Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Bishop, CA

On Sunday we made the short trip from Lee Vining to Bishop, CA, a distance of about sixty-three miles and are set up in Highlands RV Park for a week.

Rte. 395 looking west with Highlands RV on the right

On Monday morning Dave and Sue joined us for a visit to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest outside Big Pine, CA.  We drove south on Rte. 395 for about twenty miles, then turned east on Rte. 168.

Looking east on Rte. 168 toward the White Mountains

Rte. 168 is a nicely paved two lane road that frequently undulates while it twists and turns heading into the mountains.  At one point for about a mile it narrows to just a bit over one lane in width.  Fortunately traffic is sparse and we didn’t meet anyone heading west.

The “narrows” of Rte. 168

Thirteen miles up (and we mean “up” as we gained significant elevation) Rte. 168 we turned north on White Mountain Road and continued to gain elevation.  As we looked to the west across the Owens Valley we could see the beautiful, snow-covered mountains of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  You are looking at the two mile Palisades Glacier.

Looking west at the Sierra Nevada Mountains

After winding up White Mountain Road to an elevation of 10,000 feet, we came to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center.  In the visitor center we watched a very informative video on the bristlecone pine and research on their age conducted here in the first half of the twentieth century.  After viewing the movie the four of us headed out to hike the Discovery Trail, a one mile loop with a three hundred foot elevation gain going up the hillside next to the visitor center.   Following that Dave and Sue headed back to Bishop and we headed out to hike the Methuselah Walk, a four and a quarter trail that goes through an ancient bristlecone pine forest.

The two trailheads

The bristlecone pine is the oldest living tree on earth.  A tree found in this forest was measured to be 5,062 years old in 2012.  Prior to that discovery, “Methuselah” was thought to be the oldest at 4,847 years old.  At these high altitudes the trees have a gnarled and stunted appearance

The needles and branch of a bristlecone resembling a bottle brush

Bristlecone wood is very hard and resistant to disease and insects.  When a tree dies the wood does not decompose, it very slowly erodes.  The slowly eroding remains of these dead trees create interesting formations.

This bristlecone was over 3,200 years old when it died in about 1676. Hard to imagine!

The pine cones on the bristlecone have “bristles” which helps identify the tree.


Sue provides a “rose between two thorns” scene

Heading up on the Methuselah Trail

A sculpture garden in nature

The limb in front has made a turn on itself and started growing the opposite way.

Not a trail for those who fear heights!

We thoroughly enjoyed our time among these magnificent trees.  Standing next to a living organism that is thousands of years old is just a bit humbling!

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48 Responses to Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

  1. Sue says:

    Humble is exactly the word….

    I’m glad we didn’t follow you along on the other trail. The Discovery loop was high enough for me!

  2. Deb D. says:

    Those are some of the coolest pictures you have ever posted. Thanks!

  3. pmbweaver says:

    Lovely header.
    At that height, how was your breathing?
    I love the Bristlecone. It has so much character. One of the few things in life that looks so lovely bare.
    The photo…A sculpture garden in nature…is amazing. Gorgeous!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Marsha! We are adjusting to hiking in the higher elevations. Both John and I commented after on how well we did with the four mile hike especially the steeper climbing parts. We’re getting there!

      I agree that these trees actually are more beautiful bare.

  4. Jim and Barb says:

    It is hard to believe that anything can grow out of that rocky environment let alone thousands of years! You guys find the coolest places!

  5. raviolikid says:

    Another place to put on the list! Too bad I am not good with heights, though…

  6. Another place I’ve yet to visit! I love those gnarled trees!

    It is amazing that the Palisades Glacier still exists, I wonder how many more years it has left?

    • placestheygo says:

      Add this forest to your list for a future visit, Lisa!

      I had read about hiking to the glacier in our Parks brochure. But when we stopped at the VC, we found that it is a 16 mile RT hike! Boy was I disappointed to discover that. Eight miles up hill doesn’t sound like fun, noy yo mention how early I would have to get up:) I haven’t read about the life span of this glacier, but at present it is two miles long.

  7. Box Canyon Blogger Mark says:

    What a relative reminder of the brevity of human life. Hard to believe something so artistically twisted, arthritic, ancient, and long dead can still be so comely. If only I looked so good.
    Box Canyon Mark

  8. Love the beautiful old gnarly trees. Surprised to see a glacier still there.

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, Debbie, they were beautiful and each one so unique. The Palisade Glacier is the southern most glacier in the continental US. I had hoped to hike to it but 16 miles RT is out of our range:(

  9. Janna says:

    Amazing the things you learn reading blogs! Another one for the bucket list.

