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Merrit Forest State Preserve

Last month I took advantage of the unusually warm weather and went to northeast Iowa to look for and measure big trees. Saturday January 8th I met District Forester Bruce Blair and we spent the day in White Pine Hollow, a state preserve in Dubuque County Iowa. I will give a report on what we found there in another post. Sunday I went to Merrit Forest State Preserve, which is another great place to see tall old trees.

Merrit Forest is a twenty acre tract of virgin forest which is located only about three miles from the Mississippi River in Clayton County, Iowa. Clayton County is also where I found the national champion calliber black ash. I had only visited Merrit Forest once before in April of 2011. At that time Bruce Blair and I covered most of merrit but we only had time to measure a couple of trees. We measured what appeared to be the biggest red oak and the biggest bitternut hickory. The red oak had these dimensions, circ. 12'8.5', height 115.6', spread 82.5' for 289 total points. We determined the bitternut had these dimensions, circ. 6'6", height 113', spread 61' for 210 total points. The red oak was impressive and it surpassed the previously tallest known red oak in Iowa by 1.6'. The bitternut though was in a class by its self. There are plenty of open grown trees with larger trunks but this one was 22' taller than anything else I had ever measured in Iowa!

On January 8th, I had enough time to do a more thorough inventory of Merrit. The tree species in Merrit are much like you would find in other forests in this part of the country. There are numerous sugar maples (possibly black maples) red oaks, basswoods and white oaks with lesser numbers of walnuts, red elms and hophornbeam. I'm sure I'm omitting some species since I was concentrating on the tallest trees. One species that I remember being scarce was white ash. I only remember seeing two white ash and both were dead. One of the dead white ash was worth noting. It had blown down but it was mostly intact so I was able to stand by the ends of what would have been the top most twigs and with my range finder shoot to the base. I was getting a reading of 37/38 yards, which coverts to between 112' and 113'. Even if the actual height was somewhat less it would have been a new height record for Iowa.

Here is a list of the trees I was able to measure on January 8th 2012:

Species Circumference Height Spread Total Points

Sugar Maple 11' 94.5' 71' 243.3
Sugar Maple 10'5" 103' 55' 243.5
Basswood 9'8" 101.1' 62' 232.6
white oak 9'9.5" 108' 64.5' 241.6
Bitternut Hickory 6'6" 117' 61' 214
Red Elm 8'2.5" 113' 55.5' 225.4

I measured the height of the tall bitternut hickory again, but from a different side and I was able to get a clean look at the obvious highest twig. I remeasured this tree because I was afraid I had made a mistake. I could hardly believe there was a bitternut hickory in Iowa with a height of 113'. Instead of reducing the height it turned out to be 4' taller! That makes it 26' taller than the former tallest bitternut hickory in Iowa!

If you ever visit Merrit Forest please make sure there is no mud on your boots that could introduce garlic mustard to this pristine site.

Mark Rouw (Iowa Big Tree Guy)
by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Sun Feb 12, 2012 4:30 pm
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White Pines of Clermont, IA

The white pines at Clermont are planted but impressive none the less. There are actually two seperate groves of exceptional white pines in the vicinity of Clermont, Iowa, located in Fayette County in northeast Iowa. I had known about both groves since 1986 but I only measured trees at one of the sites until fairly recently.

On December 6th 1986, I was out hunting for big trees in eastern Iowa. I was working my way north along the Mississippi River, checking out cemeteries and old towns along the way. It was getting late so I started looking for a motel. It wasn't the best timing on my part because the next day was the opening day of the deer hunting season. Every motel where I stopped to inqure about a room gave me the same answer, we're all filled up. It was cold and I had no place to spend the night!

I continued north along the river and finally decided to park on the street in Bellview, Iowa, to spend the night in my Volkswagon Dasher. At least I did have some blankets and a sleeping bag. The Dasher was a hatch back and with the back seats down there was almost room for me to lie with my feet in one corner and my head at the opposite corner. I'm one of those people who are always cold unless it is above 70 degres F. Even then I would be cold without a heavy sweatshirt. With that in mind you can sympathize with the situation I was facing. After a very long cold night I was sure it must have been morning but it was still dark. When I finally tried to push up the hatch above my head it seemed very heavy. After opening the hatch several inches it became clear why it was so dark and why the hatch was so heavy. It had snowed several inches of heavy wet snow over night. When I was opening the hatch there was a person walking by who was undoubtedly very surprised by what he was seeing.

I left Bellview and continued north looking for big trees. Eventually I found myself in Clermont. As a big tree hunter one of the first places I check is the cemeteries. At the east edge of town I found a wonderful place called Saint Peter's Catholic Cemetery. Some might not consider this a grove of white pines but it is a fairly large cemetery and much of the perimeter is lined by big white pines. These were the biggest white pines I had ever seen and they were covered with a layer of fresh snow. There were so many big white pines I didn't know where to start but I did get what I believed to be the biggest ones measured. My excitement from the beauty and great size of the trees helped to keep my mind off of my very cold fingers.

I measured perhaps five of the pines before it was time to head for home. The largest one had these dimensions:
circ. 11' 5", height 95', spread 55'. I have been been back to update the dimensions of some of the pines a couple of times over the the years and a few of the biggest ones have been lost in storms. Here are the dimensions of three of the largest remaining pines in Saint Peter's Catholic cemetery.

Date Circumference Height Spread Total Points Remarks

12-07-1986 11'5" 95' 55' 246 These first two measurements are of the same tree.
4-10-2009 13'3" 118' 60.5' 293 This is an increase of 47 points over 21 growing seasons.

3-25-2011 11'3" 100' 65.5' 251

3-25-2011 10'4" 105' 51' 242

The largest white pine in Saint Peter's Cemetery is now the state champion! The second white pine is the 14th largest and the third largest tree ranks as the 29th largest white pine in Iowa.

Now for the second grove of white pines at Clermont. Just one mile northeast of town is a place called Montauk. This area is owned by the State Historical Society of Iowa. On the site is a mansion that the twelfth govenor of Iowa had built in 1874. The mansion is impressive and is the main attraction for most of the tourists that come to Montauk. For me the attraction is the extensive conifer planting that appears to be as old as the mansion. Most of the trees are white pines, but there are some other species including Norway spruce, and arborvitae. There used to be several rows of large old red pines but they must have died because they are now gone.

The white pines you first notice stand on high ground north of the mansion. They are fairly impressive but because they grow on an exposed site they have contorted tops and they were not able to reach their height potential. I'm sure some are probably over 90' tall but they aren't priority trees.
On a visit May 2nd, 2010, I decided to explore more of the grounds. The pine planting continues to the west and the ground slopes downhill. I wandered through the planting with anticipation because the further downhill I went the taller the pines became. I took some rough measurements of some of the trees and it looked like some were over 110'. I continued to the far west edge of the grove and some trees appeared to be reaching heights in the neighborhood of 120'. From there I headed north along a valley at the west edge of the planting. The trunks weren't too impressive with most of them under 8' in circumference but there were lots of tall pines. At the northwest corner of the planting there was another valley running east and west. I followed the the north edge of the grove uphill to the east. Even though I was gaining elevation the trees here were not only somewhat protected from south winds they also had some protection from southwest winds. I studied every pine that looked tall and then I saw one that stood out from the rest.

At this time I was just learning how to use the ENTS method of measuring tree heights. I came up with a height of 140'! I could hardly believe this height. If this was correct this would be the tallest known tree in Iowa! A short distance uphill to the east was a 134' pine that had suffered a severe lightning strike. This was a painful reminder of what could happen at any time to the tallest tree. I was reluctant to report this find because I was concerned that I may have made a mistake and I didn't wan't to overstate the height.

