From a very limited base of experience, I'll do the best to
address the questions you raised. My comments won't resolve
anything, but hopefully will stimulate further discussion.
There are unquestionably numerous areas in the San Juans at 2 miles
above sea level or more with significant potential for big and/tall
trees. The watershed around 10,850-foot Wolf Creek Pass is a
certainty. It has already proven itself. The watershed around
10,910-foot Molas Divide just north of Coal Bank Pass is highly
likely. I expect Red 11,018-foot Mountain Pass between Silverton
and Ouray holds possibilities. I am curious about 11,361-foot
Slumgullion Pass in the eastern San Juans. These passes are all on
major roads. There are several other high altitude passes in the san
Juans reachable from Forest Service roads. The bottom line is that
there is abundant territory to cover that is fairly accessible and
then there are thousands of acres if really remote country. I'll
never see that country, unless I can reverse the process of aging,
but it is comforting to know that the places exist in pristine form.
Now to the second question. What about areas to the north,
particularly Wyoming? First let me generalize. I believe that
the absence or presence of trees in the Rockies reaching 130 feet in
height at 2 miles above sea level is tied primarily to four factors:
(1) the amount of moisture received during the growing season, (2)
the latitude, (3) the amount of high altitude country, and (4) the
number of species present capable of reaching into the higher
numbers. In the San Juans, the Colorado blue spruce and the
Englemann spruce are present at 2 miles above sea level and can
reach 130 feet. I'm unsure where the Douglas fir drops out. It
certainly can reach well above 130 where present in abundance. Two
miles up is above the altitude limit of the ponderosa. I don't think
that subalpine fir will make 130 feet. Maybe I'm wrong.
Let's now consider latitude. Timber line in central Wyoming is
between 10,000 and 10,500 feet and lower in northern Wyoming, so
there are no trees at 2 miles high by the time you reach northern
Wyoming. Farther north, of course the timber line continues to drop,
so the entire geographical region can be ruled out. In terms of
moisture, the San Juans receive a ton of winter snow that is
translated into a long spring runoff period. The amount of snow here
is truly impressive. Wolf Creek Pass holds the Colorado record for
the highest annual average snowfall and the greatest single year's
total. The pass received an unbelievable 837 inches of snow one
year. I've forgotten the year. In terms of averages, it is around
400 inches per year. I've seen higher numbers, but they may be ski
resort propaganda. Interestingly, August is the wettest period of
the spring and summer season. Traditionally May and Jume are dry,
but in most years, the high country continues to feed water to lower
elevations via snow melt. Finally, there is the acreage of high
altitude country to feed water to lower elevations. It wouldn't be
enough for a mountain range to top out at the 2 mile mark. There has
to be a lot of territory above 2 miles. In that department, as a
mountain range, the San Juans are #1 in the lower 48.
Now to another question. The other main species at the pass is
subalpine fir. If I had my thinking cap on, I could have probably
obtained a record for that species also. I didn't see in limber pine
there, a species I often expect to see at those altitudes.
Finally, t he tall spruce at Coal Bank Pass is part of a grove.
Large and tall spruce are more typically in groves than isolated
trees. The meadow trees I showed photos of were photogenic. So I
chose them as subjects. As in the East, the tall stuff out here
grows in the ravines where water and protection is most available.
Jess, I've attached two more photos to hopefully give you a sense
of the forest aspect near the pass. There is plenty of 'grove
habitat'. The terrain quickly gives way to meadows and above that
tundra, of course. But there is no shortage of stands.
P.S. Ed has done an excellent job of identifying high altitude
areas in the Rocky Mountain corridor that could break the 130.5-foot
record. The spot in southern New Mexico may be the best candidate.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Jess Riddle" <jess.rid...@gmail.com>
Sent: Saturday, June 27, 2009 3:40:56 PM GMT -05:00 US/Canada
Subject: [ENTS] Re: Coal Bank Pass Tree Treasures
I've enjoyed reading your accounts of your western
they have me wondering about the conditions that allow the trees to
reach such great heights for the elevation. That lack of any trees
comparable sites in Wyoming could largely be a result of Wyoming's
higher latitude, but how does Coal Bank Pass compare to similar
in the San Jauns? From your photos, all the big spruce appear to be
in meadows. Are there any large spruce in the more forested areas?
Are the large or tall trees restricted to certain topographic
positions? Do any other tree species occur at the pass? I'm
completely unfamiliar with forests in that part of the country, but
think learning about them could help shed light what factors are
locally important for trees becoming large versus what conditions
universal requirements for trees to approach their maximum