Monthly Archives: May 2013

Ancient Bristlecone Pines Under a Sky Full of Stars

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees, Pinus longaeva, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest

Ancient Bristlecone pine trees (Pinus longaeva) live in a relatively restricted area of eastern California, Nevada and Utah, typically at altitudes above 9500′. The ancient bristlecone pine tree is considered to be the world’s oldest species of tree (and indeed the world’s oldest sexually reproducing, nonclonal lifeform). A number of individual bristlecone pine trees are known to exceed 4000 years of age; the “Methuselah tree” in the Schulman grove was estimated to be 4838 years old in 2006. These extraordinarily hardy, gnarled and lonely trees are best seen in the White Mountains of the Inyo National Forest in California. The photograph below, along with some of my gallery of bristlecone pine tree photos, was taken on a clear night in the White Mountains with stars filling the sky above — a moving and serene experience indeed.

Ancient bristlecone pine trees at night, under a clear night sky full of stars, lit by a full moon, near Patriarch Grove.

Ancient bristlecone pine trees at night, under a clear night sky full of stars, lit by a full moon, near Patriarch Grove.

Ancient bristlecone pine trees live at extremely high altitudes. In some regions, the lower treeline for bristlecone pines exceeds the upper treeline for all other species. Bristlecone forests often occur in areas where there is a strong carbonate content (limestone, dolomite and/or marble). In these barren, remote mountain areas, exposure to constant wind, excessive sun and bitter cold has molded the trees into remarkably gnarled, twisted shapes that have captured the interest of photographers and artists for years.

The trees do not grow tall — 60′ is about the tallest — but tend to be girthy with a wide base and roots that splay outward in all directions. Ancient bristlecone pine trees grow very slowly, and pine needles are infrequently dropped with some living for 30 years. Pinus longaeva has evolved a few strategies that yield such a long lifespan. Their wood is extraordinarily dense, and full of resin, making it nearly impossible for invasive bacteria and insects (what few there are in that inhospitable climate) to bore into and damage the wood. Bristlecone pines also tolerate a gradual dieback of their bark, in such a way that old specimens may have only a small amount of living bark. While the tree may appear dead or nearly so, this is actually an advantage as it lessens the bulk of living material the root system and crown must support. In some old trees, a thin strip of bark a foot or less in size is enough to support a healthy specimen.

Ancient bristlecone wood is so resistant to decay, and occurs in such an arid and cold environment, that fallen pieces dating back 8000+ years have been found in some groves. These pieces have been used in the calibration of the radiocarbon time-dating method, a technique which is employed in a broad range of scientific disciplines.

Please see my gallery of ancient bristlecone pine tree photos. Thanks for looking!

Tufa and Stars, Mono Lake at Night

Mono Lake sees a crush of photographers at dawn and dusk, but in the middle of the night I expected to be alone here and indeed I was. I was really just scouting the tufas along the lake to find some good ones to photograph later in the summer, but made a few exposures while I was there and was happy with what my camera was able to record. This image depicts the northern arm of the Milky Way, the dimmer section opposite from the much brighter galactic center. Some green air glow can be seen as well, along with some distant air pollution along the horizon. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Mono Lake Tufa Towers and Stars at Night, Milky Way galaxy, Mono Lake, California

Mono Lake Tufa Towers and Stars at Night, Milky Way galaxy, Mono Lake, California

Milky Way Galaxy, Live Oak and Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park at Night

I have spent many evenings photographing the landscape and night sky at Joshua Tree National Park. The terrain is harsh and there are few trees other than Yucca and Joshua Tree. I did find one attractive live oak nestled up against some tall boulders, and made a point of photographing it when the Milky Way galaxy was high in the sky above it. This four image panorama, shot with the Nikon D800 and Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 lens, will print up to 100″ wide and 60″ and would make a great wall mural in your home or office! Cheers and thanks for looking.

Live Oak and Milky Way, rocks and stars, Joshua Tree National Park at night

Live Oak and Milky Way, rocks and stars, Joshua Tree National Park at night

Fire Wave and Milky Way, Stars at Night, Valley of Fire State Park Nevada

The Milky Way and Stars at Night over the Fire Wave in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The Fire Wave in Valley of Fire: an interesting striped expanse of sandstone, now commonly photographed. I wanted to make some uncommon images of the Fire Wave, so I set up my camera with an intervalometer to photograph it all night long. This image shows the Milky Way rising over the horizon with the Fire Wave in the foreground. Distant lights of Las Vegas and nearby urban communities can be seen but the sky above was surprising clear of light pollution. The Valley of Fire sure is a beautiful place! Cheers and thanks for looking!

The Fire Wave, a striped sandstone formation in Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, with the Milky Way rising above in the night sky.

The Fire Wave, a striped sandstone formation in Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, with the Milky Way rising above in the night sky.

Scripps Pier Perfect Solar Alignment at Sunset, La Jolla, California

Scripps Institution of Oceanography Research Pier in beautiful La Jolla, California, with the setting sun perfectly framed within the pier pilings.

This remarkable solar alignment occurs rarely, and is difficult to capture in a photograph since the weather is often overcast. This is what the perfect solar alignment through the SIO Pier pilings looks like — it is a spectacular sight! Contact me to inquire about a print for your home or office of this San Diego icon, captured at the peak moment of a rare celestial event. This image is available up to 54″ high x 36″ wide, presented on canvas, metal and traditional photographic substrates. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Scripps Pier Sunset Solar Alignment, the setting sun is framed perfectly within the pilings of Scripps Institution of Oceanography research pier, a rare event. Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, San Diego, California.

Scripps Pier Sunset Solar Alignment, the setting sun is framed perfectly within the pilings of Scripps Institution of Oceanography research pier, a rare event. Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, San Diego, California.

What does this image have to do with astrophotography? Well, the sun is a star, which makes this an astrophotograph, albeit one taken during the day which is unusual for landscape astrophotographs. Cheers and thanks for looking!