On March 25th, 2011, I returned to Montauk with more ENTS tree measuring experience under my belt. Because of the sloping ground, combined with a slight difference in the distance away from the tree on the two measurements, I was off slightly on my first attempt. This time I took the variables into account and found the height to be 144.6'! So much for my concerns about overstating the height. Here are the dimensions of the two white pines at Montauk for which I have complete measerments:

Circumference Height Spread Total Points

8'11" 134' 35.5' 250

8' 144.6' 36.5' 250

Mark Rouw
Iowa Big Tree Guy
by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Sun Feb 12, 2012 11:57 pm
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Re: Iowa Big Tree Guy Conquers Colorado

Report on 2013 Colorado Big Tree Trip

Preparing for a trip to Colorado is always a hectic time but this time was the worst ever. I was very busy and had many last minute things to finish up before I could get started. I finally left Saturday (July 20th) morning at 9:30. I had hoped to leave sometime Friday but that opportunity disappeared. I owe a big thanks to my wife Rita for getting all of my food ready and generally helping to get me organized.

To keep expenses as low as possible, I brought all my food with me and I camped. I spent the first night at a campground just off of the interstate at Ft. Morgan Co. I didn't get much sleep because I could hear every truck down shifting on the exit ramp. My second night was spent at the West Fork Campground south of Wolf Creek Pass. This is about a mile and a half from the old campground that I used to stay at while in this area. The old campground was nestled in among very tall blue spruce. A forester told me the campground was moved because the blue spruce were falling (due to a root fungus?).

It was near this old campground that I made an amazing find many years ago. In the adjacent San Juan National Forest I found and measured the most impressive blue spruce I have ever seen. I was very anxious to update measurements on this tree but when I tried to find it, I was disappointed to find the tree was down. The dimensions of this tree can be found later in this post.

After very little sleep, the next morning I did some looking around the area and found another big blue spruce. This tree was bigger on points but at only 133’ tall, it was twenty feet shy of my old lost friend. Dimensions of this tree are included in the list below.

I didn’t make it to the campground at the Hermosa Creek Trailhead until Monday afternoon. Later I met up with Sandy Young, who is an outfitter. She showed me a very impressive stand of aspens. The biggest ones had a girth of about 6’8”. I only measured the height of one and found it to be 105.7’. Tuesday morning, after a sleepless night, I met with Bob and Monica Leverett and two foresters, Laurie and Laura (retired forester). This was a special time, finally being able to meet Bob and seeing the Hermosa Creek Trail that I had been wanting to see for about fifteen years!

I was all set to hike the Hermosa Trail many years ago but I was under the impression that the big trees were ten miles from the trailhead. I was having some trouble with my ankle at that time and I decided I better not attempt a twenty mile hike. Boy was I misinformed. There are several great trees within one mile of the trailhead! Bob was going to determine the volume of the Larry Tucei Pine and I was busy just looking at all of the great trees. While Bob was busy modeling the big pine I went a little further ahead. A few hundered yards down the trail along Jones Creek I measured a blue spruce at over 150’. Later Bob confirmed it to be in the 150’ club.

I attempted to get a good nights rest because the next morning I was going on an expedition to measure a supposed huge Douglas-fir. I had made arrangements to be taken to the tree by Sandy Young. Accompanying Sandy and me was a Durango resident Neil Bourjaily. Sandy and Neil were smart, they road horses. I walked the entire 15.4 miles! Before reaching the big Doug-fir we went through an open bench that contained a very impressive ponderosa. This tree stands alone in the open and it is very tall. I thought it would be even taller but it still reached a height of 147.6’!

Past Dutch Creek on another bench stands the tree that was our quest for the day. Sometimes there is so much build up to a big tree that the actual tree is a disappointment. That was not the case this time. From my first glimpse of the big Douglas-fir it looked very big and as I approached the tree it only gained impressiveness. I was saying to myself, is it really as big as it looks? With much anticipation, I hooked the tape on the trunk and walked all the way around. I could hardly believe my eyes. The tape read 17’! I was hoping it would be big but I never dreamed it would be that big.

The tree starts out with a nice single trunk but it divides into two main leaders at perhaps 60’ up. I took four measurements and after calculating the results I’m still left wondering. From the ground the differences in the high points don’t appear to be that great but after calculating the results I found quite a discrepancy between the two leaders. I found the two points I measured on one leader to be 152.9’ and 146.3’. The other leader produced a height of 163 and another height that seems too great to believe. My last measurement taken up slope from the base turned out to be 169.6’! Since this height is considerably greater than anything else that has been documented in the area, I would prefer to use the height of 163’, just in case I made an error on the higher measurement. I hope next year we can go back and my measurements can be confirmed by other NTS members.

We went as far as Elk Creek before heading out and on the way back I measured a very tall ponderosa pine. If my measurements are on target this tree has a height of 160’! I only took one measurement and the base was quite obscured so I hesitate to say for certain it is in the elite 160’ club. Hopefully this tree can be confirmed next year as well. I didn’t get a trunk circumference but the best feature of this pine was its height.

Before getting back to the trailhead it was threatening rain. When the rain finally came it was substantial at least for a while. Sandy and Neal had nice rain coats. I was prepared too. I had a cheap poncho along for just such an emergency. Unfortunately in my time of need the poncho was no where to be found! I got very wet and cold but luckily we were not much more than a mile from the trailhead. In an attempt to keep from getting soaked and to try and keep warm I put on my sweatshirt and my fleece. All of the layers got soaked but it did help keep me warmer. By the time I reached my tent it was dark and it was good to get dried off.

You would think after a day like I just had I would have slept well but again I slept very little. Part of the problem at the Hermosa Creek Trailhead was my camping neighbor. After hours of lying awake I would finally fall asleep only to be awakened at times like 4:00 and 5:00 AM. I might have been able to continue sleeping except his car had a hole in the exhaust system and it was very loud! One early morning he just let his car run for a half hour. I then had a hard time getting back to sleep and by the time I did, it was time to get up.

I didn’t get a lot accomplished on Thursday. For some reason I was a little bit tired. I spent much of my time playing phone tag with Bob and some foresters. At least I would finally be able to get a good nights rest. At least that was what I was hoping for. Once again I couldn’t get to sleep until it was about time to get up.

Friday morning I met Bob and Monica for breakfast at Carvers in Durango. They treated me to a meal and were then kind enough to let me use the shower at the home where they were house sitting. After six days of camping and hiking I was never more ready for a shower! In the afternoon I headed back to the West Fork Campground which is about one and a half hours closer to home. After setting up my tent I back tracked to The Pagosa Springs area.

My mission was to find and update the measurements for the former national champion Rocky Mtn. ponderosa pine. Earlier I had talked to Stuart Sarnow, a retired forester. He is the one who first showed me the tree about eighteen years ago. It was good to talk to Stuart again and he said the tree was still standing. With only minor difficulties I was able to locate the tree. After eighteen years, the circumference had increased less than one inch! I was also a little disappointed to find the height was two feet less than what I had determined years ago. Although the pine was alive, it had declined since I first saw the tree. More of the lower branches are now dead and the spread is now seven feet less.
If anyone else goes to see this tree, keep in mind it is better for photographing in the morning.

After another sleepless night I was running out of time for tree hunting in CO. It was Saturday and it was time to start heading home but I still wanted to check on a big white fir that I found many years ago along the Windy Pass Trail. After a short hike up the steep trail I found the tree was still standing and it was in relatively good shape. Eighteen years ago the circumference was 13’3” now it was up to 13’ 7.5”. The height fared better. Originally it was 138’ now it was up to 144.6’! One of the leaders has snapped over the years but this tree still looks relatively healthy.

