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  • Writer's pictureMichael Kennedy

The Mighty Junipers of Olympic Valley

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

Surviving in the harshest conditions, Sierra Junipers withstand gale force winds that "iceblast" their bark. They grow out of rocks with their dense structure and manage to thrive in areas with little water - bent, twisted, and sculpted into masterpieces by the wrath of Mother Nature.

You don’t have to go far to find Junipers in Olympic Valley, CA. Many are scattered along Shirley Canyon and Granite Chief Trail (where all the images in this post were taken).

They're easy to identify: their branches heavy and strong, often spread out like the mythological Medusa's head of hair.

Some Junipers look like gargoyles, with their distinctive gnarled and twisted branches, and may even appear to look back at you with a sinister stare as this one did me.

I felt a sense of wildred when I came upon this haunting glare.

In his book, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, John Koenig describes wildred (wild + dread) as a feeling of "the haunting solitude of extremely remote places which makes you feel like you've just intruded on a conversation that had nothing to do with you, where even the dirt beneath your feet and the trees before you are holding themselves back to a pointed, inhospitable silence."

Junipers can also assume a krummholz (Bonsai-like) habit, growing low to the ground, forming a wide base, mimicking their miniature Bonsai tree counterparts.

Their massive underground root systems make Junipers masters at finding and conserving water. They typically live from 350 to 700 years old, but some can live for several thousand years! Not too far away from Olympic Valley is the oldest Juniper tree in the country. It's estimated to be over 3,000 years old, located in the Easternmost part of Tuolumne County, California, known as the Bennett Juniper Tree.

Sierra Junipers are an enduring testament of time. Each of these living creatures of unusual sizes and shapes has a story to tell. And they tell their stories slowly, quietly, and poetically. And sometimes with a Stephen King-esque "gnarled twist."

The mighty Junipers are tall sentinels keeping watch of our forest. They symbolize strength, endurance, and beauty, and they're deserving of our respect and gratitude.


I’m Michael Kennedy, Olympic Valley, CA resident. I’m a teacher, freelance writer, and photographer. Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed it, please share with others. I value your attention, it means a lot to me and it helps others see the story. If you're interested in any photos in this post, or in my gallery: click here, let me know what size you want, and I'll send a quote. My email:

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Jun 20, 2023

The photos are astounding along with excellent verbage

Michael Kennedy
Michael Kennedy
Jun 21, 2023
Replying to

Thank you...

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