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By Lee Foster

What are the oldest living things on earth? The current consensus is that they are trees, the bristlecone pines, which grow in the White Mountains of California, east from Bishop.

You can easily make their acquaintance and wander amidst a group of them. Visiting the bristlecone forest can be an inspiring trip. Some of these trees were already old when Socrates and Jesus Christ and Buddha were young.bristlecone-350

California boasts some astonishing superlative facts of nature that appear to be indisputable. In California, you can meet the tallest, the most massive, and the oldest living things on earth. These three superlatives all happen to be trees. In a week trip you could crisscross the state to witness these three arboreal phenomena. You would need to put a few miles on your vehicle to include all three.

The tallest living earthly entities are the coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) along the coast north from San Francisco. The tallest specimen flourishes at a hidden location in Redwood National and State Parks, near Orick, in the northwestern corner of the state.

The most massive of living things are the coast redwoods’ inland cousin (Sequoiadendron gigantea), located in pockets along the western foothills of the Sierra at midstate. The giant among these is the General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park, east of Fresno.

The oldest living creatures on this planet are the bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva), which  survive in the White Mountains, a range east of Bishop. Bristlecone pines exist in other mountain settings in the Southwest, such as in Utah, but the California trees rank as the oldest, some more than 4,500 years, based on core samples that have been ring dated. Each ring measures a year of growth.

CA: Bristlecone Pines, Pine Alpha, Schulman Grove

Their true age was not known until 1957. Only then was the startling discovery made that these trees in the White Mountains of eastern California were so old. The bristlecones were much older than even the 2,500-year-old ancients among the sequoia trees.

The surprising discovery was that some gnarled bristlecone pines ring dated to that early period. Moreover, scientists projected a 12,000-year chronology of weather patterns by matching the ring dates of living trees, dead trees, and downed wood. When there are time gaps, carbon dating can help.

The tenacious bristlecones silently maintain their vigil, living in the inhospitable conditions of the White Mountains. Moisture is minimal, locked up for long periods as snow. Wind constantly prunes adventuresome branches. Alkaline soils present the sparest nutrient base on which plant life can survive. Longevity of the twisted, ravaged bristlecones seems to stand as a metaphor of adaptation to adversity.

Communing with the bristlecones makes the passing fashions, the everyone-is-famous-for-15-minutes philosophy, the capsulized soundbite mentality of our modern time, seem fleeting indeed.

A ranger on duty at the Visitor Center can acquaint you with self-guided trails, such as the Discovery Trail and the Methuselah Trail. Take the mile-long Discovery Trail, which has plenty of photogenic trees and the tree named Pine Alpha, the first tree that Dr. Edmund Schulman determined was more than 4,000 years old. The Methuselah Trail is longer, taking several hours, and is recommended only to the extremely fit who can hike some distance in the rarefied air at a high altitude.

The Bristlecone forest is a special 28,000-acre preserve within Inyo National Forest. Transport yourself to this aerie from your support base along Highway 395 in Bishop or Mammoth Lakes. Both cities have plenty of lodging and dining options. The drive is about an hour from Bishop.

Consider the outing to the bristlecones as an assault on a peak, for you will rise to almost 10,000 feet above sea level. Make sure your car is in good condition. Go easy on the brakes for the long trip down the 8% grade. When hiking, be sure to pace yourself, taking only very short walks. You may need to acclimatize yourself for a day or more before hiking here strenuously.

Fill the tank with gasoline at Bishop, take plenty of protective clothes, and carry a gallon of water per person in your vehicle.Bristlecone Pines Schulman Grove CA

From Big Pine make the 23-mile drive to the bristlecones by starting east on Highway 168, also known as Westguard Pass Road. After two miles, stay left at the junction with Eureka Valley. Eleven miles later, a sign will direct you to the bristlecone pines. May-to-December are generally the snow-free months with good road access. Check with the rangers in advance to be safe.

You will pass through a forest of pinon pine and Utah juniper until you reach the nearly pure forest of bristlecones, starting at 9,500 feet. Within the Bristlecone Pine Forest, visit the Schulman Grove, at the south edge. Another grove, the Patriarch Grove, lies at the north end. Get precise details at the Visitor Center.

California is a special place. The state can boast of these arboreal natural wonders. Even the most dispassionate scientific observers support the notion that California offers you a visit to the tallest, most massive, and oldest living things on this planet.

**

If You Go: Visit the Bristlecone Pines

Search for Schulman Grove Visitor Center in the Inyo National Forest comments on the USDA Forest Service website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/info.

For a more detailed discussion on visiting all three superlative tree species, see my website article at https://www.fostertravel.com/californias-three-arboreal-superlatives/.

You can find more of Lee’s writing on his blog, Foster Travel.

