The smooth dirt road leads along the east side of this high mountain valley which is surrounded by a forest of ponderosa pine and white fir on moderate to steep slopes. We drive slowly, a family of four exploring this beautiful Warner range. Deer graze the coarse grass on the valley floor. Flicking their ears against obnoxious flies, the deer pay us no attention. It is not hunting season, and they seem to know it. We note three marshy areas in the meadow and pull off the road to walk down to the larger one which has a small pond. Given enough rain from thunderstorms it should remain all summer.
At the south end of the valley the road enters a shallow canyon that will descend more than a thousand feet out of the higher mountains and into ranch country. Along the way we pass through a grove or two of aspen. Buttercups are in luxuriant bloom beneath the trees, and we stop to enjoy the display.
As we walk into the grove, a gentle breeze stirs the canopy. Leaves flutter, and a whisper of sound moves through the grove as if the trees are talking to each other. Commonly called Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) for the constant motion of heart–shaped leaves that move in the slightest breeze, this tree is the most widely found native tree in America. In fact, it has the third largest range of any tree in the world. Only European aspen and Scotch pine cover more area. Aspen are listed in the literature as fast growing, short–lived (under 100 years) small trees that are well under 100 ft. tall and less than 1.5 feet in diameter, measured about 5 ft. above the ground.
Fast growing they certainly are, but over the years I have had the opportunity to study several aspen groves in Oregon and Nevada. Using an increment borer I cored a number of the larger trees and found plenty over 100 years old. After I removed the borer with its 0.2 mm diameter core, I plugged the hole with sealer made for the purpose. In the lab, after preparing the core, tree rings could be counted using a dissecting microscope.
The present national champion for size is an aspen found in southern Oregon. This tree is 86 ft tall and an incredible 45 inches in diameter, measured about 5 feet off the ground…to be continued.