So Saturday I had no plans. Zip, zero, nada. Which was all well and good since I’d been away with Arizona Steve the weekend before, and was planning on being in St. George the following weekend*, so I planned to spend most of the day hanging with the kids and doing some catch-up chores. I only had one thing I needed to do: go over to a friend’s house a couple miles away and pick up Awesome Wife’s car.
*We’ve since pushed the St. George weekend out a week, hoping for better weather.
Tangent: I had to pick up her car because we went to a dinner party Friday night and I came straight from work while she caught a ride down with the other couple coming to the dinner. We didn’t get home till almost midnight, and so just left the car over at the other couple’s house till the morning.
The dinner party was great, for 2 reasons. First it was at my beekeeper-friend’s house, and he’s always fascinating to visit with. And second, because of the other couple.
So when you get together with friends of your spouse, you’re often “matched up” with the spouse of your spouse’s friend. Let’s call this type of relationship an SFS, for Spouse’s Friend Spouse. This other couple was a woman who is friends with Awesome Wife and Beekeeper’s Wife, and her husband, the SFS, was a guy I’d never met.
Now let’s be honest. SFS fix-ups are a hit like %.01 of the time. (Jodie: if you are reading this, Randy is in that .01%. Really.)Many SFS encounters are downright painful, and even when we get along OK, the SFS is never a biology-obsessed hardcore mountain-biker.
Well, get this: the SFS- let’s call him “Vicente”- is a molecular biologist who mountain bikes ~5X/week. Not only that, but he is the only other Wasatch Front rider I’ve met who routinely rides, cleans and enjoys the “Death Climb” across the street from the zoo.
Even better, our sons are 2nd-grade classmates, and best of all- he’s a native Spaniard. (Well Catalan, actually, but obviously a fluent Spanish speaker. I’m always looking for new victims upon whom to inflict my terrible Spanish grammar.) We had a great evening, discussing everything from the 2 different mechanisms the AIDS virus uses to attack cells to tetrachromatic women to drawing Punnett squares in an attempt to model the bizarre tongue-rolling Mendelian genetics of my birth-family. (Phil: Vicente agrees with me about you being the wrong baby brought home from the hospital. Either that, or Mom had an affair*.)
*If so, I’m hoping it was with Ricardo Montalban, because that would make him my half-father.
Anyway, it was a great party.
I could’ve run over, but I took my bike instead. Not my road bike, but my mountain bike, primarily because I needed to convince myself that tubeless tires- which I’d just installed for the 1st time- really do hold air. (Thanks KanyonKris and UTRider for the advice/recommendations- it went fine.) So I decided to ride down, but to do so by climbing every East-side dead-end between the zoo and I-80. And as it turned out, I saw all kinds of cool stuff I had no idea was in my neighborhood.
Tubeless Tangent: So I had zero problems with the tires, and in fact Sunday AM I rode out on Stansbury Island. But there’s something weird about riding tubeless for the first time. To an outside observer, everything looks normal, but you know it’s not. It feels somehow like… if you went to work without any underwear on*. Everything would look normal to your coworkers, but it would be pretty much all you could think about the whole day…
*Yes, this has happened to me, twice in fact. All I will say was that there was a perfectly reasonable explanation both times and leave it at that, since about 5 or 6 of my coworkers read this blog.
I started by climbing up to the very end of St. Mary’s Drive- St. Mary’s Circle. This is one of the best botanical cul-de-sacs in the state of Utah. The yard at the very top has 2 Giant Sequoias, Sequoiadendron giganteum, in the front yard (pic left). I mentioned the Sequoias in my neighbor’s yard last Fall, but these babies are much bigger, probably ~60 feet high, and since this area was built out in the 1950’s, they can’t be more than 50 years old.
In the front yard of the house next door on the South side of the circle is this Oak hedge (pic right). You’ll notice a few leaves are still hanging on in early February, and that’s because this hedge is hybrid Gambel-turbinella oak clone, which means that it probably dates back between 4,000 and 7,000 years! Rudy Drobnik discovered it in the late 1950’s, and convinced the original builder to preserve it. Professor Chuck rediscovered the hybrid last Fall, and informed the current owners, who’d been unaware of it.
I continued South up above Wasatch and along Devonshire to where it dead-ends al a series of fortified-looking uber-rich houses. The one on the downhill/West side of the cul-de-sac sports a black, wrought-iron fence, and planted along it is this fascinating mystery pine (pic left). It’s 5-needled, and clearly non-native. Utah has 2 native 5-needled pines: Bristlecone and Limber. This one’s neither, nor is it Western White Pine, or Whitebark Pine or Sierra Juarez Piñon, or any other 5-needled pines from neighboring states. And its needles are sort of languid, relaxed-looking, almost drooping, which makes me think of… Mexico.
Almost every pine tree in the US has erect needles, but outside of the US, pine needles come in 2 other types as well: drooping and pendant. (The American exceptions are a couple of species in the Southeast- Longleaf and Slash- which have drooping needles.) If you travel around the highlands of Central Mexico, there are pines everywhere, and the most common pine is Michoacana Pine, Pinus michoacana. At first glance P. michoacana looks like a Ponderosa, except that the needles are 8-10” long and droop noticeably. (pic left = Michoacana Pines I photographed 3 years ago East of Uruapan.) Drooping-needled pines are pretty common in Mexico. Less common, but not rare, are pendant needles, like this Lumholz Pine, Pinus lumholzii, which I photographed in Southern Zacatecas 3 years ago. (pic below, left = Lumholz needles closeup.)
