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Pinyon pine, Kaibab National Forest, Arizona. Photo: Tyler Williams

A Treasure in the Desert

January 8, 2013

One of the newest big trees to debut in American Forests' National Register hails from the depths of an extensive southwestern forest. Consumers and tree-dwellers alike value the resources within the tree's structure; it's like a diamond in the rough.

Among Arizona's dry, rocky terrain lies the Kaibab National Forest, where canyons, prairies, peaks and plateaus stretch approximately 1.6 million acres across the Colorado Plateau. More than 300 miles of trails line the forest floor, a few of which hug the southern edge of the Grand Canyon.

Originally named the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve in 1893, the forest nearly shares a border with Utah to the north. Its varying elevation features a diverse array of flora and fauna, including grasslands and sagebrush at lower elevations. Today, the Kaibab National Forest comprises lands once referred to as the Coconino National Forest, Tusayan National Forest and Dixie National Forest.

Kaibab National Forest not only offers tourists, wildlife and general visitors a variety of scenic views and recreational opportunities, including camping and access to the Grand Canyon National Park, but also vast collections of ponderosa pines, firs, spruce, aspen and pinyon-juniper.

Although poor growth habits are common among the pinyon species, one particular tree - a pinyon (two-leaf) pine - stands 41 feet tall within the Kaibab National Forest. Its 46-foot spread casts shadows along swaying grasslands in the southwestern sun, and at 104 feet around, it's hard to miss.

Big tree hunter, explorer and American Forests' magazine contributor Tyler Williams found and nominated the pinyon pine to be added to the National Register. The pinyon pine, also New Mexico's state tree, ranks first among the native nut trees that are also not cultivated. Consumers value the tree's edible nuts for their delicate flavor; in fact, pinyon pine nuts are most likely the species' most commercially valuable product.

Pinyon pine wood is also valuable to specialized woodworking shops and small sawmills, which produce mine timbers and railroad ties. Because pinyon pine wood is pitchy, its heat value is higher than other species', so the wood also makes a great resource for fuel.

Although American Forests just now recognized Kaibab's pinyon pine in the 2012 National Register, the tree will continue its legacy within the forests of northern Arizona for many years to come.

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