I should have headed straight back but I couldn’t resist doing a little wandering to look for other tall trees. A few hundred yards south of the big white fir I found another one. This one was not in as good a condition and the trunk only measured 11.4” but I found the height to be 145’! I wanted to make a loop to the south before heading back to the trail but the rough terrain forced me to go to the east. This area has some impressive eroded gorges that are difficult to negotiate. Despite the steep slope and all of the downed timber it is easier to go up and down the slope, rather than across. I made it out with only six or seven new scars on my shins. That was much better than the first time I visited this area. Back in 1994 I was searching for a reported huge Engelmann spruce. I eventually found a double trunked tree that must have been the one but not before getting pretty scuffed up. That also turned into a two day trip without nearly enough water for the amount hiking I did. I became very ill that time do to severe dehydration.

I had hoped to get at least as far as Nebraska for my last night of camping. But since I was just leaving Windy pass at 3:30 that was not likely. As I traveled, it was obvious it would be dark even before I reached the Denver area. I encountered some showers in southern CO but as I continued up I 25 the sky became much darker. I was already prepared to set up my tent in the dark but now there was a steady rain. I kept driving until after 11:00 when I stopped at a rest stop on I 76. I managed to fall asleep in my car (the Copper Crypt) until I was awakened by a train on nearby tracks. My attempts to get back to sleep were interupted by two more trains. I decided to move on and ended up at Julesburg, CO. at 3:00 A.M. I was finally able to get about four hours sleep in the Crypt before the last long leg back to Iowa.

After years of not going to Colorado, it was great to get back and visit some of my old tree friends and to find some new ones. I had a great time and saw lots of good trees but those good feelings are tempered by the reality that almost all of the conifers out there are in trouble.

I saw miles of brown slopes, primarily do to dead Engelmann spruce. The blue spruce have problems as well. I saw dozens of large dead Douglas-firs and lesser amounts of dead white fir. There are also areas with many dead and dying aspens. Of all of the trees out there, the ponderosa pines appear to be doing the best. Despite all of the problems, there are still many opportunities to see and find big trees. Here is a list of some of the big trees I measured this year:

Species Circumference Height Crown Spread AFA Points

Blue spruce 12’ 7.5 133.7’ 37.5’ 294.6
San Juan River bottom south of Wolf Creek Pass.

Blue spruce --- 150’+ ---- -----
Hermosa Creek Trail near Jones Creek

Subalpine fir 7’6” 110.5’ 17.5’ 204.8
Cascade Creek

Quaking aspen 6’8” 105.7’ ---- -----
Cascade Creek

Ponderosa pine 12’4” 147.6’ 44’ 306.6
Hermosa Creek drainage

Ponderosa pine 14’9.5” 141.8” 45’ 330.55
San Juan Nat. Forest near Pagosa Springs (this one first meas. 1995)

Ponderosa pine --- 160’ ---- -----
Hermosa Creek Trail near Dutch Creek

White fir 13’7.5” 144.6’ 32.5’ 316.2
Windy Pass Trail -1995 13’3” 138’ 34.5 305.6

Here is a list of some big trees I measured about 19 years ago:

Species Circumference Height Crown Spread AFA points

Subalpine fir 8’3” 122’ 19.5’ 225.875
San Juan National Forest

Narrowleaf cottonwood 12’6’ 116’ 46’ 277.5
San Juan National Forest

Mountain alder 2’8” 43’ 15’ 78.75
San Juan National Forest

Quaking aspen 8’5’ 109’ 33.5’ 218.375
Rio Grand National Forest

Bristlecone pine 10’10’ 56’ 42.5’ 196.6
Near Alma, Colorado

Blue spruce 10’9” 153’ 26’ 288.5
San Juan River bottom, San Juan National Forest (no longer standing)

I had planned to include photos in this post but it has already become quite long. I will try to include photos of some of my most recent tree finds in Colorado soon. I just saw Bob's recent post about the big white fir. I'm not sure why there is a difference of over two feet on our measurements. I measured two points and got 144.6' for one and 144.2' for the other point. I have calibrated my range finder and I have adusted for the error in my clinometer. Since Bob is the dbhguru and the height guru, I'm willing to go with his measurements when our heights of the same tree differ. I wonder if my other measurements could be slightly high as well. It would be good to do some additional comparisons.

by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Sat Aug 03, 2013 7:56 pm
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Re: Iowa Big Tree Guy Conquers Colorado

Here are more photos from my 2013 Colorado trip.

Blue Spruce 1.jpg Blue Spruce 2.jpg

White Fir 1.jpg White Fir 2.jpg

Ponderosa Pine 1.jpg Ponderosa Pine 2.jpg

Ponderosa Pine 3.jpg Ponderosa Pine 4.jpg

Ponderosa Pine 6.jpg Ponderosa pine 5.jpg

Douglas-fir 2.jpg Douglas-fir 1.jpg

Douglas-fir 3.jpg Hermosa Creek Trail.jpg
by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Sun Aug 04, 2013 6:42 pm
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Re: Iowa Big Tree Guy Conquers Colorado

NTS members:

Despite what Bob says, there has been little time to bask in success, I have been very busy since my return. I have been getting some much needed rest but I still have a ways to go.

Matt, thanks for the compliment. I think I will bring earplugs next time as well as sleeping pills! Doug, I'm glad you enjoyed the aspen photos. I saw a couple of impressive stands while I was in southwest CO. They are so beautiful to see but it is hard to capture the feel in a photo.

I have only been using the NTS tree measuring technique for about three years now. All of my old measurements were done by using cross triangulation. It only took a few trees back in the early seventies to improve my accuracy. For the first trees I measured, I made the same mistake that so many people do. I measured out from the trunk. After just a few trees though, I figured out the highest point wasn't usually over the base.

I soon started using a plumb line from perpendicular directions to determine the point on the ground directly below the highest point. I also learned early on that the highest points were often obscured by closer branches. After these two revelations, I was on my way to getting quite precise measurements. In 1978 I started nominating trees for consideration for the newly formed Iowa Big Tree Program. I was appalled by the foresters official measurements of the trees I had painstakenly measured. I would submit fairly accurate heights, only to have the official measurements be exaggerated by ten, twenty, or thirty feet or more.

It took many years but I eventually gained enough respect from the big tree coordinators that my measurements were accepted. I even started measuring some of the trees I didn't nominate. For about the last five years I have been updating the official Iowa Big Tree Spreadsheet. This includes checking on the trees and updating the dimensions of the trees.

When I started using the sine, sine method I started measuring trees on the spreadsheet with a vengence. I was more than a little confused though because I was getting greater height measurements with the new method than what I had using cross triangulation. I was afraid my range finder was giving me a reading that was farther than the actual distance. After consulting with NTS members, I was convinced the range finder couldn't read something that wasn't there. Unfortunately my Bushnell range finder was reading too far. This was not a case of not calibrating the range finder. Apparently the instrument did fine shooting to the trunk but it had trouble with the twigs. I was so convinced that my new measurements were more accurate that, I didn't confirm there was a problem until recently when, I got my Nikon ProStaff. I was very dissapointed to learn that some of the tallest trees I measured had been overstated by as much as nine feet'! I find it ironic that the method that is supposed to be so notorious for over stating heights was giving me accurate heights and the best method for accuracy was exaggerating heights. At any rate, I have a better instrument now so I shouldn't be having any problems. I'm glad I finally figured this out but now I have three years worth of tree measuring to do again.Well, I really got off the track there but I wanted to point out this problem sometime. I don't want anyone else to go through what I did.

