Hermosa Creek Ponderosas and Doug Firs, CO (6) Robert Leverett
June 13, 2009


Today Monica and I went up the Hermosa Creek Trail, which is located in the La Plata sub-range of the San Juans about 13 miles north of Durango. The Hermosa Creek area had been recommended to me by Laura Stransky, a Forest Service official and old growth expert. ENTS is in her debt. She obviously knew where to send us. Monica and I saw large, very old ponderosas and Doug firs, many in the 100 to 120-foot height range and 7 to 9-foot circumference range.   With a few in the 9 to 11-foot circumference range. One extremely old ponderosa measured 12.9 feet in circumference. It was the largest I found on the short trip. It had had a metal tag on it on the down hill side, so it may be in the Forest Service's data base. 

What do these trees look like?  The image below shows Monica next to another, more accessible very old ponderosa. Anyone care to guess its girth?

         As we went up the trail from the campground, at about 0.3 miles, I began to see individually tall ponderosas and Doug firs. I took a quick measurement of a fir with my Nikon Forestry  550 and got 116 feet. Not bad. It had a circumference of about 8.5 feet. But such dimensions didn't surprise me. However, farther up, in a ravine, I saw a tall looking ponderosa similar to the one I had measured near Treasure Falls on the way to Wolf Creek Pass. This one proved to be a very impressive 143.3 feet in height. I couldn't easily get to the tree, but I estimate its circumference at between 8.00 and 8.50 feet. The tall ponderosa got me psyched. I really wasn't expecting pines above 140. Then I saw a Doug fir that looked equally tall. It turned out to be 144.0 feet tall and measured 10.3 feet in circumference. At that point, I was really psyched. Then I spotted another tall ponderosa down in the ravine. I succeeded in getting a pretty good measurement of it. The pine turned out to be 149.0 feet tall! This is based on an average of 3 measurements (148.5, 149.0, and 149.5). Its circumference I estimated to be 9.5 feet. Still farther up the trail, I spotted a towering pine leaning slightly toward the down stream direction. The base was hard to see. I couldn't resist, so I climbed down to the pine through thickets of gambel oak. I succeeded in finding a good spot to measure it. Well, the pine turned out to be 152.5 feet in height! I think that exceeds the tallest ponderosa measured in the San Juans by the Forest Service. Its circumference is 9.1 feet. At that point, I couldn't believe that I was getting such heights on my first real excursion.

I shot a tall blue spruce at between 130 and 135 feet. I couldn't get a good fix on the base, but I didn't spend much time with the spruce because I spotted the tallest ponderosa I've ever seen. I am completely serious. After 3 solid measurements, I settled on 162.0 feet! Its circumference is 9.2 feet. This height exceeded my wildest expectation for the species in Colorado. But there is more. A Doug fir not far away looked equally tall. So, I spent a plenty of time with it as well. The Doug fir turns out to be 161.0 feet in height and 10.8 feet in circumference. Two 160-footers in a day! 

I intend to return to remeasure the trees using my two TruPulse hypsometers, the 200 and the 360, as well as the Forestry 550. These trees are too important to short change, or rely on a single instrument. I plan to invite a representative of the Forest Service to join me. I don't want them to think that I'm feeding them the tree equivalent of big fish stories. 

         We went on. At about the mile and a half spot on the trail, I measured another ponderosa at 143.0 feet and an estimated 8.5 feet in circumference. That was as far as Monica and I got. By that point the sky was looking ominous and Monica and had not brought along rain gear - foolish us. We turned around and headed back.

 There are areas we saw where the pines and firs top out at between 90 and about 110 feet. Then there are other small areas where there are clusters of trees between 115 and 125 feet with a few over 130. This is the primary story. The very tall pines reported above are the extreme exceptions, but who knows how many exceptions there are when you take the many watersheds of the San Juans. I can't think of a more beautiful area to search - albeit very rugged.

Tomorrow, Monica and I will choose another location and get more data. I want to hit as many spots as possible between now and when Monica and I return east. Oh yes, and tomorrow, I'll have my GPS with me. The need to get the coordinates of exceptional trees is a no-brainer. I obviously had my brain unplugged today, but I know exactly where the trees are and they aren't going anywhere. Maybe this auspicious measuring day will mark the start of the Rocky Mountain Native Tree Society (RMNTS) that Don Bertolette and I contemplated forming back around 2000. Neither of us had the time or opportunity. What a great place to launch the boat.


Some more images from Hermosa Creek, San Juans. The first is of the 152.5-foot ponderosa shown in the center of the photo, leaning a little to the left.

The next image is of the 162.0-footer. First tall tree to the right of center of the photo. I'm going to have to prove this one to the Forest Service. They aren't going to believe it until I do. 

The third shot is of another ancient ponderosa. The big ponderosas I saw today are between 9 and 11 feet in girth. Only one was larger at 12.9 feet around.

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