I love them. By God I do.
They occupy the most beautiful terrain on earth. Where ponderosas grow on mountains rising above dry lands is where my imagination incessantly roams. They’re where I want to be.
Let’s start on their eastern habitations…
There are ponderosas in West Texas. Yes, it’s true. You can find them on the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park. You can find them on the Guadalupe Mountains in the National Park of the same name. You wouldn’t think such greenery would flourish amid the brown (and often ugly) Chihuahuan Desert. But they do. This, I say, is where Texas truly becomes West.
There are ponderosas in a tiny part of Oklahoma. Yes, this is true too. Near Black Mesa State Park, in the far west of Oklahoma’s Panhandle, where the Sooner State reaches almost 5,000′ above the sea, on a piece of private property, the Western Yellow Pine grows.
I don’t think they grow in any significant swathes in Kansas. Nope.
How about Nebraska? In the Great Planes? Why not? Over a hundred years ago someone planted them on some sandy hills, and they now flourish as the Nebraska National Forest.
How about South Dakota? Absolutely. They grow in the Black Hills. They are why the Hills are called Black. From a distance, ponderosas make the Hills look Black.
And, yes, they grow in North Dakota too. They once grew more abundantly. There once was a Dakota National Forest. But no more. All the ponderosas that remain are in the Little Missouri Grasslands.
Now going west to the Pacific…
As you should expect, orographic lift makes them grow atop mountains in New Mexico, Arizona, California… Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Washington… Mountains make other conifers too…
Some aren’t so great. Junipers and pinions are conifers within National Forests. But they don’t say forest to me. They’re brush. They’re weeds. They’re not particularly pretty.
But the ponderosas are pretty. These trees are where the Western Forests really begin on high mountain elevations. They signify the forests I love. Pines above deserts IS the West I love.
(The North Rim of Grand Canyon looking east towards the Navajo Desert embodies this West most. My featured photo says why.)
Look, I’m not a tree-hugger. I’m certainly not a Sierra Club type. But, in a perfect world, where government was honorable and not treacherous, making a living as a Forest Ranger would certainly have been something I’d have considered. Just to be on such land…
That is all.