On December 2, 2017, I drove up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains, from Big Pine, CA. The drive goes up a winding mountain road with a 6,000-foot elevation gain, and I wouldn’t recommend driving it with big rigs or trailers. When I say steep and windy, I mean it. The last time I drove up this road I burned up my air conditioner belt, and I was in Mitzi back then. Directions: From Highway 395 just north of Big Pine, go east on CA 168 for 13 miles. Turn left (north) on White Mountain Road to the Bristlecone Pine Forest. In 10 miles, you’ll turn right to arrive at the Schulman Grove parking lot.
I’d visited this area in the spring of 2016 but had to walk the road in from the locked gate a few miles down the road. There had been one other person there that year walking up the road, an older gentleman who was having a hard time breathing because of the altitude (9,800 – 11,000 feet). I was very concerned about him, so had stuck with him as he explored a few of the trees. He had been feeling light-headed and a bit dizzy (symptoms of altitude sickness) so I also walked back with him to his vehicle and his patiently waiting wife.
This time I was able to drive all the way to the visitor center which was closed, but at least I was able to hike the Methuselah Trail. There was some snow on the trail which made it a little bit dangerous in some areas, and the shadows were deep, so it wasn’t great for photography, but despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed this trail.
My one error, however, was not to do my research about the trails beforehand. I simply saw the Methuselah Trail sign and started walking, expecting to see a sign pointing to the 4,850 + year old tree, known to be one of the oldest trees in the world. What I didn’t know was that in order to protect Methuselah, there was no sign pointing to its location. If a person wanted to see this tree, they had to find it (or know someone who knew where he was). So I hiked the 3.7 mile trail and didn’t see the tree it was named after. Generally, 3.7 miles is a short hike, except that this trail felt more like six miles. It wound around, and up and down, and there were those scary spots, with snow and ice and many drop-offs because most of this trail clung to a steep hillside. I didn’t really want to take a tumble onto the rocky scree slopes, so going was slow.
Was it worth it? You bet. The Ancient Bristlecone trees are like earth’s grandfathers, for as much as five-thousand years, wind-whipped, twisted bristlecone pines have been clinging to existence on the arid, stony crests of the White Mountains, in conditions inhospitable to most other life.
Their growth rings provide a year-by-year account of the struggle to survive: It’s a tortuous cycle of dying off almost entirely, leaving only a few strips of bark that then continue to grow diagonally skyward or sideways along the ground. They breathed air that had never been polluted by man’s inventions and felt the rumble of the earth as underground volcanic activity shaped and re-shaped the mountains they grew on and their neighboring mountains across the valley. If they had eyes they would have witnessed white man walk into the valley below and forever change the lives of the Native Americans and the valley itself by draining the lakes, building roads and more, they would have witnessed the Japanese Internment Camp called Manzanar come and go, and watch towns being built, and the earth mined for its riches, and this is only in the last 200 years or so.
When I think of the changes that have happened to this planet in the last 5,000 years, it is mind-boggling, and some of these trees were here through it all: Humans Indelible Stamp on Earth Clear 5,000 Years Ago.
And now they are experiencing more change and challenges because of climate change: California’s Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest feeling the effects of climate change.
There is camping at The Grandview Campground nearby, but it is a fee campground. Instead, I found a dispersed camping spot for free, that was pretty sweet. There was a moon and I played around with my headlamp taking pictures of my camp at night.
On December 3, I drove back down to the valley and headed south to the Alabama Hills, where I had an appointment with Mother Nature at sunrise, on December 4, 2017.
I hope you’ll sign up for email notifications of this blog so that you won’t miss the next set of stunning images I took during this appointment with nature.
Roxy ~ A Nomad for Nature
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