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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.

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. 

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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23 hours ago

Currently 85 degrees with summer thunderstorms brewing. ... See MoreSee Less

 

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Stunning! I wish I was there!!

I was just up in tuolume meadows yesterday and could see it coming , so beautiful in that area

It's storming here in the Northern Parishes in Louisiana.

Bakersfield CA 107 108 all week

OMG, I can smell the wet dirt and sagebrush ♥️⛈💦

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1 day ago

These girls know how to have fun!!! Chocolate Peak 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼
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2 days ago

It's looking beautiful in the high country!!

Parchers Resort & South Lake Landing
A sneak peek of the first Treasure Lake above South Lake Bishop from a few days ago. Time to hike y’all!!! . Vid courtesy of resort staffer Timmy Adams . . #easternsierrahiking #bishophiking #bishopcreek #bishoppass #johnmuirwilderness #parchersresort #southlakebishop #treasurelakes #backcountry #takeahike
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One of my favorite place to kayak! http://www.paddlingcalifornia.com/South_Lake.html

Would love to see this. Absolutely beautiful.

I remember hiking to this lake when I was staying in Bishop California. Gorgeous setting and lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. South Lake was beautiful as well.

Refreshing! I want to come back very soon!

Wow. Love this area

Truly amazing place! On to Aggasiz!

Thanks. Pretty cool. <3

Heaven here on earth.

Cool and crisp, been there, camping when a kid and fishing.

Very nice!

Beautiful!

Beautiful

Hoping to visit Bishop this fall on vacation.

Lucky you thanks for sharing

Stayed at Parchers many years ago

Nice nice nice be ther monday

The best anywhere!

Beautiful ❤️

Gotta get up there!!

Will be there in August

How long is the hike to get to this lake?

Heading up there next weekend!!!!

Jessica Maciejewski

what is the elevation there?

No fish in there. Gill netted several years ago.

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3 days ago

Who's golfing today?? Do you know about this beautiful course we have right here in town? 18 holes open year-round!! More info about local golfing at www.bishopvisitor.com/activities/golf/
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Whos golfing today?? Do you know about this beautiful course we have right here in town? 18 holes open year-round!! More info about local golfing at https://www.bishopvisitor.com/activities/golf/
Photo: @weareinthistogether2010
#visitbishop

 

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Can’t wait for next Saturday’s Golf Fun Day!!

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