06 July 2006 Thursday

We watched the wildlife at our camp this morning… a hummingbird is sitting on a nest in a tree. It’s nest is only slightly larger than a quarter!  So tiny!

A dark cloud on the horizon had us worried about the weather for our hike today.  On our way out, we stopped and photographed some of the “artwork” on the fence leading into the Visitor’s Center.  It’s mostly “Found Object” art and some of it quite funny.  

We checked out the weather and it’s the same all week- chance of afternoon thunder showers.  We’re heading up to do our hike to the glacier today and thru a grove of Bristlecone Pines.  We started our hike and a short way in, we ran into a ranger who helped us identify which ones were the Bristlecone Pines.  It’s helpful that at this sub-alpine elevation of 10,000 feet there are only four types of trees.  Aspens are deciduous and we had no trouble telling those apart.  The other three were conifers.  The Engleman Spruce had small paper-like cones.  The Limber Pines had larger cones with longer needles.  The Bristlecone Pines had very short, compact needles, like a bottle brush and the cones were very compact, have little spines on them and are a beautiful purple color when young.  Now that we can identify the different types, we saw some of the most beautiful trees!  They have dated some of the bristlecones as 3,000 to 4,000 years old!!  That’s twice as old as Christianity!  the oldest tree, Prometheus, was cut down in the 1960’s, legally, by someone studying the Bristlecones.  At the time it was cut, it was 4,600 years old and still alive.  They can date the trees by counting the tree rings, but because of the very dense wood of the Bristlecone Pines, some trees can stand for hundreds of years after they die.  We’ll see more Bristlecone Pines later when we visit the Schulman Grove.  

The ranger we talked to about the Bristlecones was going to Death Valley to work at Scotty’s Castle.  He was going to play one of the characters that “happens” to run into the tour.  We wish him luck, it sounds like a fun job.  

We went on up to the glacier.  I asked what made it a “glacier” and not just “snow”.  For it to be a glacier, it must have snow and ice year round and it has to move. We hiked up the glacial moraine (lots of loose rocks) about 2.3 miles to the base of the glacier.  It is a large snowfield in a bowl carved out of the mountain at 10,800 feet during the ice age.  We could see ripples in the snow where it has slowly moved down the mountain.  While we were there, we talked with Ed and Linda from California.  They told us about Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park.  We’ll have to see that when we are there.  While we were standing there, enjoying the view, we heard a small avalanche in the glacier.  We’re not going any further.  

We hiked back and continued the Alpine Lakes Loop trail, an additional 1+ mile, to Lake Teresa and Lake Selma.  These are two small lakes carved out by glaciers and filled with seasonal snowmelt and rain.  The dark clouds above are rumbling louder and it’s beginning to rain, so we head back to the car.  By the time we got to the car, the rain had turned to hail!  

We left Great Basin with a new appreciation for the park.  We expected to find more desert, but instead we found a living cave, Bristlecone Pines and a glacier!  This park is in the middle of nowhere, 200 miles from the nearest town of any size.  The coolest places are not always easy to get to.

We continued thru Nevada towards California, but we’re not going to make it tonight.  there’s lots of public land in Nevada, so we found a road that looked promising, a sign making a couple of creek trails.  Probably an off-roading area.  We went off the highway a little and found a road leading to a nice clearing with a picnic tale and a small stream.  While looking around, we found that someone had cleared all the cow (or elk) poop and piled it off to one side.  It looks like we found someone’s Fourth of July picnic area!  (The wayward marshmallow on a stick gave it away)  Someone has cleaned it up and taken care of this little site.  We will take good care of it for tonight.

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