, this forest looks a lot better than the pinyons near Walker Pass.
Really a lovely forest, lovely trail. Not as spectacular as a forest of redwoods, but no less loveable in the high desert environment.
And then a little higher — snow!
We camped at about 7000 feet — cold but clear.
In the morning — not so clear, a lot colder. Poles literally frozen in the ground.
Then it began to snow, which was great. Interestingly, all the pines on this substantial slope, at a higher elevation, with lots of snow, looked just fine. Could this be a refuge for the pinyon?
Snow and pinyon health: a connection?
Let me leave you with a haiku or two on walking in the snow in the high desert:
the creak and crunch of cold new snow
winter Walker Pass
a cloud comes to earth
in spinning nests of crystal ice
flakeing the PCT