I have some odds and ends in inventory about bristlecone and foxtail sites, which I’m going to post up, mostly because I find the information rather interesting. Most dendrochronologists assume that the bristlecone/foxtail sites are far too remote to have experienced direct human effects. As far as I’m concerned, this is an assumption that needs to be proven. There was widespread mining activity in the American Southwest in the 19th century, evidenced now by ghost towns. The mines were nearly all underground mines, all of which use timber for roof support. This happens to be something that I know about. I’ll show examples in a couple of Colorado locations. My hunch is that many of the roads used by Graybill to reach the bristlecone sites were originally developed to access small 19th century mines. I’ll show some examples of this – there are some striking examples. There’s no special reason for starting with Cirque Peak. I’m not making big claims about this material, other than I find it interesting.
Cirque Peak (ca530) is a Graybill site foxtail pine site, which is a very strong contributor to the MBH98 PC1. The WDCP archive shows a sample location reported at 3627N, 11813W and 3505m (11,500 ft). Foxtails are inter-related with bristlecones – they are located in the Sierra Nevadas, while the bristlecones are in the White Mountains on the other side of I-395 on this map. A zoom-out showing the location of this detail is at sherpaguides.com here as Area 46 on the zoom-out map. A very detailed gazetteer of California locations is here. A map of California counties is here.
Cirque Peak is in Inyo County. The summit of Cirque Peak is at 362837N, 1181410W 3900 m (12900 ft), which is to the N and W of the sample location and which is presumably very close to Cirque Lake located at 362835N, 1181306W. The town of Lone Pine, indicated to be to the north of the map area, is at 363622N, 1180343W and is between (latitude) Cirque Peak and the next closest foxtail sites at Timber Gap (3627N) and (Flower Lake 3646N.) The South Fork of the Cottonwood Creek goes from near the location of the foxtails down to the Owens Valley.
Figure 1. Area Map showing location of Cirque Peak. Source: sherpaguides.com
Michael Bogan says the following about the foxtails:
Compared to other parts Sierra Nevada, the foxtail pine’s distribution is relatively unaffected by human activity. Over 75% of its distribution is within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and a good deal outside of that is found in National Forest Wilderness Areas (SNEP Science Team, 1996). Given the difficulty in access to foxtails, they have for the most part fallen outside the range of human impact.
One major exception to this was a period of logging in the East Sierras during the 1870’s. The Cerro Gordo mine, across Owens Valley from the Sierran foxtails near Cottonwood Creek, had completely exhausted the timber supply of the Inyo/Coso Range and thus set its eyes on the Sierras. In 1873 a sawmill was built in Cottonwood Canyon, [363753N 1171740W] and logging of lodgepole and foxtail pines began. Logs were sent down nearly 6000ft to the Owens Valley floor, burned in charcoal kilns, brought by boat across Owens Lake, and then brought up 4000ft to the Cerro Gordo smelters [363222N 1174727W] high in the Inyo Mountains. By 1893, however, the mill was defunct following a bust at the mine (Clark and Clark, 1987). Though the mining lasted a short period, its effects are readily seen today in stumps and downed logs near Cottonwood Creek. Foxtail pines forests do not regenerate quickly and thus are very vulnerable to disturbance.
The southern part of the Sierran foxtail’s distribution was also heavily grazed in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s causing permanent meadow damage, though possible effects of this period on foxtails have not been studied (Storey and Usinger, 1963). Much reduced intensity grazing continues today, but given the small number of cattle and their preference for meadows, foxtails are most likely not impacted. I have found no evidence of cattle presence in any foxtail pine forests as of yet, but they are present in meadows just below the foxtail forests near Cottonwood Creek (Bogan, personal observation). Reference: Storey, T.I. and Usinger, R.L. 1963. Sierra Nevada Natural History. Berkeley: UC Press. 374p.
We mentioned some references to high sheep grazing in the 19th century in our E&E article, which is a pretty interesting topic as far as I’m concerned, since 19th century sheep grazing is associated with a growth pulse for other trees (due to removal of grass competition). I’m not saying that this is proven for bristlecones, only that the effect has to be eliminated.
Cerro Gordo is located at 363222N 1174727W just to the east of I395. On the above map, the town of Bartlett on I-395 is at 362836N 1180148W.
The website ghosttowns.com says the following about Cerro Gordo:
Sometimes a serendipitous relationship exits between a ghost town and a modern city. Such is the case with Cerro Gordo, the "Fat Hill" silver mining city high in the Inyo Mountains of Owens Valley. "Cerro Gordo stands undisputedly as the Inyo County camp of greatest production," wrote historian W. A. Chalfant in The Story of Inyo. Credit for the silver discovery in 1865 is usually given to Pablo Flores and two other Mexicans. Some stories suggest mining activities long before Flores set foot on the mountain.
In any case, Cerro Gordo’s major development took place in the early 1870s ramrodded by Mortimer Belshaw and Victor Beaudry. By 1872, the camp was producing 100 to 150 83-pound bars of silver- lead each day. These bars, called "loaves" because of their resemblance to loaves of bread, were shipped in huge wagons to the nearest ocean port city, which happened to be Los Angeles. At the port, the silver was loaded onto ships that carried it to San Francisco and other destinations for final refining.
The wagons did not return empty to Cerro Gordo. They carried all manners of necessities, from building materials to liquor and food to the camp of several thousand inhabitants. The commerce caused the little town of Los Angeles to grow. With growth came a thirst that could only be quenched by a steady supply of water.
L. A.’s thirst was temporarily quenched in 1913 when William Mulholland completed an aqueduct bringing Owens Valley water into Los Angeles. The project, all 233 miles of it, was built between 1908 and 1913. It is still considered a marvel of 20- century engineering….
The famous "Yellow Grade" climbs over 5500 feet in 7.5 miles from Owens Valley to the townsite of Cerro Gordo.
You can see some interesting pictures of Cerro Gordo here.
UPDATE: Mar 30., 2005. Here is a diagram of the Cirque Peak ring width growth and site chronology. You’ll notice the different look of the "grass" diagram than for Polar Urals or Tornetrask because of the longer-lived trees. The red portion is the post-1980 results.