Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, White Mountains
"Oldest living things on Earth"
Words fail me. How could you describe a forest with the oldest living things on Earth; Trees that have been growing for 4,000 years. Trees which were planted at the dawn of human civilization and lived through five millenniums: the definition of longevity. Me, a 22-year old, walking amongst the patriarchs of all trees... almost seemed like an intrusion. I do not mean to wax poetically about something simply to sound interesting. Though all this might sound appallingly bohemian, the forest is an incredible force of nature.
This is why I find myself hesitant to expose such a place to the Internet. The Forest service shares my fear of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest becoming another disneyland and has done its best to make sure that the forest is not
well known. So I trust that anyone seeking to explore such a place would treat it with the appropriate care that they would handling any ancient relic.
|Standing next to a 4,000 year old tree gives one a feeling of frailty |
The oldest forest on Earth is located in California's White Mountain Range, paralleling the Sierra Nevada Range. The White Mountains are nearly as high but dry, scrubby, and desertous. It is within this niche that this particular species is able to survive for so long. Pinus longaeva
exists only in the harshest of climates at the highest of elevations in California, Nevada and Utah.
|Bristlecones grow in the cold, dry, and inhospitable alpine desert environments|
In California, they grow at elevations upwards of 10,000ft. Ironically enough, this is the key to their longevity. After all, nothing else really lives at such elevations, much less any predators. Within this forest stand the oldest of all living organisms: a tree named Methusula. This tree is over 4,700 years old. It is such an incredible specimen of life that its actual location is a highly protected secret of the forest service. It is doubtful that more than a handful of people on earth actually know its location. But, the hiking trails still take you deep within the heart of the forest.
|The Patriarch Grove at 12,000ft |
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is notoriously difficult to get to and is not on most contemporary maps. It is located east of Big Pine California which can be reached from southern California by taking I-15 to Rt-395 north towards Mammoth Lakes. Once you reach Big Pine, turn left on State Rt 168. Once you leave Big Pine, there is nothing
else on the way up. White Mountain road is about 13 miles up Rt-168 and you drive up this rough but paved road all the way to the groves, which are less than 10 miles away. VERY primitive camping is available and once again, you are really in the middle of nowhere, so be well prepared to handle any car problems that might come up. Don't go in the winter, or you will be snowed out.
Lastly, more than anywhere else, please respect the rules of "Leave No Trace"