Bob, thanks for the compliment on my photos. I hope lots of people come for the old growth conference in Durango next year. Will, I'm glad you enjoyed my photos. I hope it works out for you to come to Colorado next year. I'm looking forward to meeting you. Larry, thanks for the congrats on the trees I measured. Maybe we will both be in Colorado at the same time next year. I enjoyed seeing the southwestern white pine you found. The dimensions however seem to have changed. The height increased cosiderably. Bob measured it again and found the height to be 127' but I found the trunk had shrunk down to 6'1.5". I really enjoyed the ponderosa named after you. It is a very impressive tree!

by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Mon Aug 05, 2013 11:20 pm
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Re: Volunteers needed for big tree certification

Hey Bob,

I'm very pleased to see some things coming together to greatly improve the accuracy of the AFA's National Register of Big Trees. I am already covering Iowa and I could probably visit the states surrounding Iowa as well. Thanks for including me on the list.

Iowa big Tree Guy
Mark Rouw
by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Wed Oct 02, 2013 9:56 pm
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Re: Hermosa Creek - Tall Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine


I have been wanting to thank you for naming the tallest Rocky Mountain ponderosa pine in Colorado after me. I am honored to have my name associated with such a significant tree. When I found the tree last year, I roughed it out to about 160' but I didn't have time for a thorough measurement. I had been dying to find out how tall it was ever since. I may have been the first one to recognize it as exceptionally tall, but I'm indebted to you and Chris for getting accurate measurements this year. Matt, your photographs really show the amazing height of this special tree.

by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Tue Aug 26, 2014 11:20 pm
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2014 Trip to Southwest Colorado

I wanted to leave for the Colorado trip on July 29th, but as usual I was behind schedule so I decided to wait and get an early start Wednesday morning. My car, the Copper Crypt, a 1994 Ford Escort wagon, had been deemed not road worthy for a trip of any kind. Now time that should have been spent preparing for the trip was spent looking for a used car. At the last minute I took my wife’s car, leaving the new one for her.

Wednesday July 30th, I left Des Moines at 3:15 A.M. I was making good progress and the weather was good until I reached the Colorado state line where I encountered a steady rain. I made a short stop near Pine Junction to visit John, my best friend from grade school. It would be late before I made it to my destination at East Fork Campground between Wolf Creek Pass and Pagosa Springs.

In a downpour south of Fairplay, I attempted to avoid hitting a pool of water which sent me into an out of control spin at 65 mph! Despite at least two complete spins, I was able to keep the car on the road and headed in the right direction. The rainy weather was a consistent theme for the next five days. It was dark by the time I reached the campground but thankfully it wasn’t raining while I was getting my tent put up. During the night it rained very hard and I found out I had put my tent on a low spot where the water pooled. This is one of the disadvantages of getting to your campground after dark.

The next day, Thursday July 31st, I slept late and I spent time digging some trenches to drain the puddle of water and I moved my tent a few feet. I was anxious to check out a lead on some big Douglas-firs east of Pagosa Springs. If there were big Douglas-firs, I didn’t find them. The largest one I measured was only 123’ with a circ. of 11’. All was not lost though because I found an impressive aspen. The aspen had the following dimensions: circ. 7’6”, height 108’, spread 30’. This tree was only a couple of hundred feet from a very rough, hilly, dirt road. I was able to get the tree measured, but to the west I could see the rain coming. I made a speedy retreat before I could get photographs of the tree. It was a good thing I left when I did because there were some hills for my car to climb before reaching the maintained road. It was touch and go for a while but thankfully I made it up to the gravel road before the deluge reached full force. It turned into quite a downpour with lots of hail! I tried driving in the storm but my car started to slide on the road so I decided to pull over and wait. After about an hour this system had moved through so I decided to head back on foot to photograph the aspen. Before I was done taking photographs, I could see another storm cell approaching. With the severity of the previous storm fresh on my mind I kept up a brisk pace for the one mile uphill trek. Copious amounts of mud stuck to my boots which made the hike more strenuous. This cell followed a more northerly path, which would take it right over my campsite! The driving rain found its’ way into my tent. Luckily my sleeping bag was only partially wet.

The morning of Aug. 1st was spent trying to dry out my tent and gear. Since I didn’t have a full day, all I did was drive a few miles along the East Fork of the San Juan River. I didn’t see anything unusually large, but I did see a number of southwestern white pines or limber pines on the dry south facing slopes.

Aug. 2nd, I went to the First Fork Trail. Before reaching the trailhead I noticed two taller than average ponderosa pines not far from First Fork Rd. north of Piedra. One had a circ. of 10’6’’ and a height of 147.5’ and the other one had a circ. of 10’7” and a height of 152’. Two miles of hiking along the First Fork which flows into the Piedra River turned up nothing taller. It was a beautiful area though with many respectable ponderosas and blue spruce. At my furthest point on the trail, I noticed some relatively fresh bear tracks in the mud. I was attempting to photograph the tracks when it began to rain. Before I could get my camera and range finder in plastic bags, it started to pour. By the time I had everything put away, I was already very wet. In no time the trail became more like a creek than a trail and within minutes my boots were soaked. The heavy rain didn’t let up for about 45 minutes. By that time I was back to the trailhead.

I spent the morning of Aug. 3rd attempting to dry things out and taking down my tent because I would be going to another campsite for the next three nights. In the afternoon I headed for the nearby Wolf Creek area near Hwy 160. This is the location of the former state champion blue spruce. About twenty years ago I measured this fine tree to a height of 153’. It was in a low area near a small waterway and I expected this tree to thrive and get bigger over time. Last year, after a brief search, I was unable to find the spruce. This year I located the tree but it is a shell of its’ former self. At 11'2" the circumference had not increased much and 10' were missing from the dead top. If it had not been damaged, I think it would have been one of the elite blue spruce.

During the conference I stayed at a private campground so I could take a shower. It rained very hard twice which made it necessary to spend time drying things out again! The ground was very level so the ground was saturated with much standing water. I moved my tent to attempt to find a slightly drier spot and I noticed a large toad had been hiding under my tent. In all the years I’ve camped in Colorado this was by far the wettest.

The conference took place on Aug. 4th and 5th. Since Matt did such a good job of chronicling the conference in his post, I will not attempt to improve upon his report. I do want to thank Bob Leverett for all of the work he did to make this conference a success. I also especially want to thank him for inviting me to come out to Durango last year. His invitation reignited my interest in Colorado big trees which had been dormant for several years. I want to thank all of the wonderful speakers for their excellent presentations. I also want to give a big thank you to Sandy Young for being such a wonderful outfitter. She provided horses for riders at a nominal fee and she was an awesome leader on the Hermosa Creek Trail trip.

The horse ride on the Hermosa Creek Trail took place on Wednesday, Aug 6th and has already been well covered by Matt and some of the other NTS members involved. I was a little disappointed to find out the big Douglas-fir didn’t reach a height of 163’ but my goal, like other NTS members, is to get accurate measurements. Matt and I both used a True Pulse 360 rangefinder and we both found the height to be 161’. Our measurements concurred on other trees as well so I feel confident that our measurements are accurate.

The blue spruce (Dutch Creek Giant) that Will found was spectacular! A blue spruce of such height that also has a large trunk is a rare find indeed! The current champ in Utah is slightly larger on points but I wonder if it was measured accurately.

Thursday, August 7th, Matt, Larry, Chris and I hiked along the Piedra River on the Second Box Canyon trail. We didn’t go too far before we decided it didn’t look too promising. There wasn’t much time left so we planned to get an early start the following morning. We decided to start at the upper end of the Clear Creek Trail and head towards Hermosa Creek. It was a long rough road to get to the trailhead and some stretches of the road were covered with large rocks. We saw a large fox and several dusky grouse on the one hour trip to the trailhead.