  10. Gay says:

    I love trees…what a great tribute to these magnificent wonders. We learned so much about the Bristlecone Pines in Bryce NP. Thanks for sharing…definitely a place I would love to see!

    • placestheygo says:

      Bryce NP was my first viewing of Bristlecones,too! The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest was a wonderful adventure with thousands of Bristlecones. There are also spectacular Bristlecones in a Great Basin NP (my favorite grove).

      • Eliza says:

        My husband and I have been there and seen them. They are on Mt. Wheeler. We also walked to the glacier. I hope we can go there again sometime in the near future. Thank you for sharing your awesome pictures, they sure made the visit to the forest in California appealing especially since we live in the state and love to visit the many natural wonders that abound here. God bless you.

      • placestheygo says:

        Thanks, Eliza! We did the hike to the glacier in Great Basin, as well. It was strange to find a glacier in that area. The Bristlecones there are my all time favorite.

  11. The weather kept us from going there when we were in Bishop. Definitely next time!

    • placestheygo says:

      Weather has been our friend for sure! We have been in the 80’s ever since that cold front went through and dropped the snow on the mountains. Makes it comfortable at 10,000 ft. Hope our luck continues for a couple more weeks:)

  12. Mary says:

    Oh Wow, we would be in heaven with those gnarly looking trees.

  13. Pam says:

    Love following your trip. We were planning on doing the same thing and were camping at Brown’s Town RV park in Bishop when I stepped in a hole and sprained my ankle. After two weeks, I’m finally able to walk without my crutches. So I am at home making notes of all the places you have been to and hiked. Thanks!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Pam! Glad to hear you are able to get around without crutches. Hope we are able to provide you with some good ideas:) We walked around part of Brown Town yesterday when we played golf!

  14. This looks like a steep hike! I bet you were tired after this one!

  15. Jodee Gravel says:

    The age of the trees, both living and dead, is so hard to comprehend – to think of what was happening in our history when they first died! The photos are wonderful – love the one of Sue on the trail 🙂 Definitely not in my comfort zone to take on the “higher” trail 😦 We’re hoping the rain moves through quickly at the end of the week so we can get up to see these beauties.

  16. Debbie L says:

    Your locations keep getting better and better! Amazing photos. So jealous…..

  17. Debbie L says:

    Reblogged this on Follow the Tumble Lees! and commented:
    To break up our beach adventure, here’s The Places They Go’s amazing blog. Here they are near Big Pine, California. These pictures are incredible. Who knew California had scapes like these!

  18. Laurel says:

    Such magnificent trees, even in their old age — wonderful captures of their twisted, gnarled beauty. We also loved the Bristlecone forest in Great Basin NP. It’s a quieting experience to be among the ancient trees.

  19. Sherry says:

    There you are at a another place that’s been on my list forever. Thank you so much for the great pictures of these amazing beings. Humbled is a good word. They are just so beautiful. What artistry. Fantastic pictures.

  20. Lenore says:

    Love those skies! How did you like the Methuselah Trail?

    • placestheygo says:

      The sky in the west sure is something:) We really enjoyed the Methuselah Trail. We had it to ourselves so we could stop and do all the photo taking we wanted and really examine the trees. The perfect up and down for a good workout, also.

  21. Mel says:

    We were there in 2010. I don’t emagine much has changed.
    Mel n Bev

    • placestheygo says:

      The only changes may have been to the Visitor Center area. I don’t know how complete the buildings were after the fire. But everything in that area looks brand new. But for the trees…at maybe an inch a year, in a good year, I don’t believe there was any change:)

  22. amanpan says:

    Awesome photos. The trees are fascinating. I wish they could talk!

  23. Kathleen says:

    Please check google for a description of the Jeffrey Pine which is the one with the vanilla fragrance!

    • placestheygo says:

      We went back and read on both trees. Interesting! You are correct. We were only going on what we learned from friends that live in Torrey, Utah. But when we were in a large Jeffrey pine forest near the Inyo Craters, the trees had no scent at all. Now I have to start checking the pine cones to tell them apart. We will be checking the tree in our photo tomorrow and see what we find with its pine cones. Stay tune!

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