Last weekend on the drive back from a ski trip in Mammoth with friends, we stopped by the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. It is located in the White Mountains in Inyo County, California, about 24 miles (maybe a 45 minute drive) from Big Pine. The road is windy, steep and reaches an elevation of about 10,000 ft. If you are afraid of driving on high, twisty roads with no railings, this may not be for you. The views of the mountains are pretty spectacular though. Normally the Forest is open from mid-May to November, but it was open, maybe because of the warm weather.
Bristlecone pines grow in high altitude regions of the Western US. Their wood has extreme durability, and even after the tree has died, can still stand there on its roots for centuries. The wood erodes rather than rotting, which causes very interesting patterns from the wind and rain. You’ll notice a lot of swirls and unusual wave shapes.
We had started driving the car down the dirt road toward the Patriarch Grove, but it is about an 11 mile drive filled with rocks in the dirt road. We decided it was too much with a regular car. The Patriarch Grove does have the largest Bristlecone Pine tree, called the Patriarch Tree. The Grove there is also a very barren landscape, giving a much different feel. Maybe next time with a truck.
So we proceeded back on the paved road to Schulman Grove. There is a nice visitor’s center, but it was closed for the season. There are two trails there. One is the Discovery Trail, which is about 1 mile. The other is the Methuselah Walk, which is about 4 miles. It has what used to be considered the world’s oldest known living non-clonal organism called the Methusaleh Tree (4,846 years old), but another tree nearby took its title in 2013. We started on the Methuselah Walk from another entrance and weren’t sure which hike we were on. The path became narrow, a bit steep and covered in slush at points. I was pretty unsteady because of the altitude and my lightheadedness, so I decided to turn back. We ended up doing the Discovery Trail, which had plenty of cool trees to see. It was a nice trail, partly uphill, with stairs built in to the hillside. There were plenty of plaquards to read along the way and benches to sit on.
The trees are amazing to look at! The twisty branches make you feel like you could be in a fictional forest in a fairytale land and that maybe they may start talking to you!
The tress grow from altitudes between 5,600 and 11,200 ft
Til next time!