Friday, February 22, 2008

La Jolla

It's easy to pass a weekend in La Jolla, where you can walk along the beach, see the sea lions lounging on the sand, have your pick of good restaurants, do some shopping, and enjoy the sea breezes.

I especially liked watching the sea lions, taking an nap en masse on the beach, soaking up the sun before going back out into the water. Their faces are sweet, and the apparent laziness reminds you of a certain kind of pet at home.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bristlecone Pines

A bristlecone pine shown against the stark desert-like background of the forest, and a shot of the smooth, wind-shaped bristlecone bark.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Located about 10,000 feet up in the White Mountains, about an hour outside of Bishop, California, the ancient bristlecone pines are the oldest living things on Earth. The oldest tree, nicknamed "Methusaleh," is over 4,700 years old, although there may be trees yet to be identified which are older. The trees' true age wasn't determined until the 1950s by biologist Edmund Schulman, who examined tree rings. A grove of the trees has been named in his honor at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Inyo National Forest. The bristlecones exist only in the White Mountains, a mountain range smaller and much drier than the Sierra Nevada. The lack of rain, the rocky soil (which looks more like decorative rock chips than soil), and intense cold all combine to limit the pines' growing season, and they may only grow a fraction of an inch per decade. High winds twist and polish the trees so that they usually have a stark, broken appearance with smooth bark of variations in color from white to brown to black.

Some of the trees are accessible by hiking trails through the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Inyo National Forest. Methusaleh's exact spot is concealed for its protection, but they are all mind-bogglingly old. They are fascinating, oddly beautiful trees in a dry, oddly beautiful desert-like forest. Snow may keep you out for part of the year, and it can be cold well into spring. Definitely worth a trip if you are in the area.