(All photos for this entry are posted here)
On our drive up highway 395 to Burning Man we decided to stop off at the Ancient Bristlecone Forrest. We had wanted to visit the Inyo park last year, but ran out of time as we did side trips for the Tufa of Mono Lake and the ghost town of Bodie.
The Bristlecone Forrest is a 45 minute drive from Big Pine, or an hour from Bishop. The road isn’t far, but it gains a lot of altitude and can be twisty. We were on a schedule, so we had to be content with visiting the lower part of the forest – Schulman Grove at 10,100 feet. There is another grove another 1,100 feet higher (Patriarch Grove) but it was going to be another hour to get there as the road isn’t great. Once at the Schulman Grove, we spent a couple hours walking the trail to the Mexican mine, then the discovery trail loop.
It was definitely worth the side trip. The location is very dramatic, jagged rocks and dramatic trees. There were a few wild flowers hanging on from long dried rains, but the majority of the growth here is lichen and the bristlecones. Despite this there still seems to be a decent number of animals. A hawk circled, while a ground squirrel yelled at us for walking by it’s home in the rocks. A light blue bird flew by, it’s wings producing a loud thump-thump-thump as it flew, reminding me of the chopped air sound of a distant alpine helicopter.
Then of course, there is the pines. They are really quite amazing. Warped and disfigured, the wood is almost as hard as iron. Full of resin, it survives for hundreds of years after death. In fact, they have found bits of wood dating back almost 10,000 years – the end of our last ice age. Most of the trees look dead, but little bits of green prove otherwise. The tree has an amazing ability to let parts of itself die off, but still remain completely healthy. It only requires a narrow strip of life to survive.
As interesting as these trees are visually, they are primarily amazing because of their age. I saw “Pine Alpha” at some point on the discovery trail (they won’t point out trees for fear of vandalism), which is over 4,000 years old. That still hasn’t sunk in. It is staggering to think it was alive at the time of the pyramids in Egypt. It is hard to wrap your head around that.
If happen to be heading up highway 395, and have a couple hours to spare, I highly recommend a visit to the forest. Bring water, food, and sunscreen and enjoy the spectacular view.
– Leonard Miller’s Bristlecone site
– If you want to be a bit shocked and depressed, read the story of The Martyred One – In 1964 a doctorate student was granted permission by the U.S. Forest Service to saw down the oldest living thing on this planet because their coring tool broke. Unbelievable.
– NOVA had a show on the Methuselah Tree.