The Clear Creek Trail starts out winding through a nice stand of aspens. Before too long the lightly used trail disappears. After only a few hundred yards we came to a sign pointing to the directions of two trails, including the Clear Creek Trail. Unfortunately, the sign was no longer accurate because the rocks holding the post had shifted. After a couple of wrong turns we decided on a route that involved bushwhacking down a steep slope to get to Clear Creek. None of us who were on the hike will soon forget the place we named Bushwhack Gulch. By the time we reached Clear Creek it was soon time to start the long uphill climb back. We came back on the other side of Bushwhack Gulch which provided more shade, but the steep grade and elevation proved to be challenging.

Although it was a difficult hike, I think we all agreed it was worth the effort. The prize of the day was a 152.5’ Engelmann spruce. I’m convinced there are taller Engelmann’s yet to be found but it may take some serious hiking to find these trees. The views from the upper areas of the hike were outstanding. We were also lucky to observe some interesting animals. I didn’t get to see the Martin but I did see a fence lizard, a short horned lizard and a large flightless katydid. I also found a fox or coyote skull. It is exactly midway in size between a typical adult red fox and a coyote. It was Friday and I was heading home Saturday so my big tree hunting in Colorado was essentially over.

After leaving Durango Saturday morning I stopped at the Wolf Creek area for one last look for big trees. While looking around this area I came upon a wandering garter snake which was the only live snake I saw on the trip. I was hoping there might be a huge undiscovered blue spruce here but the largest I could find was one with a trunk circumference of 11’4” and the tallest one was 148’. The best trees in this area are Douglas-firs but some of the biggest ones have died. Here are the dimensions of some of the largest living Douglas-firs:

Circumference Height

14’1” 136’
11’3” 142’
11’11” 149’
10’9” 154.5’
11’11” 157.7’

Since my last minute looking turned into several hours, I knew I would have to push it to get to a campground east of Denver. I shouldn't have taken the time but I stopped in Saguache to get a closer look at some tall blue spruce that I first noticed many years ago. I measured one to 103' and another to 111' . Could these be the tallest planted bue spruce?

I reached Denver at about 8:00 P.M. and then I started having car trouble. My speedometer needle started jumping around and my engine started cutting out. I was looking for a good exit to get off of the freeway but after a few tense miles the engine died. It couldn’t have happened at a worse place. I was on an over- pass with no shoulder! Luckily I was just able to coast beyond the over-pass where there was at least a shoulder.

Now what was I going to do? It was late Saturday night and the next day was Sunday. These are not the best times to try and find an auto repair shop. I called a tow truck and the driver was very helpful. He ended up towing me to an auto service center that did repair work on Sundays.

There I was right next to Broadway in downtown Denver on a Saturday night. I thought about checking to see if one of the nearby homeless shelters could put me up for the night. Since I had so much gear in the back seat, I decided to spend the night in my car. I know I don’t get out much but I had no idea how much activity and noise there would be all night long! Things did slow down quite a bit after 3:30 A.M. At some point a carload of loud talking kids parked right next to me and proceeded to cause a ruckus for at least an hour! When I finally did get to sleep, I was awakened by a young man that wanted to borrow my cell phone!

At 9:00 A.M. I was first in line at the auto repair shop. I was told it would be a while before they could get to my car and do a diagnostic. Two hours later, I was told it was the alternator and the battery was also shot. After a considerable wait I was told they had the wrong alternator so I would have to wait for them to get another one! I was hoping things would go smoothly but my car wasn’t ready until after 1:00 P.M. With almost no sleep and 700 miles to go I was finally on my way. The trip takes about 12 hours and I had to be at my job at 7:00 A.M. Monday morning. I made to work on time but it took several days to recover.

With much interest, I read Matt’s posts about the incredible trees he was finding after the rest of us left. Finds like an aspen 115’, the Leverett White Fir 162.4’, a 155’ blue spruce with a trunk circumference of nearly 13’, and a Douglas-fir 169’ are remarkable trees. The one that really blew my mind was the Protect Hermosa blue spruce which towers to a height 178.8’. I never imagined there was any tree in Colorado approaching 180’! Matt deserves all the accolades he can get for all of the hard work did to find these amazing trees. Despite the mishaps with my car and the rainy weather, the conference and the tree hunting trips were a success.
by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Sun Nov 16, 2014 8:14 pm
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Northern Kentucky October 2014

October 2014 Trip to the Blue Grass Region of Kentucky

Several weeks before leaving, I contacted Matt Markworth to see if he would be interested in joining me for a day, since Cincinnati isn’t too far away. Neither one of us had ever been to the Lexington Cemetery so we decided to meet near there Monday October 13th. Matt made arrangements to meet with Dr. Tom Kimmerer for a tour of some of the venerable trees in Lexington, including the cemetery. Matt’s friend Landon Smith would also be joining us.

The forecast included rain storms for the area on Monday and I was awakened by heavy rain during the night. It continued raining for the nearly three hour drive to Lexington, but luckily the rain subsided by the time we met Matt, Landon and Tom. The first stop was to visit a fine bur oak which stood not far from a busy street in Lexington. This well formed tree was 16’7” in circumference. Dr. Kimmerer explained that these centuries old oaks were alive back when this part of the country was a grazing area for bison! Unlike the prairie savannahs further west, fire was not a typical component of this ecosystem.

The next stop was a large bur oak in a hospital parking lot. They saved the tree, but built a two-level parking lot around the oak. I didn’t measure the trunk on this one but it appeared to have a trunk at least five feet in diameter. This oak has suffered a significant lightning strike and it is experiencing some die-back, but hopefully it will survive for decades to come.

Then we went to the construction area of a new housing development. Thanks to Dr. Kimmerer and others, a landmark bur oak at this site will continue to stand prominently on high ground near the edge of a hill. Once slated for removal, this beautiful oak will now become a focal point for the development. The tree is visible from quite a distance but I didn’t realize just how big it was until I was much closer. This impressive oak has a circumference of 18’5” and the height is 78’

From there we proceeded to our primary destination, the Lexington Cemetery. The national co-champion basswood resides here and it was not a disappointment. I was faced with measuring the basswood, taking photographs, and trying to listen to Dr. Kimmerer’s fascinating information. In all of the excitement I neglected to write down the circumference measurement. I know it was a little over 23’, but I can’t remember the exact dimension. I wanted to measure the height, but I was already falling behind the tree tour of the cemetery so I reluctantly moved on. Matt, I guess it will be up to you to get current measurements of the basswood. Since some of the species found in Lexington are not found in Iowa, it was good to get a lesson on local tree identification from Dr. Kimmerer. I learned that the sinuses of the Shumard oak are shaped like the outline of your thumb. I knew that another name for shellbark hickory was kingnut, but I learned that kingnut was the original name for the species. Dr. Kimmerer also pointed out that the names shellbark and shagbark are so similar they are easily confused. To add to the confusion, both trees have shaggy bark. In light of this information I plan to use the name kingnut hickory instead of shellbark when I’m referring to this species.

There are lots of nice trees in the cemetery but two trees stand out from the others. The basswood that was mentioned earlier is an outstanding tree and considerably larger than any other basswood I have seen. The other tree that really impressed me was a large bur oak. I didn’t measure the height or spread but the trunk measured 21’3”. You almost needed a hard hat while standing under the crown of this tree because with each breeze many very large acorns fell to the ground with a thud.

After leaving the cemetery Dr. Kimmerer had one more exemplary tree to show us. He took us to what I believe he said was a national co-champion Ohio buckeye which had a trunk circumference of 14’6”. There was some discussion as to the authenticity of the identification because the tree had some characteristics of a yellow buckeye.