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19 hours ago

Don’t forget to visit the Bishop Mule Days Celebration official souvenir shop located on the fairgrounds for 50th anniversary commemorative t-shirts, belt buckles, coffee mugs and more! Open now through Sunday, May 26th. ... See MoreSee Less

Don’t forget to visit the Bishop Mule Days Celebration official souvenir shop located on the fairgrounds for 50th anniversary commemorative t-shirts, belt buckles, coffee mugs and more! Open now through Sunday, May 26th.

 

Comment on Facebook

Can we purchase items online when we can’t attend in person??

Teresa Nunez

Are you online?

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3 days ago

Mule Days is open to the public; no charge to enter the fairgrounds and there is a lot to see and do all weekend! Bring the kids and enjoy all the fun activities Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Junior Packer Corral. Happening this coming weekend, Friday May 24 - Sunday May 26th. ... See MoreSee Less

Mule Days is open to the public; no charge to enter the fairgrounds and there is a lot to see and do all weekend! Bring the kids and enjoy all the fun activities Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Junior Packer Corral. Happening this coming weekend, Friday May 24 - Sunday May 26th.

 

Comment on Facebook

Gary Dutter

Silly Question I guess... But What Month???

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4 days ago

Winter just doesn’t want to leave!The winter that wouldn’t end! ... See MoreSee Less

Winter just doesn’t want to leave!

 

Comment on Facebook

What's with the snow??

Still wintery here right now in May!!

Down here at the very beginning of the PCT we are very wet and cold and wondering how all those PCT hikers in just tennis shoes are doing right now. Some of them look so ill prepared when they finish the first 22 miles and stop here at our Malt Shop for a pizza and hot breakfast before starting up into the Laguna Mts.

Great place to stay

I guess it must be the Sierra answer to that surfing movie, "The Endless Summer." And even here in Berkeley, CA on this side we turned on our heater today. Well, we needed to dry out the interior of the house. Pretty pictures, though. Thanks.

We had snow in Mc Cloud last night.

No snow but rainy and chilly on the Central Coast . We feel the same....😁

I like cardinal village

Geeeezzz!!! R-2 conditions over Donner Pass today, which is my home territory.

Oh no!❄️☃️

Can't wait to go up in August.....back in the early 1970's, there would be patches of snow on the mountain across from Camp Sabrina around Memorial day!

Well WE are raining, cold with thunder and lightning here in the Sonoma County area.

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1 week ago

Fishing and conditions report from Lake Sabrina Boat Landing: Mother Nature definitely didn’t want us to forget her this week – lots of fun weather. Beautiful sunny days, then rain, slush, snowball snow, lightening, thunder, big flake snow and lots of it and then back to beautiful sunny days. And it looks like we’ve got the same instore for us this coming week. We woke to 14” to 16” of snow on Friday, it was a pretty quiet Friday. We stayed hunkered down by the woodstove that day. Pretty much by Sunday that snow was gone.

The Lake was icing off fairly well prior to last week’s storm. The manmade part of the Lake is totally ice-free, but may have some skim ice in the early morning. We’ve got open water behind the Island in the first natural Lake. There’s open water showing in the back natural Lake over by Little George Inlet, but is still iced-over where the Lake narrows down by Cookie’s Point. With the cooler temps, the run-off has shut down a bit and the Lake is not rising. We’re hoping that will change and we’ll have boats on the Lake by Memorial Weekend – just need 6’.

If you’re fishing, might want to try back behind what is normally the Island – can’t really tell you what’s working cuz haven’t had many fisherpeople out there yet.
... See MoreSee Less

Fishing and conditions report from Lake Sabrina Boat Landing: Mother Nature definitely didn’t want us to forget her this week – lots of fun weather. Beautiful sunny days, then rain, slush, snowball snow, lightening, thunder, big flake snow and lots of it and then back to beautiful sunny days. And it looks like we’ve got the same instore for us this coming week. We woke to 14” to 16” of snow on Friday, it was a pretty quiet Friday. We stayed hunkered down by the woodstove that day. Pretty much by Sunday that snow was gone.

The Lake was icing off fairly well prior to last week’s storm. The manmade part of the Lake is totally ice-free, but may have some skim ice in the early morning. We’ve got open water behind the Island in the first natural Lake. There’s open water showing in the back natural Lake over by Little George Inlet, but is still iced-over where the Lake narrows down by Cookie’s Point. With the cooler temps, the run-off has shut down a bit and the Lake is not rising. We’re hoping that will change and we’ll have boats on the Lake by Memorial Weekend – just need 6’.

If you’re fishing, might want to try back behind what is normally the Island – can’t really tell you what’s working cuz haven’t had many fisherpeople out there yet.

 

Comment on Facebook

Would really like to go up there and fish.

Jessica Caballero Yolanda Wren Joseph Caballero

We are coming up early June! Staying in Lone Pine but plan on driving up to visit. Hope we can see Sabrina

Luv it there caught my share

Filling up, can’t wait

JJ Garcia

Joe Powell

Scott L Barnes

Jo Nathan let’s goooo!

Roberto Villegas look familiar?

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