Eaton Roughs

The Juniper Tree

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Once again I have had the fortune to enter a strange, unique wilderness located in the back country of Humboldt County. This place is known as the Eaton Roughs, which is a sandstone block that has surfaced in the past few million years via faulting. The Roughs now hold a small island of unique vegetation, for the coast range, with many plants that you would expect to see in the Klamath Mountains or the Yolla Bollys.

One species in particular was on my mind for the day; Juniperus sp.. Last time I was in this area I came across what I was fairly confident was a juniper, however I was unable to key it properly. This time I was set to verify what kind of tree this is, or at the very least collect enough data to have people smarter than me help identify it.

There are only a few species that this tree can be. Juniperus grandis (Sierra), Juniperus occidentalis (Western) or Juniperus communis (Common). Initially I thought that these could potentially be sierra juniper – due to their form. While pretty limited, my experience with western and common juniper were that they often where more shrub-like. However after more research and examination, I am now pretty confident that these are indeed Juniperus occidentalis, or western juniper.

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According to Michael Kauffmann in Conifer Country, the oldest known western junipers are 1,000-1,500 years old. I found several trees that looked like the one above, gnarly and obviously quite old. Could they be over 1,000 years old? Another interesting fact is how apparently their range has increased in the past 50 years. While climate change is one potential explanation, fire exclusion seems to be the most likely reason. This has certainly been true in this region as well, and this may be why I found abundant regeneration throughout the Roughs.

I would appreciate any comments to confirm or refute if this is western juniper. I did collect some leaves, bark and berries – if required.

The Desolation

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More views of the Roughs. I posted a picture earlier this year a few miles north from this area.

This unique area is where large blocks of sandstone have been offset from the rest of the earth through tectonic processes. A large fault called the Eaton Roughs Fault Zone runs between the Mad River and the Van Duzen. There is a good description of the area for all you geology nerds here. The processes have created these strips of sandstone where apparently some layers have more developed soils than others. Most of the areas are barren, and have sporadic communities of manzanita and whitethorn. Then there are the junipers? over a understory of various manzanita species. Lastly, where layers have better developed soils, there are strips of Douglas-fir forests. This has to be one of the most interesting landscapes in Humboldt County.