After leaving the buckeye Matt, Landon, Rita and I headed to Griffith Woods which is a public hunting area north of Lexington. The national co-champion chinkapin oak and the state champion Kentucky coffeetree can be found here. Griffith Woods has some open areas that were probably pasture land but there are also some areas of timber. We arrived rather late in the day so our time here was limited. We did manage to find the champion chinkapin oak and coffeetree. Both of these trees were somewhat disappointing. The chinkapin oak has a huge swollen base which greatly exaggerates the trunk circumference. The state champion coffeetree is reported to be 120’ tall. I tried to measure the height but the trees had only just started to drop their leaves and darkness was approaching. I did manage to come up with 96’which I’m confident is much closure to the actual height than the official height of 120’.

I was generally impressed with Griffith Woods. There were nice chinkapin oaks, kingnut hickories, white ash and blue ash. We measured the trunk of a beautiful kingnut hickory and found that it had a circumference of 11’. I know there are larger ones but this one was the largest I had ever seen. The largest blue ash we saw had a circumference of 13’9”.

Wednesday, October 15th, Rita and I went to Louisville to check out Cave Hill Cemetery and the zoo. Cave Hill has some good trees but I was generally disappointed. Years ago I remembered reading someone’s description of this cemetery in which they gave a glowing account of the huge American beech trees found here. I only saw two noteworthy beech trees and the larger one with better form had seen better days. The impressive trunk measured 15’9 1/2” but much of the crown was gone and the tree appeared to be dying. Another beech which forked rather low and had weak branch fusions with much included bark had respectable dimensions. The trunk measured 14’4”, the height was 83’ and the maximum spread was approximately 107’. By the time I measured this beech tree it was already raining and I had spent too much time at the cemetery. I didn’t allow us much time to visit the zoo and the rain that fell while we rushed through the zoo didn’t help my cause.

I was impressed with the blue grass region of Kentucky. I have never seen an area of the country with so many fine bur oaks. In Iowa bur oaks are common but they just don’t reach the stature of the ones in northern Kentucky.
by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Sat Jan 10, 2015 7:42 pm
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Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest

2014 Visit to Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest

When we were deciding on a place to go on vacation, my wife Rita asked me if I would be interested in going to French Lick, Indiana. Except for passing through on the way to other places I had never been to southern Indiana so I replied yes. Early Saturday morning, October 11th, Rita and I left our home in Des Moines, Iowa and headed for French Lick, hometown of Larry Bird.

Before the trip, I contacted Matt Markworth to see if we could meet somewhere to check out some big trees. We met in Lexington, Kentucky and that side trip was covered in an earlier post. I asked Matt if there was any place he knew of in southern Indiana where I might be able to look for tall trees. One place he mentioned was Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest. I remembered reading about that old growth remnant many years ago. When I checked the location on a state map, I was surprised to learn that Pioneer Mothers was just beyond Paoli, Indiana which was only about 16 miles from French Lick.!

When Rita and I go on vacation we usually don’t spend much time frequenting the places that most tourists visit unless it is a natural area. We usually concentrate on birding, but we try to be flexible and sometimes we focus more on reptiles and amphibians or some other aspect of natural history like insects or trees. I owe a big thanks to Rita because she let me make trees the focus of this trip. The birding wasn’t very good and it was very rainy which probably helped steer the direction of this vacation. I was very lucky to be able to visit Pioneer Mothers three separate times.

The first visit to Pioneer Mothers didn’t reveal any big trees but I did figure out where to go. We found a small parking area for the woodland only a couple of miles east of Paoli off of U.S. Highway 150. There was a gate blocking the entrance to a little used road which we used as a walkway. We followed the old road through a relatively young bottomland forest but there was no indication of very old trees. After perhaps one half mile, we came to a rather large parking lot which appeared to have been unused for years. Why was there a vacant parking lot in the middle of the woods? Here is where Rita waited while I followed one of the trails uphill to see where it led. After only a few hundred yards, I suddenly saw a very large sign for Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest! At one time this must have been the primary entrance but now it was off limits to vehicles.

Rita suggested we try approaching the woodland from another highway. From State Highway 37 we found another entrance to Pioneer Mothers. This access soon leads to a very old looking upland tract of timber. There was no more time for exploring that day and I didn’t see anything outstanding but it did look like an area that deserved further exploration.

I spent the better part of the last two days of our vacation wandering through Pioneer Mothers. Rain shortened my visit to this old growth forest on Thursday but Friday the weather was better. Near the trail, just a short distance from the trailhead was the first notable tree, a walnut with a trunk four feet in diameter. I didn’t bother measuring this one because the crown had sustained a considerable amount of storm damage so the height was no longer exceptional.

The first tree that I measured was a nice white ash that reached a height of 135’ and a circumference of 10’9”. I didn’t have to go far to find a tall sycamore with a trunk measuring 13’6” and the height was 139.7’. This would prove to be the tallest tree I would measure at Pioneer Mothers. I believe there would be taller trees at this site but there is no deep valley where trees can be afforded some protection from storms. Not far from the sycamore and the ash stands the tallest walnut I would find. I found the walnut to have a circumference of 10’8” and a height of 138’. Another walnut nearby may have been taller but storm damage had reduced the height. All of these trees stood near the bottom of a drainage which at least afforded them a little protection from storms.

There were some shagbark hickories here but there was another variety of hickory that was unfamiliar to me. Judging by the buds and the nuts, I identified these as pignut hickories. The tallest one I measured had a circumference of 7’11” and reached a height of 124.3’. I found another one that with a circumference of 8’10” that may have been taller but by then, there was no time for measuring the height. I measured another pignut hickory to 116’. The tallest shagbark I measured, reached a height of 124.5’.

While I was wandering around this old growth forest, I was very excited to find a beautiful male eastern box turtle on the forest floor right in front of me! This was quite a treat since I rarely get the chance to see this species (they don’t occur in Iowa). He didn’t seem to be too concerned about my presence which allowed me to get some good photographs.
Some of the oaks like white oak and chinkapin oak were easy for me to identify, but the red oaks were more difficult. I should have spent more time identifying the red oaks but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t overlooking something really significant so for the most part I kept moving. I’m fairly confident I was seeing Shumard oak, black oak and northern red oak, but I’m uncertain as to the species of the one I measured. This red oak species had a circumference of 9’1” and reached a height of 125.8’ The tallest white oak I measured had a circumference of 10’6” and a height of 112.5’ I measured one of the largest chinkapin oaks and found it to have a girth of 11’11” and a height of 107’.

There is one tree which I probably should have left for another time because it was getting late but I went ahead and measured it anyway. I had to study this one a while before I decided it was a tupelo. I really like this species but I haven’t had the opportunity to spend much time in areas with tupelos. The bark looked very much like a persimmon but leaves were turning red not yellow. It may not be significant for the species but it was the only tupelo I remember seeing at Pioneer Mothers. This tree had a circumference of 8’3” and a height of 102’.

Tulip trees are commonly the tallest tree at a site within their range but I couldn’t find any really tall ones at Pioneer Mothers. There may be some that reach a greater height but I was having difficulty finding clean shots to the top of many of the species, including tulip trees. I found one to have a circumference of 10’5” and a height of 133.5’. I’m confident if there was a more protected site in the preserve the tulip trees would reach a greater height.

There were lots of beech and I wanted to measure some but they had not yet started to lose any leaves from their dense crowns. I had planned to attempt to measure some anyway but I was saving them for last because I knew it would take quite a while but I ran out of time. I only measured one tree that didn’t reach at least 100’ and that was a hackberry that measured 96’. Out of the trees I measured, I was most impressed with a Kentucky coffeetree. I measured two coffeetrees and the first one reached an impressive height of 123.5’. Another one nearby had an unremarkable trunk circumference of 6’2” but the height was very impressive. I measured the same high point multiple times and I arrived at an average height of 130.4’! Has anyone one found any coffeetrees that are taller?

