Ancient Forests at the Skyline
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They exist equally as well on the margins of the West’s high, untamed landscapes as they do on the peripheries of our imaginations. They lead solitary lives often spanning 1,000 years or more.
Perched on the rugged edge of the skyline in the Rocky, Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains they survey wild nature at its finest: vertical, pristine, and free. They are Pinus albicaulis, the whitebark pine tree, a species as close to immortal as can be found on this earth.
The whitebark pine occupies a harsh and uncompromising world. Gale force winds bend its trunk and branches into twisted, tortured shapes. The tree’s thick roots reach far and deep in search of every available nutrient in the dry, rocky soils.
Whitebark pine are typically the highest elevation trees and are found on solitary perches, in open, park-like forests, and in mixed stands with other species of trees. In central Idaho, the characteristically round, squat trees are found at the tree line in every major mountain range.
The whitebark is perfectly suited for its harsh and high altitude surroundings, being both resilient and hardy. Small wonder people drawn to high, wild places find them so appealing.
Humans aren’t the only ones drawn to whitebark pine trees, however.