Saturday, October 6, 2012


In a post yesterday, I didn't state it explicitly, but the general transition from rainy western Oregon- west of the Cascade crest- to dry eastern Oregon is most easily noted in changes in the dominant trees in the area. At the crest, the dominant tree is Douglas fir (which isn't a true fir, and leads me on occasion to be confused about exactly how that name should be spelled). As you descend onto the East Side Apron, you generally encounter an interval dominated by ponderosa pine (though as I mentioned in yesterday's post, it's not well represented along Route 58), the central topic of this post. Out into the drier eastern foothills of the Cascades, wooded areas are dominated by lodgepole pine, much shorter, more spindly, and evolved to be burnt off once or twice a century. Still drier, and you lose trees almost entirely, and move into grasslands and sagebrush, with the occasional juniper sentinel. To a first time visitor, these transitions, especially as rapidly as they occur in central Oregon, are quite stunning. To one who's made that trip countless times, as I have, it's nice to be reminded from time to time just how unusual the experience is- though frankly, I've done those trips mostly with others, for the very purpose of showing them just these sorts of things, notably the geology and how it affects everything around it, so I don't really need to be reminded.

I live in sort of a boundary area between Douglas fir temperate rain forest and the oak-grassland savannah of the Willamette Valley floor, so Doug fir forests, while they can be spectacular (and good old-growth forest trees can impose a kind of holy awe, like walking into a cathedral) are kind of old hat. I don't care much for lodgepole pine forests. The High Desert has a certain magic, but they can leave one feeling exposed and vulnerable. The best way to explain it is that I love the desert, but like big cities, in limited doses: no more than a week or so at a time.

But I can't get enough of ponderosa pine forests. The crackle-cookie appearance of the bark. The open, sparsely vegetated forest floor. The consistent size and heights of the stems- like columns in classic architecture. Stick your nose up to the trunk and inhale... smell the butterscotch? Some say vanilla, some say it varies from tree to tree, and some, sadly, don't seem to perceive an odor. But it's there, and it smells sweet, like cookies or candy. The deep duff of needles, muffling sounds, softening your footsteps.

There's no doubt, a ponderosa forest is nothing short of magical.

On our trip last summer, Dana, Intrepid Companion and I stopped and visited a very special ponderosa pine, near the aptly named town of LaPine, in central Oregon, at the equally aptly named LaPine State Park. I daresay the title of this post says enough, but despite the risk of being repetitious, I'll say it again: this is not a ponderosa, it's a Ponderosa!
 Yes, it is. A very big tree.
 This is another one of those situations where photos don't help you get a sense of scale.
 And a fence- quite reasonably- keeps visitors from sniffing this particular individual.
 The numbers are pretty damned impressive too.
Standing near the bank of the Deschutes River, looking back.

More numbers. It's hard to imagine this tree being substantially taller, but apparently it was not too long ago.
 Finally, A couple views over and along the Deschutes River...
LaPine State Park has a decent campground, typically isn't as crazy busy as campgrounds in Newberry Volcanic Monument- which isn't exactly "across the street," but is still only a short drive from here, probably about half an hour or less. And this Ponderosa! is a must-see giant among trees.

Followup: I was looking around the FlashEarth link after I finished this post... you might have noticed there's a very nice oxbow just to the east/downstream of the Big Tree. But the river gets very confused just a bit more down stream. Interesting to consider how this thing will eventually sort itself out.

1 comment:

Garry Hayes said...

Kind of funny; we come from totally different regions, but I have the same odd preference for ponderosa/jeffrey pine forests. Fir/spruce forests are too closed in, and pinon-juniper woodlands, while fondly remembered from my youth, are too sparse. In southern California, I was not really "in the mountains" until I got to the ponderosas.

Oh, and that tree at LaPine is huge!