When I’m exploring an area with big trees, I have a tendency to stay too long. Earlier, I mentioned that I should have skipped measuring the tupelo. Even though the daylight was fading fast, I didn’t expect any difficulties finding my way out. Besides, I could hear cars on the nearby highway so I knew which direction to go. I headed towards the sound of the vehicles on the highway but I wasn’t seeing anything familiar and soon it would be almost too dark to see. I was feeling a little uneasy about the prospect of bushwhacking through the brush in the dark without a light. Just before it was completely dark, I came upon the parking lot in the middle of the woods. Now it made sense. I was heading for the wrong highway! It didn’t take long for me to get my bearings and I was able to make my way to the trailhead in about twenty minutes.

After spending some time exploring these woods, I feel like I learned a lot but there is still more to be learned. I was disappointed to see invasive species like barberry and oriental bittersweet in this special place. I hope to return to Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest sometime to measure some of the beech trees and spend some time figuring out the red oaks. I would also like to make a list of the tree species that occur in this interesting woodland.

Here is a listing of the tallest trees I measured at Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest:


White Ash 10'9" 135'

American Sycamore 13'6" 139.7'

Black Walnut 10'8" 138'

Pignut Hickory 7'11" 124.3'

Shagbark Hickory 6'6" 120.5'

Red Oak Species 9'1" 125.8'

Kentucky Coffeetree 6'2" 130.4

Tulip Tree 10'5" 133.5'

White Oak 10'6" 112.5

Chinkapin Oak 11'11" 107'

Tupelo 8'3" 102'

Common Hackberry ___ 96'

Averaging the height of the ten tallest tree species I measured at Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest gives it a Rucker index of 126.7'.
by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Sat Feb 14, 2015 2:48 pm
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Re: Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest


I'm glad you enjoyed my photographs and post about Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest. I'm so busy it is usually quite a while before I submit a post after visiting an interesting area. I often see other post I would like to comment on but I rarely have the time. For example, I have been wanting to respond to some of your posts. Congratulations on your new national champion black spruce! You have been spending a lot of time in the field and it has paid off with some nice finds. I haven't spent much time in the deep south so I find your trip reports very interesting. I found your photos and dimensions of the sweetbay and spruce pine particularly fascinating. I thought the sweetbay was strictly an understory sized tree! The spruce pine is amazing! It will be one of the trees I hope to see, if and when I get down to your part of the country.

by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Tue Feb 17, 2015 7:37 pm
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Re: The Kevin Markworth Spruce

Hey Matt,

I'm sorry to learn about your loss. The Kevin Markworth Spruce is a magnificent tree! What a great way to honor your brother's memory.

by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Sat Jun 27, 2015 10:23 am
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Texas Hill Country

In May of 2015 Rita and I went on vacation to the hill country of Texas which occupies the eastern part of the Edward’s Plateau. We stayed near Bandera, Texas which is about 30 miles northwest of San Antonio. We were primarily on a birding trip to see two endemic species. We were looking for the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo. We did find the warbler, but the vireo eluded us. Birding and looking for trees at the same time isn’t easy but I did my best to not miss a new bird or a new tree!

When traveling from Des Moines to the hill country, over 90 percent of the trip is spent on Interstate 35 which doesn’t offer much for tree viewing but there are some areas of interest. In southern Oklahoma, the interstate passes by the Arbuckle Mountains. This is an ancient range with the highest elevation reaching only 1,412’. Not only does this range resemble the hill country of Texas, but many of the bird and tree species are common to both areas.

It is interesting that I 35 passes through much of the Cross Timbers region from north to south. The Cross Timbers actually starts in the north at the southern edge of Kansas and extends south to central Texas. The gamble oaks and post oaks that make up most of the forest composition are not particularly large, but it is an interesting forest for those of us that appreciate trees. Much of this ecosystem has been altered, but there are places where you can still experience the feel of this forest in the prairie.

We arrived at our destination near Bandera, Texas late at night. At the entryway to our unit we were greeted by a scorpion on the door mat and bats hanging above the door. The average tourist would have been dismayed but we were excited to get a glimpse of some of the indigenous wildlife. Despite incredibly rainy weather during our stay we managed to visit several state parks including “Lost Maples State Natural Area” which has an isolated population of bigtooth maples, specifically the Uvalde bigtooth maple, Acer grandidentatum var. sinuosum.

The bigtooth maple has several common names including Uvalde bigtooth maple, canyon maple, Sabinal maple and western sugar maple. It is typically a small tree which is noted for beautiful yellow to red fall foliage. The largest one in the country is supposed to reside in the park but I’m not sure I saw the national champion. I asked a park employee where the champ was located and I was directed to a specific trail. I asked if the tree was designated and she said yes. When I searched for the champion, there was no such designated tree. I found a maple that may have been the champion but it was in very poor shape.

One of the most common tree species in the hill country is the Ashe juniper which is found throughout much of central and western Texas with disjunct populations in Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. It doesn’t compete well with deciduous trees in the canyons but it thrives in the open rocky areas. Usually it is a shrub or small tree with multiple trunks, but some have a single trunk which is usually less than 12” in diameter. The Ashe juniper is much more common now than in the past. Frequent fires before settlement kept most of the junipers from getting established. The golden- cheeked warbler requires the canopy of mature Ashe junipers for habitat and they use the shredding strips of bark to construct their nest.

The Lacey oak is also called blue oak, smoky oak and canyon oak. Except for small, isolated populations in northeast Mexico and one small area north of the Rio Grande River between the hill country and the Big Bend area, the Lacey oak is confined to the Edwards Plateau. This small to medium sized tree is considered a semi evergreen and it resembles a small live oak. The small size and bluish foliage helps to separate this tree from the escarpment or Texas live oak.

There are three species of walnuts in Texas. The range of the black walnut brushes the eastern edge of the hill country, but there is a small isolated population in the Bandera County area. I knew the Texas walnut Juglans microcarpa, also known as little walnut, dwarf walnut or nogalito, was found in the hill country. I didn’t realize until later that the Arizona walnut, Juglans major, also occurs in the hill country. In Texas, the range of the Arizona walnut is divided into several very small isolated spots with the largest population in the hill country. I’m fairly certain the walnuts I saw were black walnuts even though they were slightly outside the range shown in the field guides. The Texas walnut is a small tree and the Arizona walnut is usually a medium sized tree. The ones I noticed were good sized with a few bordering on quite large.

Some of the trees that reach the extreme southwestern or western edge of their range in the hill country include the pecan, black walnut, baldcypress, shumard oak, Carolina basswood, American sycamore, eastern cottonwood, American elm and sugarberry. The Texas live oak, escarpment oak, or plateau oak is considered by some to be a western variety of the live oak which would be another species reaching the western edge of its range in the hill country. So you may see the scientific name for the Texas live oak listed as Quercus virginiana var. fusiformis but most references consider the tree to be a full species and use Quercus fusiformis. The escarpment oak has many similar characteristics to Q. virginiana but it generally doesn’t reach the size of the live oak. It grows in drier conditions and can withstand colder temperatures.

