Ancient Bristlecone Pines: The Past in Your Future
HIGHLIGHTS: Ancient Bristlecone Pines, beautiful “Twisted Forest Trail,” Cedar Breaks National Monument, family-friendly (not for toddlers), historic site, lessons in botany, beautiful wildflowers, breathtaking canyon scenery surrounding Nature’s own amphitheater.
by Donna M. Brown
A gypsy soul
WHAT: A breathtaking hike along the edge the Cedar Breaks National Monument Natural Amphitheater. This trail starts near the monument visitor center and will lead you on an adventure through a twisted forest featuring trees dating back 1,600 years.
“The Bristlecone Pine tree is considered the oldest living single organism in the world. Some of the trees date back nearly 4,500 years, around the same time pyramids were being built in Egypt!” according to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USDA FS).
A Forest Service website at www.fs.usda.gov says, “The key to these trees surviving to their remarkable age is their ability to survive in adverse growing conditions. Bristlecone Pine trees have the amazing ability to grow during favorable years and almost completely stop all growth during adverse years. Their slow growth makes their wood extremely dense which makes it resistant to insects, rot, and erosion. Many of them contain considerable amounts of dead wood that surround a thin lining of inner bark that sustains the living portion of the tree.”
WHERE: From downtown Cedar City, Utah, the Cedar Breaks National Monument Visitor Center is about 21.5 miles. Take State Route 14 to the east of Cedar for 17.9 miles. Take a left onto State Route 148. You will find the main entrance to the fee area about 3.5 miles from the turn. There, you will find one of the most beautiful natural amphitheaters in the world. At its widest point it is three miles across and 2,000 feet deep at its deepest point. It covers a a total of 9.617 square miles.
The Spectra Point Trail will lead you on a path to the past. The ancient pine trees have withstood the brutal elements typical of an elevation of 10,500 feet. Twisted roots, trunks and branches are testimonies of the harsh winds, heavy snows, raging waters and hot sun that helped shape the fascinating and miraculous spectacles surrounding these trees. The monument is surrounded by Dixie National Forest.
WHEN: The best time to visit this area is mid-June to mid-September. Due to the high elevation, the roads are generally closed during the winter. Daytime temperatures during the open season are about 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit/15.5-21 degrees Celsius. Afternoon and evening thunderstorms are a regular occurrence so be sure to watch the sky before taking off on the two-mile round-trip hike to Spectra Point.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: This trail is a great one for youth, but not very well suited to toddlers. The trail is fairly strenuous and the ground is uneven. Take plenty of water, sunscreen and wear sturdy hiking boots because there are many uneven portions of this trail. Be sure to stop at the visitor’s center before taking this trail to learn all about the geological wonders you will witness.
The entrance fee for Cedar Breaks is $4.00 per adult. Children under 16 are free. The pass is good for 7 days.
Past and Present Offer Fantastic Display in Summer
When planning your trip to Cedar Breaks, consider timing your visit to arrive in mid-July. That’s when the Native Wildflower Festival peaks throughout the national monument and surrounding forest. Please watch where you walk andhelp protect the awe-inspiring vegetation that spreads across the mountain in a display like no other. Fragrant flowers create a display in a rainbow of colors. The Spectra Point trail will give you an up-close and personal look at these beauties. Be sure to read the interpretive signs to increase your knowledge of local botany.
How fitting that the ancient trees, spires and pinnacles give way each year to ever-changing vegetation and new life as fleeting as the winds that wind sand around the cathedral walls shaping the timeless red spectacle to which thousands of people are attracted every year.