The Trinity Alps

Celebrating 30 years of wilderness designation

In the 1930’s, 234,000 acres were set aside as the Salmon-Trinity Primitive Area. With the signing of the California Wilderness Act twenty years later much of the Trinity Alps was officially designated as wilderness. 26,510 acres were added in 2006 when the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Act was signed. The Trinity Alps now contain 525,477 acres—making it one of the largest wilderness areas in the state and twice as large as any other wilderness in the Klamath region. Because of its size, it can be thought of as containing several distinct regions. These regions are ecologically and geologically based on climate and rock type. The western half—known as the Green Alps—sees up to twice as much precipitation as the eastern half and are composed of much gentler mountains. The central granitic batholith defines the White Alps, a land of spires and glacially carved valleys with hanging lakes as a result. The eastern-most section is called the Red Alps because serpentine soils are
common.

This video is a collection of many years of exploration across this wilderness, and dedicated on John O. Sawyer who loved the Alps, and especially the trees, more than anyone I know.

The Siskiyou Wilderness

Celebrating 30 years of protection

Protected in 1984 and expanded in 2006, the Siskiyou Wilderness now preserves 182,802 acres of some of the most species-rich temperate coniferous forests in North America. This film is a collection of images from years of hiking and exploring this diverse landscape – dedicated to my son, Sylas Siskiyou Kauffmann.

Klamath Mountain Wilderness

In 1964 Congress passed The Wilderness Act in a nearly unanimous vote. Though the idea of wilderness was nothing new, its legalized preservation was. The act was meant to acknowledge and define the immediate and lasting benefits of protecting wild places—stating that land shall be set aside for “preservation and protection…so as to remain untrammeled…to retain primeval character…to only be affected by forces of nature…and to guarantee solitude…devoted to un-mechanized public purposes.” I quickly discovered these places were for me—a freedom-loving environmentalist who enjoys unconfined primeval recreation.

Conifer Country (2012)


Since first exploring the Siskiyou Wilderness in February of 2003, I became convinced that the Klamath Mountain wilderness areas contain some of the wildest and most rugged terrain in the contiguous United States. This is country that is often so steep, and thus spatially isolated, that there are places that have rarely–if ever–been visited by humans. The Klamath Mountains also hold one of the most species-rich temperate forest in North America–with nearly 3,500 taxa documented. The diversity is due to many factors, but in essence it represents a means to appreciate the wildness that has maintained across the numerous sub-ranges in the region. The variable topography, relatively stable climate, and varied soil types have offered (and continue to do so) a refuge for plants to persist or speciate. This is a phenomenon which I am cautiously optimistic will persist into the future, even as climates rapidly change to to human activity–I also beleive this to be true do to the wilderness that is preserved that will help to promote biodiversity. September 3rd, 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act – wilderness is a part of me as are these mountains.

The eleven wilderness areas within the Klamath Mountain Province

The eleven wilderness areas within the Klamath Mountain Province

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A Connecticut Migration

North America holds two of the most species-rich temperate forests in the world: those of the southern Appalachian and Klamath mountains. What do these locations have in common? Glaciers and seas did not completely cover them during the Cenozoic and the mountains were monadnocks, or islands above the plains, offering temperate refuges to plants and animals over time. Both locations have historically maintained a moderated climate. These areas are beyond the southern terminus of the enormous continental ice sheets of the Pleistocene. Some plants undoubtedly remained in these regions through historic climatic change, while other species repeatedly moved in as climate cooled and glaciers pushed southward and then moved out following glaciers northward. These dynamic fluctuations have cradled plant diversity in these two unique regions.

The current consequences of these historical patterns are that the Klamaths and southern Appalachians have grand floristic diversity, a concentration of endemic plants, and a fundamental importance to the forest floras of nearby regions (Whittaker 1960). Per unit area, the Klamath Mountains and the southern Appalachian Mountains hold more plant taxa than any others in North America. Plant genera such as Cornus (dogwoods), Asarum (wild ginger), and various conifers (Pinus, Abies, Thuja, Chamaecyparis) grow a continent apart while providing a comparative glimpse of an ancient flora.

-From Conifer Country

The Atlantic white-cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) and the Chester Cedar Swamp

My family and I made a Connecticut “migration” in July of 2014 to visit family near New York city. While I was looking forward to family time, I wondered if there could possibly be and natural, wild space anywhere near the largest population center in the country. A google search revealed that Connecticut does indeed have a few Natural Landmarks that preserve and celebrate the states geological and ecological heritage. I picked one to visit that was relatively close to our “home” as well as one that celebrates one of the most ancient lineages of plants on Earth – a conifer!

Chamaecyparis in North America.

Chamaecyparis in North America. Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) is geographically restricted to freshwater wetlands along the eastern coastal United States.

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Cory Peak Botanical and Geological Area

Original Publication DATE: 6/17/2014

There are celebrated regions of the Klamath Mountain–preserved and maintained for our enjoyment as monuments or wilderness–and there are others with little or no designation beyond National Forest land. How does the outdoor enthusiast find these little-known places? In the case of the isolated botanical areas of the Scott Mountain Crest, the main route in and out is on the Pacific Crest Trail.