Here is a list of some of the tree species we saw in the hill country:

Juglans nigra - Black walnut
Carya illinoinenses - Pecan
Ulmus americana - American elm
Populus deltoides - Eastern cottonwood
Platanus occidentalis - American sycamore
Celtis lindheimeri - Lindheimer hackberry
Tilia caroliniana - Carolina basswood
Juniperus ashei - Ashe juniper
Acer grandidentatum - Bigtooth maple
Quercus muehlenbergii - Chinkapin oak
Quercus buckleyi - Texas red oak, Buckley’s oak, Spanish oak
Quercus fusiformis - Texas live oak, Escarpment oak, Plateau oak
Quercus laceyi - Lacey oak
Cercis canadensis var. texensis - Texas redbud
Prunus serotina - Black cherry
Taxodium distichum - Baldcypress
Prosopis glandulosa - Honey mesquite

Although we devoted most of our time to trees and birds we also saw some interesting reptiles and amphibians. Except for the turtles, the rainy weather contributed to our success in finding the following species. We found Gulf Coast toads, red-eared sliders, Texas river cooters (turtle), a prairie racerunner (lizard) and the best find was the uncommon Baird’s rat snake.

The dry upland areas of the hill country are an interesting contrast to the lowlands where baldcypress trees line the banks of the streams. The largest baldcypress I saw is one that I have visited on two previous trips. My first visit came in early January of 1984 when I was fortunate to be able to accompany a couple of birders on a trip to the state of Sonora, Mexico for a Christmas Bird Count. Although my friends were not particularly interested in big trees, we did visit a few Texas champions, including the largest baldcypress which grows in Real County Texas.

This magnificent baldcypress had been the Texas state champion since it was nominated in 1970. At that time it was reported to have the following dimensions:

Nomination Dimensions Official Measurements
Circumference Height Spread Circumference Height Spread
32’10” 111’ 111’ 33’4” 110’ 100’

I made no attempt to measure the height in 1984, but I did measure the circumference and found it to be 33’6”. Like many baldcypress, this tree has a considerable amount of basal flare and the circumference can vary depending on where it is measured. In 1984 I’m certain I would have measured the girth at 4 ½’ above the ground on the uphill side of the slope in accordance to the AFA guidelines at that time.

My second visit to this tree came in 1991 or 1992, also in the winter. At that time there was another huge baldcypress in the Big Thicket area of Texas that I made arrangements to see. Because of an injury to the owner shortly before my visit, I was unable to view that one. I was, however, able to visit the Real County baldcypress again.

No one plans for rainy days during their vacation, but it rained all week! Right after we left, the rains intensified which caused major flooding in much of Texas. The day that I planned to visit the tree was a total washout. Would I be able to see the baldcypress at all? But one afternoon it was our good fortune to be about one hour from the tree when the rain stopped. A quick phone call to the land owner, Bob Burditt, and we were on our way to the tree! The property has been in Bob’s family since it was homesteaded in 1882. A few hundred yards before reaching “the big one”, there is another respectable baldcypress. I only had time for the trunk circumference which measured 28’7”. This one is in very good shape and it could be a giant in another century.

It was good to get reacquainted with the old baldcypress. I was sorry to see a few of its limbs had broken in the last few decades. Other than a few broken limbs and a hollow in the trunk, which was already there in 1984, it looked to be in good shape. The height is probably not increasing much now for the several hundred year old tree, but the trunk circumference continues to grow. At 4 ½’ above the ground on the uphill side, the trunk measured 36’7”. That is an increase of 37” since 1984. It started to rain before I could complete the crown spread measurement. Parallel to the river the spread was 76’. The perpendicular spread which extends over the Frio River on one side, appeared to be greater so my estimate for the average spread is approximately 85’. Here are the dimensions of the baldcypress:

Circumference at 4 ½’ on the uphill side – 36’7”
Circumference at 4 ½’ on the downhill side – 40’11”
Circumference averaging the two measurements above – 38’9”
Circumference midway between the uphill and downhill measurements – 39’2”
Height – 107’
Average Crown Spread – 85’ (estimated)
Total Points – Approximately 593

As long as the mighty “Senator” was alive there wouldn’t be another baldcypress that compared, but now that the ”Senator” is gone, could this one from the hill country be a contender for the largest baldcypress? It certainly looks better qualified to me than the National Champion “Cat Island” tree in Louisiana. It also appears to be larger than the National Co-Champion in Mississippi which has a trunk that tapers dramatically.

Oddly, the tree that is the subject of this report is no longer even considered a state champion in Texas! I checked the most recent Texas Big Tree Registry that was updated in May of 2013. It lists a baldcypress with a trunk circumference of 36’9”, a height of 94’, and a crown spread of 115’ for a total of 564 total points as the largest. This is 29 points smaller than the Burditt’s tree. I will point out this discrepancy to the officials of the Texas Big Tree Registry and hopefully the former champion will regain the title of the largest baldcypress in Texas. Perhaps one day it will even become the national champion.
by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Sun Jan 24, 2016 10:29 pm
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Re: Texas Hill Country

I just used gambel oak in place of blackjack oak to see if you and other members were paying attention. Seriously, I don't know what possessed me to do that, I knew it was post oak and blackjack oak in the Cross Timbers region! We were very lucky to find the Baird's rat snake out crawling around during the afternoon. I never thought I would get the chance to see one in the wild.

It does seem strange that a baldcypress so large would be growing near the extreme western edge of the species range. There is or was, another baldcypress in the Big Thicket area, of east Texas that was comparable, at least in total points to the hill country baldcypress. I wish I could have seen that east Texas tree years ago when I made arrangements with the owner but it didn't work out. I don't know if I could track that one down now after all this time.

Larry- I agree, this tree would make a better national champion compared to what we have now. And a volume measurement would be the fairest way to determine a champion in this case. Have you seen the national co-champion in Mississippi?

Thanks for showing us the photographs of the national co-champs for comparison.

I'm glad the you were impressed with the big baldcypress from the hill country. I like this tree so much I have seen it three times now!

Here is a photograph of the smaller baldcypress located near the big one.

by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Wed Jan 27, 2016 11:38 pm
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Re: Texas Hill Country

I look forward to more information about the potentially huge baldcypress in North Carolina! I have always considered the big baldcypress in the hill country to have a single trunk but the possibility of fused multiple trunks should be explored. Here are three more photographs which hopefully can help answer the question of whether or not it has a single trunk.
by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Sun Jan 31, 2016 6:46 pm
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Nice Iowa Walnut

Standing on the University of Iowa Campus is a large black walnut that was nominated in the Iowa Big Tree Program back in 1979. Although it has been the state champion for several years it wasn't the largest known walnut in Iowa back in 1979. It was a respectable walnut then with a circumference of 12'6''. It has grown considerably in the thirty six years since it was nominated. I measured the tree in September of 2015 and found it to have the following dimensions: Circumference - 16'10", height 92', Average crown spread 100', maximum spread 122'.

The vertical line on the trunk is the result of an old lightning strike. The wound is quite a bit wider than it appears in the photograph and the exposed wood is decaying. It has had a lightning protection system for many years but vandalism had rendered the system useless. Recently a new lightning protection system was installed so for now it has some protection. Lightning is a big problem here in Iowa and is one of the biggest factors limiting tree height.
by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Wed Feb 10, 2016 11:39 pm
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American Forests Summer 2016


I read with great interest a particular article in the American Forests magazine that I received today. The article is titled,"Big Tree Hunting Colorado: A Case For The Numbers". Congratulations on the article, it is outstanding! You did a great job of covering the story of the involvement of members of the NTS in documenting the tallest known trees in southwest Colorado. This article should get the attention of many readers. I think it will be especially interesting to the people who already know a something about trees in that part of the country. They will undoubtedly be very surprised to learn just how tall the trees can get in Colorado!

Thanks to you, Matt, and Larry for the great accompanying photographs as well!

by Iowa Big Tree Guy
Sat Jun 04, 2016 10:04 pm
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