Another Letter to ME65 Classmates

Red Woods and Giant Sequoias in Central Colorado?

Last Saturday (10/15), Rena and I saw a lot of Red Woods and Giant Sequoias in Central Colorado. They are gigantic and always majestic, just like those Red Woods in the vicinity of Red Wood City and Giant Sequoias east of Fresno, CA. However, the major difference is that, what we saw are trees of ~35 million years old and have tall tree stumps only. They are there because they are all fossilized and petrified. Today, they scatter all over the field in this National Monument – Florissant Fossil Beds – at Florissant, CO. Some of them even have man-made canopies to shade the sun and to protect them from rain showers or snow falls.

Several facts worthy of mention are:

About ~35 million years ago, this valley had lush ferns and shrubs thriving beneath the towering Red Woods and Giant Sequoias. The weather was warm and humid. A volcano nearby erupted several times. First, it killed most of trees and also created a mud dam. Without any outlet, an ancient still lake, Florissant Lake, was formed. Later, the volcano erupted several more times and it showered the lake with more ashes. The ashes carried vegetations, insects & animals and sank into the lake covering the dead giant trees layer by layer. Gradually, these trees were fossilized and petrified. Until fairly recently, due to tectonic plate movements, the earth’s crust slanted to one side and emptied the lake where tall tree stumps were buried.

Butterfly fossils, not amber butterflies, are very rare. With ~45 known butterfly fossils around the world, 15 of them were discovered here.

Tsetse flies occur today only in tropic Africa. Exciting enough, people discovered a lot of Tsetse fly fossils here in this National Park – a place like nowhere else in the world, except very recently in Germany.

Praying Trees and Medicine Trees – Along Routes 24 & 67 and around the Park, there are a lot of Praying Trees and Medicine Trees that American Indians in this area once made use of. There are Ponderosa Pines which distinguish themselves with 2 or 3 shoots in their leaves. Indians tied down the growing trees, at selected locations, to the ground to make their Praying Trees for religious ceremonies. Today, it looks like a giant octopus with a lot of arms hugging the ground and spreading out in all directions. Conversely, the Medicine Tree always has one vertical, deep cutting scar on its trunk. The Indians used to extract its barks for nutrients and minerals. Some of the scars are more than 400 years old. The scars on the trees, together with the tree rings, have been used by Archeologists as a means to precisely trace back in time. There were a lot more Medicine Trees inside the Park than today. Most of these trees were cut down to support the nearby gold mine at Cripple Creek, CO decades ago. Today, it has only ~500 Medicine Trees left inside the Park. From its very beginning in 1873, there were a lot of people came to this place and went away with some valuable fossils from public lands. At the same time, they gradually took away some of our past, piece by piece and fossil by fossil. To stop looting and plundering that took place, President Nixon signed legislation to create this National Monument in 1969.

Aspen trees (a kind of poplar tree) – Aspen trees bear a lot of seeds but few survived, let alone growing into trees. Therefore, it multiplies itself through its roots. And because of that (not from the seeds), they are not all that diversified. As a fact of fact, they are not only genetically identical and but also living very closely to each other. In this Park, there are a lot of them clustered together at different places. Within each cluster, either they are all dead; or all healthy with colorful fall foliages; or already passing their fall foliage season (without any leave on them at all). Closely, they live together and die together, under the same environmental stresses. While living, they behave identically as a cluster at different locations. By observing them, it is a natural way to scare the Hell out of un-necessary cloning.


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