Drooping and pendant pine needles appear to have evolved as a defense against Dwarf Mistletoe, a tree-parasite. Mistletoe spreads by way of exploding seeds pods, which, when they burst, scatter sticky seeds onto the leaves and needs of neighboring trees. The seeds stick to pine needles, and when the next rain comes, they “ride” the rain droplets down to the base of the needle, and germinate in the wood of the twig.
But when the needle droops or hangs, there’s a good chance the seed will just run off the tip of the needle and fall off of the tree entirely, so pines with drooping or pendant needles are more resistant to mistletoe infection.
Tangent: Dwarf Mistletoe deserves a post of its own, and it’s on my “to-blog” list. In my mtn bike rides, backcountry ski tours and hikes in the Wasatch I see mistletoe infections on PLTs all the time.
Dwarf Mistletoe actually refers to one of a few dozen or so species of the genus Arceuthobium, which all infect various species of Pinaceae (Pines and PLTs) and Cupressaceae (Junipers, Incense Cedar, Redwoods, etc.) They should be of interest to all Western tree-lovers not only because of their fascinating-if-destructive parasitic nature, but also because the vast majority of Arceuthobium species are endemic to North America, and most common and prevalent in the forests of Western North America.
Nested Tangent: This is a good opportunity to mention one of the fascinating things I saw but didn’t get to blog about on my recent Sonoran weekend- I was shocked at the abundance of mistletoe infections in Palo Verde and Ironwood trees all over the place. This type of mistletoe, though functionally similar, is not specifically “Dwarf Mistletoe” but belongs to another genus within the family Santalales (the Mistletoe family), Phoradendron, which includes species that target both conifers and angiosperms.
Anyway, I’ve poured through my 2 Mexican Pine guides, but have had a tough time narrowing it down. Mexico has more than a dozen species of 5-needled pine. I’m partial so some variety of Mexican White Pine, Pinus ayacahuite, (which I’ve blogged about before as part of the “Limber Pine Complex”) but that’s really just a guess. I’d like to just knock and ask the homeowner, but I’ve been a bit put off by the big iron gate…
Speaking of gates, my next stop of interest was Carrigan Canyon, a small canyon nestled in the shadow of Perkins Peak.
Tangent: Nobody around here ever seems to know what Perkins Peak is, even though everyone is Salt Lake has seen it like a million times.
It’s the high point of the ridge between Emigration and Parley’s Canyons. Actually there are 2 peaks, about ¼ mile apart. Either is a straightforward, if brushy hike, best accessed from Little Mountain Pass, and working one’s way West along old 4WD tracks to the base of the final climb.
Carrigan Canyon is a private gated development. I’ve always wanted to get in there, but never known anyone who lives inside. But when I pedaled up Saturday, the gates were open. Without waiting for a guard, nosy neighbor or to take a photo of the gates or security cameras, I stood up in the saddle and hammered up the road, past the gates.
The canyon is surprisingly long- ½ mile from gate to final dead-end, with maybe 20-25 houses along the way. The setting is stunning, with plenty of native scrub-oak, and a view of the valley to the West. The location is idyllic for a home: above the inversion and noise of the city, yet a 5-10 minute drive from shops and restaurants. But on a warm, sunny Saturday, this idyllic neighborhood had that strange silence that high-end gated communities always seem to have when you get inside them: no voices, no children yelling, no dogs barking. I was sort of charmed and creeped-out at the same time.
I descended West and South, down to just about a block above Foothill Blvd., when I came across this- the Best Yard Ever, at 1922 Wasatch Drive. The house has a completely “desertified” front yard, with Joshua trees, prickly pear, cholla, and an assortment of native shrubs. As I was photographing the yard, the owners- Carl and Carolee- drove up, and I introduced myself. (When there’s no gate, it’s so easy to meet people.) They told me that the previous owner had landscaped the yard ~20 years earlier, often with cuttings she brought back from trips to the Mojave. Carl mentioned that the Joshuas flower most (but not all) years, and that if they do flower this year, it should happen in the next 2-4 weeks. I’ll be making that short detour on my way home once or twice a week for the next month to see if I can catch the bloom.
I climbed once more, to the end of Benchmark Drive, and spotted this bright, green Ephedra viridis in a South-facing yard, making a nice spot of green in the middle of Winter. I believe this is the closest gnetophyte to my house.
I descended down, down, down, across Foothill and down Redondo Ave, where I rode past 2 more mature Joshuas in a South-facing yard, and then screwed around for a few minutes riding in the schoolyard before picking up the car a block away.
Tangent: Here’s an odd winter thing I like to do: ride my mountain bike in schoolyards on the weekend. They always have neat little stairs and ledges and ramps that are fun to ride up/down and jump off of. Does anyone else do this?
Anyway, what was supposed to be a simple errand turned out to be a pretty cool little ride.