Whether you’re on the trail, or in the city, every so often you hear a phrase that makes you stare at the speaker in utter disbelief. Just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about good disbelief, that this person just revealed to you the secrets of the universe. I’m talking about phrases that hurt your brain with their stupefying idiocy. I can tell I’ll need an example here, so, here I go: “Man, this dirt…man this dirt is really…brown! Have you ever seen brown dirt before?”. More recently, however, the worst phrase I heard was from an individual who was staring at San Jacinto, and he said, “…whoa. Look at all those trees on that mountain. Who knew that mountain had trees. Who knew there were trees on mountains” before he trailed off into total silence. So, on the off chance that you like to get away from people who talk like this; and on the off chance you like looking at trees on mountains, I have the place for you.
That place is the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, which is located in the White Mountains of California. Bristlecone Pines, are, in short, amazing. If Giant Sequoias are the whales of the world forest, Bristlecone Pines are the tortoises of that same forest: old, wizened, wrinkly, and full of tales of how the world has moved on for the last four thousand years. Currently, the oldest tree on the planet that is not a clone is the “methuselah” tree, and it is over 4,700 years old. Think about that for a second: when this tree sprouted, the Egyptians were still constructing the pyramids. This tree has basically lived through the major events of the human race; and has had to survive the climactic changes that have passed through the White Mountains on a yearly basis, from droughts to storms, as well as insects, fires, and the occasional earthquake. If that isn’t amazing, I’m not sure what is. Then again, if you don’t find it amazing, maybe you don’t like trees – or history – or both. If you don’t find the forest, the trees, or this blog amazing, I suggest you check out this website here, by Leonard Miller, which tells you just how amazing these trees are, and anything you need to know about them.
It’s also worth noting that methuselah is not marked on any of the forest’s groves because of the fear that vandals and or various other tree-haters could get their hands on it. So, if you were planning on heading out to the Bristlecone Pine Forest just to see methuselah, you’re going to have to ask the trees themselves where he/she/it is – which, as I think about it, is as it should be in order to keep the knowledge of eons safe. Placing aside the quest for methuselah, there are two great places to see Bristlecone Pines: the Schulman Grove, which is near the park entrance, and the Patriarch Grove. Both of these locations have great opportunities to view the trees, and great opportunities for solitude in the short hikes that pass through the groves.
Directions: The Forest Service, which manages the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest has provided some great directions here to Schulman Grove. From Schulman Grove, it is another twelve miles on a graded gravel road to Patriarch Grove. Before you go, however, you should know couple things about the White Mountains: 1) While the total distance from Big Pine to the Schulman Grove is only 23 miles, the roads are single-lane, windy mountain roads. This means that even under ideal conditions, it is about an hour drive one way. 2) The White Mountains are high – quite high, over 9,000 feet, topping out at White Mountain, which is over 14,000 feet. A majority of the White Mountain Road is above 6,000 feet, which means that during a large portion of the year, part, or all of the road is inaccessible, as it is covered with snow and ice. In particular, the road from Schulman Grove to Patriarch Grove and beyond to the Barcroft Station is usually inaccessible and unplowed well into June or July of most years. While these conditions are great for snowshoeing or cross country skiing, there are not good for driving. Do not plan to drive this road in the winter. 3) While the White Mountain Road from Schulman Grove to the Patriarch Grove is graded, it is unpaved. The conditions on that road vary depending on the season; and on when the Forest Service has graded/conducted repairs upon it. While it is passable at times in a regular car, at times AWD or 4WD is required. Depending on the season, judge the conditions accordingly before setting out in your car, as the area is quite remote, and does not have cellular coverage. As always, if you are off-roading to the Patriarch Grove or beyond, plan on being prepared.Points of Interest and Miscellany:
The new Schulman Grove Visitor Center is now open during the summer, and I’m sure it likely has some great information on the area in general. It’s also worth noting that rising global temperature have affected not just the Whitney Glacier, but the pines as well, and you can read more about that here. Finally, if you’re not yet interested in trees on the mountain, this poem, written by “Nick” sums up how amazing the area/trees really are: I grow in dolomite soil/facing harsh elements./My thoughts live for thirty years/with minimal nutrients./Your wild fires will consume me,/but I grow in spite of you./My bark is decimated,/Yet I will weather it through./Strong winds spread innuendos/of weakness, sickness and death./But winds do not contemplate/what inspires my current breath./The forest seems so clueless/in assuming I am dead./I am not dead already,/I am already dead.