Expedition: June 2014

Bighorn Sheep

June 2014 before dawn (1)June 2014 dawnJune 2014 frameJune 2014 summitJune 2014 snow bankJune 2014 sheepIt has become a tradition with us to wake up before dawn (4:30 AM!) and drive up to the Patriarch Grove to see the sun rise. Nobody has to do it, but nobody opted out either. The sunrise we saw was the best yet.

Changes are afoot at the White Mountain Research Center; positive ones. They have actually lowered the rates they charge us for using the facility. The director was on the mountain during our visit, and we met him.
before dawn

We found the cold frame in good shape; the pump, battery and window vents still work after all this time on the mountain. We fertilized with some more sheep manure, watered it, and planted radishes, nasturtiums, and herbs.

Now that we’re experts on spiral grain in bristlecone pines (we published a paper in a peer reviewed academic journal on it this year!), we wondered if we could tackle the question of why some trees have purple female cones and some have green ones. We did a quick preliminary survey on the cone color of 100 trees on the Timberline Ancients Nature Trail and 100 more on the Cottonwood Basin Overlook Trail, both of which are located in the Patriarch Grove. On both trails, 86% of the trees have purple cones; the purple pigment is obviously the dominant trait. So what, though? Unlike spiral gain, nobody is arguing that the color of the cones offers any selective advantage. Unless we find a very different proportion of purple/green in the Schulman Grove (and I don’t think we will) there may be nothing more to say about it. We’ll see next trip.

Twelve of us of us climbed 14,000′ White Mountain Peak. What made this climb special were all the bighorn sheep on the peak. They were all over the place – never have we seen so many.

What we learned:

  • First-year female cones in bristlecone pines in the Patriarch Grove are purple on 86% of the trees. Trees with green ones are hard to find. The proportion of purple ones doesn’t vary within the grove.
  • Bighorn sheep will let you get surprisingly close. They see you, of course, but they aren’t particularly afraid since they know they can outrun you.