Pagosa Springs excursion , CO  (13) Robert Leverett
June 18, 2009


Today Monica and I headed toward Pagosa Springs, east of Durango, to hunt for worthy ponderosas, Doug firs, and blue spruce. Our destination was the Piedra River. We first went to the Piedra campground, a short drive off U.S. 160, but the best I could do was a Doug fir at the edge of the campground that tips the scales at 120.0 feet in height and 8.3 feet in girth (31.7" DBH). I left disappointed. We left and went up a Forest Service Rd paralleling the river. It is one lane with small pullouts. I didn't want to contend with pickup trucks, RV, etc. on a very narrow road so we turned around. I have a feeling I should have been more daring, but the big timber would likely be at least 10 miles up that drainage, if not farther. The Piedra will have to wait for another day. With the Piedra ruled out for the day, we didn't know where else to go, but the drive was very pleasant. Then on impulsewe decided to go up Forest Service Rd named First Notch Rd.It is pretty tame, but we did see several pretty spots. The forest is younger there and the general area has to contend with more drought than the Hermosa Creek region, which is an enormous drainage basin with ample protection and much more water from snow melt, and consequently big trees. 
The first tree I felt was worth documenting today was a ponderosa with the respectable dimensions of: height = 131.0 feet and girth = 8.3 feet (DBH=31.7")  The second tree was a beautiful Doug fir with dimensions: height = 132.5 feet and girth = 8.5 feet (DBH=32.5"). The ponderosa appeared to be around 175 years old, the Doug fir maybe 130, if that. 
The 3rd and last tree I measured today is just off U.S. 160 on County Rd 613. It is the youngest of the two ponderosas - maybe 150 years old. Its dimensions are: height = 133.0 feet, girth = 8.9 feet (DBH=34.0"). It is conspicuously taller than the other pines around it. 
All in all,  I didn't see any potential for 140s in this region - not until one gets back into bigger ridges and gulches Any exceptionally tall trees that might occur will likely be tucked back into well watered gulches and will be old. A few exceptions will be along water ways as isolated pines, but few will make it to 130.  

When on our excursions,  I am learning to spot the locations that are worth investigating from greater and greater distances. Monica and I don't have time to waste. We'll be heading back up the Hermosa Creek drainage on Monday the 22nd. I'm determined to add at least one more 150-footer to the list. 
A general observation that I'll offer at this time is that the ponderosas grow a little slower than the white pines in the East where conditions are favorable to both species. However, given enough growing time, the tallest ponderosas out here are capable of reaching to about 90% of the heights of the tallest great whites in the East. I think it takes big watersheds with lots of runoff from the high country and lots of forest protection from wind to produce the forest giants, so examining the terrain on a map before taking an excursion is time well spent. We'll see in time how well my crude model works. 
Images of the three trees I measured today follow. I apologize in advance for the pictures not being as good as they should be. Shooting a pine against a bright background guarantees that about all that will show up is its silhouette. The alternative is to shoot the trunk up close, which I do when it is a big tree. Not much point in shooting the lower trunk of a 30" DBH pine. 

Old Ponderosa on First Notch Road: 131.0 feet tall

Doug fir on First Notch Road: 132.5 feet tall


Ponderosa off County Rd 613: 133.0 feet tall


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