Magazine article Sunset

The West Contains the Oldest, Largest, Most Glorious Conifers on Earth. and Winter Is the Time to See, Up Close, Where the Wild Trees Are

Magazine article Sunset

The West Contains the Oldest, Largest, Most Glorious Conifers on Earth. and Winter Is the Time to See, Up Close, Where the Wild Trees Are

Article excerpt

1 Jeffrey pine

SPECIES Pinus jeffreyi

GROWS to 120 feet

YOU'LL KNOW IT BY Reddish, deeply fissured bark; long, green needles; and a liking for higher elevations (5,000 to 9,000 feet).

STAR POWER The most famous specimen, atop Yosemite's Sentinel Dome, was captured on film by the legendary Ansel Adams.

GO SEE IT IN Yosemite National Park, in California's Sierra Nevada.

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Tramp the rim Yosemite National Park's Badger Pass Nordic Ski School & Center offers two ways, leaving from Badger Pass Ski Area, to see these mountain pines with a guide: Snowshoe day tours trek to Dewey Point and its breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley ($50, including snowshoe rental); cross-country ski tours travel 10 1/2 miles to the Glacier Point Ski Hut ($192, including meals and lodging; 6-person minimum). If you're comfortable making it to Glacier Point without a guide, you can spend the night for just $121. Call the ski school (209/372-8444) for reservations. yosemitepark.com

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2 Western hemlock

SPECIES Tsuga heterophylla

GROWS TO 175 feet

YOU'LL KNOW IT BY Slender, pyramidal form and drooping branches.

THE COMPANY IT KEEPS Douglas fir, particularly at the lower elevations of Willamette Pass.

GO SEE IT IN Oregon's Cascade Range.

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Ride the rails Hop Amtrak's northbound Coast Starlight at night in the San Francisco Bay Area for a weekend in Oregon. The next morning, take in gorgeous views of snow-laden forests carpeting the flanks of the Cascade Range as the train winds toward Willamette Pass. For fares, schedules, and route map, contact Amtrak (amtrak.com or 800/872-7245).

3 Engelmann spruce

SPECIES Picea engelmannii

GROWS TO 130 feet

YOU'LL KNOW IT BY A pyramid shape and dense branches of blue-green foliage.

SALAD BAR Squirrels sometimes go for the buds; birds go for the cone seeds.

GO SEE IT IN Snowmass Ski Area, near Aspen, Colorado.

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Snowshoe at Snowmass Weave in and out of Engelmann spruce stands (mixed with other conifers) and learn about the animals that are out and about in the Rockies in winter--think snowshoe hares, foxes, and pine martens. The price includes lift ticket, snack and hot drink, gear rental, knowledgeable guide, and basic instruction. Purchase at any Snowmass lift-ticket office. Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, $55, $43 ages 13-17, $33 ages 7-12; aspennature.org or 970/925-5756.

4 Western white pine

SPECIES Pinus monticola

GROWS TO 60 feet

YOU'LL KNOW IT BY Dark gray bark and long, blue-green needles.

SKI BUM This tall, narrow pine like to frequent high, snowy slopes of the Sierra Nevada.

GO SEE IT IN Lake Tahoe, at the eastern edge of California.

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Carve a slope The most exhilarating way to spend time among Western white pines is, clearly, snowboarding. Learn the basics on Heavenly Mountain Resort's gentlest slopes, or fine-tune your turns on its gnarliest black-diamond runs, with an instructor from the ski and ride schools in South Lake Tahoe (from $75; reservations required). One-, three-, and five-day women's and mountain adventure clinics are also offered (from $100). skiheavenly.com

5 Giant sequoia

SPECIES Sequoiadendron giganteum

GROWS TO 275 feet

YOU'LL KNOW IT BY A massive, fibrous-barked trunk--up to 35 feet in diameter. …

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