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The Pacific Crest Trail contours the eastern ridgeline through the Cory Peak Botanical Area – shown here by Bull Lake – with the Trinity Alps in the background.

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Walker Ridge • McNab cypress

Original Publication DATE: 3/23/2014

Walker Ridge has been on my plant exploration list for many years–having repeatedly heard about the rare plants, serpentine landscape, and epic wildflower displays–it has also been proposed for designation as Serpentine National Park, as a radical approach to try to halt a major wind turbine project slated for the ridgeline. While I was excited to finally explore this place, my main motivation was to locate what has been called the largest stand of McNab cypress in the world. What I found was something entirely different.

Walker-Ridge

Looking north toward Walker Ridge from the access road.

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Foster and Lion Lake – Trinity Alps Wilderness

Original Publication DATE: 1/19/2014

Part two of whitebark pine negative reports in the Trinity Alps Wilderness

As mentioned in my last post, part of last summer’s whitebark pine conservation assessment and mapping project involved predicting location where the species might occur but was not yet documented. While I found success with some predictions, others turned into negative reports with “ground-truthing.” One negative report was in the Trinity Alps Wilderness around Stonewall Pass, another was in the Foster and Lion lakes region where I based my prediction on the significant landmass above 7,500′.

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Foxtail pine on granite, high above Coffee Creek in a summer thunderstorm.

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Stonewall Pass – the Red Alps

Original Publication DATE: 1/2/2014

Part of last summer’s whitebark pine conservation assessment and mapping project involved predicting location where the species might occur but had not yet been documented. While I found success with some predictions, others turned into negative reports with “ground-truthing.” One of these areas was in the Trinity Alps Wilderness around Stonewall Pass where I predicted WBP would occur because there is significant landmass above 7,500′.

The geology of the Stonewall Pass region is built from a majority of mafic and ultramafic rocks. Granite and Gibson peaks are themselves granite, but the remainder of the landscape is composed of serpentine, which makes survival difficult for many species. Interestingly, whitebark pine are found on the serpentine of the Scott-Trinity Mountains around China Peak and Mount Eddy, but it turns out they are absent from the Stonewall Pass serpentines. Whitebark’s absence on the granite of Gibson and Granite peak is most likely due to the size of the inhabitable area offered by the small granite plutons here as well as the increased competition from granite-loving species like mountain hemlock and Shasta fir.

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Foxtail pine on Middle Peak looking southeast toward Granite Peak.

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Timbered Crater – Lassen National Forest

Original Publication DATE: 8/13/2013

This place has been on my list to visit for some time now. Exploring the Medicine Lake Highlands at the end of a week of field work searching for whitebark pine (more coming soon on this one), I found myself close enough to justify a stop here on my return to HWY 299 and ultimately the coast. It is a difficult place to find in many ways, since signs are all but non-existent, but the extent of the Baker cypress groves (7,000+ acres!) make the trees easy enough to find with a small amount of adventure.

Timbered Crater is the type-locality for Baker cypress, an exotic location for relict vernal pools, and ultimately a crossroads for Cascade and Great Basin species. Read more by Todd Keeler-Wolf  in his Research Natural Area report. It is also recommended as a wilderness study area–probably because of the lava flows make penetrating road-building nearly impossible. Hopefully wilderness designation will come to fruition, especially since there aren’t too many topographically flat wilderness areas–anywhere.

What follows are a few pictures, tinged by drifting smoke from the Salmon River and Oregon fires.
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Two Baker cypress recolonizing a recent (<20 years) burn area in the Timbered Crater.

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Looking across the patchwork of vegetation types sculpted by frequent fire return intervals.

—–
COMMENT:
AUTHOR: Joyce Mary Mary
DATE: 8/13/2013 4:12:43 PM
Michael,
These pictures are great. You have chosen to live such an interesting life. You mother must be very proud of you!
With love and admiration, Mom
—–
COMMENT:
AUTHOR: Michael E. Kauffmann
DATE: 8/14/2013 2:18:41 PM
Aw, geez, thanks Mom.

Serpentines of the Salmon Creek-Mattole River Divide

Original Publication DATE: 1/19/2013

On the divide between the South Fork of the Eel River and Mattole River exists a place I had repeatedly mapped while creating the images for for Conifer Country. I knew there was a small patch of serpentine in this isolated location because of the occurrance of two tree species that are uncommmon on the North Coast outside of the Klamath Mountains proper. In the past I had asked regional ecologists about this location and the common response was “its is somewhere out near the Mattole River.” I knew that already, but how could I find the exact location?

The mystery was solved when Kyle and Dana Keegan, offered a “visit to the Salmon Creek watershed which is a tributary of the South Fork Eel. We have an especially unique diversity of plants and trees here due to a complex melange of geologic features with what we believe to be the largest, most westerly stand of Jeffrey Pine in the state, as well as vast stands of Incense Cedar. Kinda like an isolated westerly chunk of the Klamath Siskiyous–with it comes a whole host of serpentine endemics.”

Yes please…

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Kyle and Dana Keegan looking across the headwaters of the Mattole River.

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