Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Oldest Living Thing in Utah: Jardine Juniper

By Lynn Arave

It was the Bronze Age. Humans had learned to weave wool into garments . . . an erupting volcano had destroyed the island Thera in the Mediterranean . . . China was in the midst of the Shang Dynasty, but the Great Wall of China would not be started for more than 1,000 years. . . .

The Prophet Moses led the children of Israel . . . the Olmec people had just settled down in rain forests near Veracruz in the Gulf of Mexico . . . old Lake Bonneville was well on its way to shrinking into today's Great Salt Lake.

The time was about 1500 B.C., and somehow a little juniper seed started growing in a niche in a limestone rock on a steep slope in a canyon to be known 3,100 years later by the name of Logan.

It may have taken 300 years just for the seed to become a 1-inch sapling because of a scarce water supply.

By the time of Elijah and Jezebel, this juniper tree was about a foot in diameter . . . about the time of Greece's Pericles, it was 2 feet thick . . . during the days of Julius Caesar, the tree was 3 feet across . . . by the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, it was about 4 feet thick . . . and finally, in about 1860, the tree reached maturity at 8 feet across.

This is Utah's oldest known tree - the Jardine Juniper in Cache County, estimated to be between 3,200 and 3,500 years old.

The world's oldest living thing is believed to be King Clone, a California creosote plant estimated to be 11,700 years old. The world's oldest living tree is a 4,600-year-old bristlecone pine, named Methuselah, located on Wheeler Ridge in California's Sierras.

 A 4,900-year-old pine was accidentally cut down in 1964 in that same area. By contrast, the world's largest living thing, General Sherman, a tree in California's Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, is between 2,200 and 2,600 years old.

Like these other ancients, Utah's Jardine Juniper has been through a lot. The Jardine has survived droughts, heat waves, high winds, countless winters and probably even a lightning strike in the 1870s that may have burned out part of the tree's core. The lightning, or something else, also made a large crack that runs into the hollow of the tree.

Located on a northern slope in Logan Canyon, the 44.5-foot-high tree overlooks U.S. 89 from 1,700 feet up. It is situated almost exactly above Logan Cave. Travelers through Logan Canyon can see the sign marking the best of the two trails to Jardine Juniper.

This great tree, with a circumference of 26 feet 8 inches, was discovered on July 23, 1923, by Maurice Linford, a young botany student, during a hike with his brothers. They took a picture of the tree and exhibited it at the botany department of Utah State Agricultural College (later to become Utah State University). It was soon realized that this was no ordinary tree.

The next spring, USAG botany students hiked to the tree for further study. Karl Arendtsen, L.F. Nufer and George R. Hill made one of the early visits to the tree and were able to measure its size.

The Jardine's age was gauged by a core of wood and small shavings examined under a microscope. In fact, researchers even discovered some evidence that it may have started out as two different trees.

                          The rugged trail near the Jardine tree.

The tree is named for William J. Jardine, a former USAC student who served as secretary of Agriculture in U.S. President Herbert Hoover's cabinet.

This variety of tree is properly called Juniperus scopules, but is popularly known as the Rocky Mountain juniper or the red cedar.

How long the tree will live on, no one knows. It is slowly dying, and the only real sign of life in it now are a few leaves at the top of the Jardine. Photographs from decades ago show more leaf growth then than lately.

Unless you can be airlifted up there, the only ways to visit the Jardine Juniper are on foot or horse. The area is closed to motorized vehicles.

The most-used trailhead starts about 10.3 miles up Logan Canyon from the Lady Bird rest stop.

Take the Wood Camp turnoff on the north side of the road and stay on the left fork that indicates a dead end 100 yards away. (The other part of the road travels into the Wood Camp campground.)

                     Looking down into Logan Canyon, near the Jardine Juniper.

The short dirt road is of the washboard type, but it's only 300 feet long and leads to the trailhead. There's plenty of parking here and also a bench and an unloading ramp for horses, but no rest rooms. There's also no drinking water along the route.

Starting elevation is 5,332 feet above sea level. The trail is approximately 5 miles long and provides no indication of the trail length until 1 mile out, when a sign states 4 miles to Jardine Juniper. Total elevation climb during the hike is about 1,700 feet. Strong hikers can plan 1 1/2 to 2 hours to reach the tree. Others should plan on 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

The trail heads up Wood Camp Hollow for the first mile, during which it's a very wide trail, though rocky. A newly made wooden bridge crosses a small stream about 100 yards up the trail. After 1 mile, the trail veers right up a side canyon, but becomes less rocky and very smooth.

The climb is extremely gradual and there are few switchbacks, since the trail follows much of the terrain (although this stretched-out climb also stretches out the miles you have to walk.)

The trail crosses over one rocky stream that's dry in the summer, but provides plenty of shade until mid-morning. Fall colors in September will make this an especially scenic hike.

The trail winds through groves of aspens and even meadows. It has considerable shade.

A half-mile from Jardine Juniper, the trail splits and offers a choice of two routes - A "scenic" route to the tree or a "shady route." The two routes circle in opposite directions around a 7,427-foot unnamed peak that overlooks the tree. The shady route, which follows the east side of the ridge, is about 500 yards shorter than the other and truly does offer more shade.

Nearing the famed tree, the trail becomes very sandy and descends about 200 feet. There is an observation platform next to the tree and several benches and signs.

The Jardine is not a pretty tree, but then it has existed longer than the combined life spans of 50 modern men. Some visitors will probably wonder: If they had been the first to see it, would they have realized its significance? No, most probably wouldn't have. They would have just hiked past this rather drab, knotty old tree.

From the tree, three portions of the Logan Canyon highway can be seen. Thus, with patience and strong binoculars or a telescope, the ancient juniper could actually be seen from portions of the Logan Canyon road!

                      A black and white view of Logan Canyon.

A shorter, much steeper trail to the Jardine Juniper starts about two miles up the canyon from Wood Camp. This trailhead is near Logan Cave and the Cottonwood Picnic Area. This route may be only several miles long, but it climbs 1,700 feet, is a lot more rugged, less maintained and offers little shade.
Realize too that ticks can be a hazard on the trails in this area in the mid- to late summer season.

Note: Logan Canyon has one other extremely old tree--dubbed the Old Limber Pine, a 200-year-old pine that can be reached by a short loop trail by the same name located just east of the Bear Lake Summit sign. There's also a 200-year-old Spruce tree west of Bloomington, Idaho, in the Bear Lake Valley.
-Adapted from the Deseret News article by Lynn Arave, published Sept, 7, 1989.
Photos by Lynn Arave.

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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