Los Padres National Forest – Ventana Wilderness
The Santa Lucia Mountains offer a magical landscape. Uplifted dramatically above the Pacific Ocean, sculpted by frequent fire return intervals throughout the Holocene, and decorated with interesting plants–the landscape tells stories reflected in deep time. Plants both evolutionarily new and old can be found across a variety of vegetation types. Steep north-facing mountainsides offer a rarity here: the absence of high-intensity fire. This happens because the steepness inhibits fuel loading in the understory. These cool microsites nurture two relict conifers–the Santa Lucia fir being one of the rarest firs in the world.
The Los Padres National Forest on the edge of the Ventana Wilderness.
Celebrating 50 years of wilderness designation
The Marble Mountain Wilderness contains the most solid chunk of protected land in northwest California. By walking into the center of its 241,744 acres, it is possible to be 15+ miles from any road and in some of the most visually stunning scenery in the state. In addition to 89 lakes, the wilderness contains several distinct sub ranges defined by the plutons of rock that formed them. Marble Mountain forms the northern section. It is the most dramatic peak in the wilderness, composed of metamorphosed limestone—marble—that has been uplifted. I first saw Marble Mountain after a summer storm and as the clouds broke I thought it was covered in snow—but all I was seeing was wet, white marble reflecting sunlight. Marble Mountain is visible from every prominent peak in the northern Klamath Mountains.
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
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.
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.
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
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′.
Foxtail pine on granite, high above Coffee Creek in a summer thunderstorm.
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.
Foxtail pine on Middle Peak looking southeast toward Granite Peak.
Original Post DATE: 2/10/2013
The internet is an amazing thing. It opens up lines of communication that were unheard of in the past. Case in point–I got an email from Richard Moore who lives in Callahan, California. He knows the Salmon-Trinity Mountains well, as he has been exploring them since he was a young boy in the early 50’s. It turns out that in the early 1980’s he discovered a small stand of western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) in the Russian Wilderness. He knew about the famous square mile wherein 17 conifers species had been found. He also figured the junipers he discovered were within–or at least very close to–that carefully shaped square mile. He had told John Sawyer in person about 2 years ago; but never relayed the location of the trees. John and I made the trek into Sugar Creek and I climbed to the ridge trying to predict where the juniper were – and missed them by a few hundred yards and a wall of granite. Now I was back to find the 18th Conifer in the Miracle Mile.
Turns out, in the summer of 2012 his brother bought him a copy of Conifer Country and he was re-inspired to try to get the word out about his discovery. He borrowed his son’s camera (which he readily admits to have taken some poor photos), put together a PDF with the pictures and GPS coordinates with the help of his son, and also got that file in an email to me. What we now have is the evidence (minus a specimen) of the newest addition to the botanical legacy of the Klamath Mountains. I plan to meet Richard this summer and collect some specimens for the Humboldt State University Herbarium. Below is the link to the file with photos and GPS coordinates that Richard sent to me.
Richard Moore collecting a specimen of Juniperus occidentalis in the Miracle Mile – the 18th conifer!
A list of conifers within the Miracle Mile:
- foxtail pine
- whitebark pine
- western white pine
- Jeffrey pine
- ponderosa pine
- lodgepole pine
- sugar pine
- white fir
- Shasta fir
- subalpine fir
- Engelmann spruce
- Brewer spruce
- mountain hemlock
- Pacific yew
- common juniper
- western juniper
Original Publication DATE: 8/3/2012
On average, air temperatures decrease 500 times faster over altitudinal gradients than latitudinal gradients in North America (MacAuthor 1972). So, for example, traveling 150 miles north in North America approximates a decrease in temperature comparable to gaining 1600 feet of altitude. (O’Donnell 2003). This also means that altitudinal vegetation zones in the mountains of North America are 500 times narrower than latitudinal zones–what is created in this climatic scenario are the quentessential microsites. But there are other factors at play in the temperate coastal environments of the Klamath Mountains. Altitudinal generalizations are often exaggerated to the untrained eye because as one climbs skyward a stark landscape appears as ancient ultramafic and mafic rocks become more common, and restrict plant growth. This nurtures the feeling of subalpine–even below 7,000′ at a latitude of 42o N.
Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi), serpentine ridgeline, and sunset…
The northern portion of the Siskiyou Wilderness represents an area of great botanical diversity resulting from its unique geographic position (proximity to the coast and extreme vertical relief) and complex and diverse geologic composition. Chester A. Ground (1972) identified 343 species of plants in 3 square miles around the mountain my college buddies and I decided to climb in late July 2012. Just like my childhood fictional hero Sam Gribley, we escaped to a place near and dear to my heart, and–though not for an entire winter–for enough time to share space and time with the unique and diverse biota of the Klamath Mountans. We were in for a treat as the weather was cool and clear, plants were in bloom, and wildlife was active.
Original Publication DATE: 10/27/2012
“Wilderness has a deceptive concreteness at first glance. The difficulty is that while the word is a noun it acts like an adjective. There is no specific material object that is wilderness. The term designates a quality ( as the ‘-ness’ suggests) that produces a certain mood or feeling in a given individual and, as a consequence, may be assigned by that person to specific place. Because of this subjectivity a universally acceptable definition of wilderness is elusive. One man’s wilderness may be another’s roadside picnic… Wilderness, in short, is so heavily freighted with meaning of a personal, symbolic, and changing kind as to resist easy definition.”
—Wilderness and the American Mind, Roderick Nash, third edition; pub. Yale Univ. Press, 1967.
Siskiyou Wilderness | fall 2012
My expectations for wilderness wavers too. As I sit at home with my creature comforts I hope that others are out enjoying the majesty of the wilds–connecting with the natural world and progressing as stewards. When my turn comes to plan a wilderness adventure, destinations are chosen based on where I will find solitude. This was the original, anthropocentric idea behind wilderness–a place that would retain primeval character and guarantee solitude. I am a proponent for more people visiting wilderness (walking in under their own power) so that they might have more authentic experiences in nature, care more, and develop a closer connection to the Earth.