Tag Archives: Jeffrey pine

Bighorns at The Elbow

Last weekend (in late March), I drove east along the north edge of the Bodie Hills, following the well-graded forest road NF-028. The East Walker River flows east here between the Bodie Hills to the south and the Pine Grove Hills to the north. In a canyon at the edge of Fletcher Valley, the river makes a couple of sharp bends at a place called “The Elbow.” From here the river flows north toward Yerington.

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Desert Bighorn SheepI hardly expected to see four adult male desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni), but suddenly here they were, on a hillside below the grade called “Dead Ox Pitch”, jogging south toward a steep, rocky hillside. Had they been grazing in meadows near the river? Was this unusual? Has the very dry winter and 4-year drought forced them to visit areas they would usually avoid? Did they continue on into the Bodie Hills or return to the Pine Grove Hills? Apparently these animals are known to occur in the Pine Grove Hills. (If you’re a sheep biologist, please leave a comment!)

The Elbow from Dead Ox Pitch

The Elbow from Dead Ox Pitch

East Walker River at The Elbow

East Walker River at The Elbow


Another interesting view along NF-028: from where the road crests a hill just east of the paved highway (Nevada 338), you can look south across the valley of the East Walker into the bottom of Masonic Gulch. With binoculars, you can make out a stand of Jeffrey pine trees (Pinus jeffreyi), part of the largest stand in the Bodie Hills. It continues south in Masonic Gulch to about the California state line.

Jeffrey pines in Masonic Gulch

Jeffrey pines (at the bright circle) in Masonic Gulch

© Tim Messick 2015. All rights reserved.

Pines of the Bodie Hills

Four pine species are found in the Bodie Hills, but only only one is abundant. The other three occur in small areas of locally favorable habitat, hangers-on from a time centuries ago when the climate was wetter and cooler than now.

Single-leaf pinyon pine

Single-leaf pinyon pine

Single leaf pinyon (or piñon) (Pinus monophylla) is the abundant one. It’s common at low to mid elevations in the range, mostly below 8,200–8,400 feet, and occasionally up to 9,000 feet. Pinyon-juniper woodlands, typically with varying amounts of pinyon and Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) growing together, are common in a belt all the way around the range. Single leaf pinyon is common throughout much of the Great Basin, and it’s the tree for which the Pine Grove Hills (just north of the Bodie Hills) and the Pine Nut Mountains (east of Carson City) are named. The seeds of these beautiful trees were a staple food of indigenous peoples wherever pinyons grow, and are still harvested by today’s native Americans. Pinyon jays and other wildlife depend on these seeds for their survival.

From low elevations to high, the three less common pines are:

Pinus jeffreyi

Jeffrey pine

Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi) is abundant on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, especially between Mono Lake and Mammoth. In the Bodie Hills, it occurs in about two dozen very small stands in three areas: (1) the west-central Bodie Hills, mostly in and near Hot Springs Canyon, (2) the far north end of the Bodie Hills, with the largest stand in the Mineral County segment of lower Masonic Gulch, and (3) on the south side of east Brawley Peak. All of these stands are on or near soils derived from hydrothermally altered andesite (i.e., areas of ancient hot spring activity). These soils are lighter in color and more sparsely vegetated than adjacent soils, which are darker and often densely vegetated with sagebrush and pinyon pine.  The hydrothermally altered soils have lower pH, less calcium, and less phosphorus. This and the lack competing vegetation may enable Jeffrey pine to tolerate lower annual precipitation than where Jeffrey pines normally grow (Source: DeLucia et al. 1988. Water relations and the maintenance of Sierran conifers on hydrothermally altered rock. Ecology. 69(2): 303-311.)

Pinus contorta

Lodgepole pine

Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) is common throughout the Sierra Nevada and many other western mountain ranges. In the Bodie Hills it locally abundant at just one location: an unnamed canyon on the north side of East Brawley Peak than meets Bodie Creek (in Del Monte Canyon) about 1.7 driving miles northeast of the state line. (If you know a name for this canyon, please let me know!) The stand extends, almost continuously, from an elevation of 7,130 feet up to above 8,100 feet, almost to where the limber pines begin. A few other very small stands and even some isolated individuals can be found on north-facing slopes where snow melts late in the mid-portion of the range.

Pinus flexilis

Limber pine

Limber pine (Pinus flexilis) is common in the high Sierra Nevada on rocky ridges and scree slopes at treeline. In the Bodie Hills, however, limber pine is restricted to small populations on north-facing slopes on some of the highest summits in the range. The largest stand is on East Brawley Peak, extending from the summit, at 9,420 feet, down the north side to about 8,600 ft. Parts of this stand burned in the Spring Peak Fire of August, 2013. Two other stands are on Mt. Hicks and another summit just south of Mt. Hicks. A few scattered individuals survive on Bodie Mountain, at the edges of what in “normal” years should be a long-lasting snow bank on the north side of the summit. There may be another very small stand on a ridge north of Potato Peak—or they might be lodgepoles—either way, this site needs to be checked in the field.