Friday, September 20, 2013

The Jeffrey Pine tree

I can remember growing up and reading all about the Jeffrey Pine tree on the top of Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park.  The tree survived many lightning strikes during its lifetime.  In the early days, there used to be a parking lot near the base of the dome and all people had to do was to get out of their car, hike up the side of the gently sloping dome to get to the pine tree.

Sometime in the 60s, the National Park Service wised up and removed the  parking lot.  The formed a small pullout parking lot alongside the road, turning a 200 yard hike into about a mile and a half hike.  It reduced the number of visitors to the dome and probably added some years to the lifespan of the tree, but nothing could really save it from the ravages of the drought in 1978-79.  Sometime during that time period, it died.

I think I hiked to the top of the dome three times in the 60s and 70s before it died.  For whatever reason, I just fell in love with that tree and its surroundings.  I think one of the reasons I did, was because every time I went up there, the lighting was perfect.  Lots of clouds, yet blue sky poking out, the sun behind the clouds lent itself perfectly to the flat light needed to take good photos up there.  As you can see from the shot I took in the summer of 2000, the lighting wasn't the best, although the clouds were still in place.

Another reason the tree was special, was because of its tenacity for survival.  Jeffrey pine trees in a forest environment, usually will tower over 100 feet tall, but this one was about 15 feet at the most, stunted because of high winds and its exposure on the top of an 8000 foot dome.  I don't believe the park service even knows how many times it was hit by lightning over the course of its lifetime.  It had a very hard life, yet it endured.  That made the tree special, in my opinion.

In the summer of 1975 I took one of the best shots I've ever taken of that tree.  Later in the year, I processed the photo into a black and white image and used it as part of my final project for my photography class that I took in high school.  I got an A on the assignment and the instructor really loved what I had done with that one shot. I've framed the tree in a vintage frame and it hangs on the wall in my bedroom.  I love to wake up in the morning and look at the shot.  It's like looking at photo of an old friend when they were in their prime of live.

After I found out the tree had died, I avoided going up there.  In my heart, I knew it was dead, but I didn't want to see it, but in the summer of 2000, with my three kids in tow, we hiked out to Sentinel Dome and said goodbye to an old friend.  I've since read that a couple of years ago, the tree finally fell.  It was not much of a fall, being only 15 feet tall or so, but it was the final thing it did so many years after its death.  Once I get back to Yosemite again, I will make another pilgrimage up to the dome to pay my respects to a friend long since gone.  The view will be different, because the tree will be gone, but I will still take in the view and revel in the day.  It doesn't get much better that standing on the top of a dome in Yosemite National Park.


  1. That really is a cool story, Paul. And to see it in all stages of its life is wild. The photo of your film and the image is really nice, too.

    1. Thanks P.J. If all goes well, I'll be able to photograph the area again. Having been there enough times, I could probably log this virtual cache right now, but I'll wait until I get there again. What I really want to do when I get up there however, is to log this benchmark: The last time it was officially recovered was 1956, before I was born, so it would be really cool to log a recovery for the USGS on that one, since the setting has changed so much up there in the past 57 years.