Finding Pando: Utah’s 80,000-year-old Aspen Grove Hides in Plain Sight

No billboards. No brochure. No web site or Twitter feed. We had to do some sleuthing to track down Pando, the 106-acre aspen grove that ranks among the oldest and biggest living things on Earth.

20190924 - pando and fish lake-IMG_0320
Pando aspen grove at Fish Lake, Utah. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

Pando, aka the Trembling Giant, was discovered in 1968 on the southwest shore of Utah’s Fish Lake. It’s been rediscovered regularly by the press ever since. The Utah Office of Tourism doesn’t seem to have noticed. Probably it’s just as well.

20190924 - pando and fish lake-IMG_0342
Pando aspen grove at Fish Lake, Utah. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

The grove is a clonal colony of hundreds of trees with identical genetic markers. Scientists say the hundreds of trees in the grove share a single root system. The 80,000-year-old mass of root and timber weighs an estimated 6 million kilograms. Presumably less after shedding its leaves in the fall.

20190924 - pando and fish lake-IMG_0339
Pando aspen grove at Fish Lake, Utah. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

MontaraManDan found helpful directions to the remote grove and a neighboring trail in an article by Erin Alberty, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune. She won a Pulitzer for coverage of a campus sexual assault but also writes pretty fine outdoors copy. The Geek found helpful directions to Pando using Google Maps. That’s why we call her The Geek.

20190924 - pando and fish lake-IMG_0381
Pando aspen grove at Fish Lake, Utah. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

The grove is bisected by Utah State Route 25, about 6 miles northeast of its intersection with State Route 24. Tiny highway signs call out the beginning and end of the grove. But the big giveaway is the fence recently installed by the USDA Forest Service to keep marauding deer from feeding on saplings.

You see, Pando is sick and may be dying. There are a number of theories as to why. The Forest Service hopes the deer fence will help. MontaraManDan speculated idly and without evidence that perhaps the highway running across the edge of the grove wasn’t particularly helpful. A thought.

20190924 - pando and fish lake-IMG_0333
Pando aspen grove at Fish Lake, Utah. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

We parked at the top of a rough dirt road – too rough for our low-slung roadster – that leads to a parking circle at the lake. We found a gate leading into the grove a half mile down the road just off the car park. Two-legged visitors are welcome, so we walked on in.

The grove, which has individual trees up to 200 years old, looks a little ragged, with lots of clearings littered with brush but few younger trees. We saw a handful of trees blackened by aspen trunk rot, a fungal disease that also may be contributing to Pando’s ill health. Fall had barely arrived in the grove.

20190924 - pando and fish lake-IMG_0373
Aspens at Fish Lake, Utah. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

After contemplating the age, size and sheer awesomeness of Pando, we turned our attention to the Trembling Giant’s neighbors.

20190924 - pando and fish lake-IMG_0417
Aspens at Fish Lake, Utah. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

Thicker and more orderly, the neighboring groves already sported their orange-yellow fall palate, back-lit leaves shimmering in the afternoon sunlight.

20190924 - pando and fish lake-IMG_0378
Lakeshore National Recreation Trail at Fish Lake, Utah. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

At Erin’s suggestion, we walked south toward the lake and picked up the Lakeshore National Recreation Trail.

20190924 - pando and fish lake-IMG_0436
Fish Lake, Utah, wetlands. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

The trail makes a 15-mile circle around the lake, but we decided to limit our afternoon hike to a 4-mile round trip from the marsh at the south end of Fish Lake through woods of aspen and fir to the top of Mytoge Mountain and back.

20190924 - pando and fish lake-IMG_0399
Lakeshore National Recreation Trail at Fish Lake, Utah. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

After a time we began to doubt the intrepid Salt Lake Tribune reporter’s counsel, as the trail clung doggedly to the lake shore. Fake news? Nah. The trail eventually makes the 600-foot ascent up a rocky series of switchbacks. It even comes equipped with a pair of strategically placed benches for views and breaks.

20190924 - pando and fish lake-IMG_0387
Lakeshore National Recreation Trail at Fish Lake, Utah. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

We neglected to come equipped with our trekking poles, but MontaraManDan fashioned a couple of right-sized branches from the deadfall along the trail to keep us upright and free of twisted ankles.

20190924 - pando and fish lake-IMG_0382
Lakeshore National Recreation Trail overlook at Fish Lake, Utah. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

You can find prettier aspen groves, taller mountains and bluer lakes in the Utah wilderness. But you won’t find anything quite like Pando. Can’t find Pando? Remember, Google Maps is your friend.

20190924 - pando and fish lake-IMG_0354
Aspens at Fish Lake, Utah. Dawn Page/CoastsideSlacking

This post is the  third in a series about our adventures on a 6,000-mile road trip across the American West in Fall 2019.

Part 1: Getting our Kicks in Route 50 in Nevada – ‘The Loneliest Road in America”

Part 2: Strolling among Nevada’s Bristlecone Ancients at Great Basin National Park

One thought on “Finding Pando: Utah’s 80,000-year-old Aspen Grove Hides in Plain Sight

  1. You sure have enlightened our minds and eyes. Beautiful country that we share with other citizens that live among us.

Leave a Reply