Photo Essay

A Study of Fremont Cottonwood Trees

A Study on Cottonwoods

California Owens valley lies between the Eastern Sierra Nevada and the Inyo/Whites Mountain range and is home to Fremont Cottonwoods. The tree is named after a General who typified the California pioneer spirit of being opinionated, needed by the US government to hold onto California against all comers, then fired (more than once) for insubordination. The love-hate affair with General John Fremont probably fits these trees also as their wood isn't good for much as they have too much fiber in them. People call them gopher wood because when you use them for firewood you always are "going for" more wood to burn and so named "gofor" wood. But they provide shade, erosion prevention, and wind breaks for people who live on the land.

Photogenically they are passed over for scenes of rabbit bush and sunsets, or the red reeds along Owens River, or Aspens that turn yellow in the fall. For several years I passed them up, but we had an unusual fall in Owens Valley in 2013 with dry conditions that put the trees had under more stress. This caused more color in the fall than just the usual yellows. The Aspens peaked in a few days and was over, so most people missed the fall color shots. I was watching the Cottonwoods to see what they would do, and they followed suit in color and short peak time also. Starting at 0 dark thirty on November 8th at Farmers Pond North of Bishop and finishing 12 hours later in the Alabama Hills outside of Lone Pine, I took pictures of a hundred different scenes of cottonwoods with perfect light conditions. I faced crossing stream, climbing cliffs, and getting stuck by thorns to get the shots and was well rewarded.

My lead shot is a grove of trees I came upon outside Bishop. Not many old Cottonwoods remain in the area that was once covered by Cottonwoods according to old timers. Fire wiped them out and unlike their cottonwood cousins out East, they didn't sprout new trees or runners off the roots. But over the last dozen years they have been coming back. I was walking the road looking for a different tree I had seen and came upon this grove. I love the double heart shape in color.

My hunt took me onto volcanic rock, granite rock in the Alabama Hills (see shot with Mt Whitney in background). Along farmer roads, past Elk herds (that was a special treat), and fields with the great Eastern Sierras in the background. After 12 hours I got to witness a great sunset where the Lenticulars above Alabama Hills caught on fire. A perfect day for me and a great testament to these majestic trees.

9 responses

  • Saroj Swain

    Saroj Swain gave props (30 Dec 2013):

    Spectacular shots........and narration...

  • Geoff Plant

    Geoff Plant gave props (30 Dec 2013):


  • Michele Wambaugh

    Michele Wambaugh (Deleted) said (3 Jan 2014):

    Magnificent photo essay, Bruce! Thanks for posting! Bravo!!!

  • JPG

    JPG gave props (5 Jan 2014):

    Congrats on being Story of the Week!

  • Carol Arntsen Masiak

    Carol Arntsen Masiak gave props (6 Jan 2014):

    wonderful and congrats on story of the week

  • Lynn E. Harvey

    Lynn E. Harvey gave props (6 Jan 2014):

    Congratulations Bruce, well deserved.

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (9 Jan 2014):

    Hell YEAH! Rad!

  • John Linton

    John Linton gave props (9 Jan 2014):

    Congrats on making Story of the Week!

  • Evelyne Schulte

    Evelyne Schulte gave props (11 Jan 2014):


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