"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul." ~John Muir
The incredibly isolated White Mountains of California
The White Mountain Range of California is simply one of the country's wildest places. The range itself rises over 14,000ft and rises abruptly from the Owen's Valley of Eastern California. Its a funny thing; the range, although only 60 miles long, is as tall as the Rockies, Sierras, and Cascades but is relatively unknown to most Americans. Unlike the latter, the White Mountains are a very desertous range, creating a unique alpine ecosystem. Within this range, the oldest living things on earth live at elevations exceeding 12,000ft. The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest contains trees between 2,000 and 4,500 years old; the oldest on earth. So, whether it be by hiking, mountain biking or backpacking, exploring the White Mountains beckon the adventurer!

Location and Background

The White Mountains are directly east of Bishop California. This mountain range, along with the Sierra Nevadas, forms the Owens Valley. This is a cold, desertous region with very scrubby vegetation. It is the beginning of the Great Basin which is a massive endoheric basin (water which does not flow to the ocean). With Mt Whitney on one side and White Mountain on the other, Owens Valley is one of the deepest valleys in the world! The valley has an average "depth" of 10,000ft (3,100m). The combination of the Sierra Nevada rainshadow and the rough topography of the White Mountains has created an intensely unique ecosystem that supports some of the heartiest flora and fauna. White Mountain Road is the only paved road that penetrates this range.
Patriarch Grove, White Mountains, California
Overview of Things to do in the White Mountains

The best way to explore the White Mountains is through old fashioned day hiking. There are several trails which take no longer than a half a day to complete. One must not leave without checking out the Methuselah Grove near the Schulman Grove. This is located 10 miles up the White Mountain road from State Route 168. At an elevation of 10,000ft, you will be hiking more slowly and need much more water than you would at sea level; plan accordingly. The 1$ guide can be picked up at the parking lot and will let you know of the specific ages of trees as you wander about.

Further up the road is the Patriarch Grove which is another bristlecone grove at 12,000ft (3,600m)! This is another great place for some day hiking; the trail is less than 3 miles long. This grove. Photography is the activity of choice at this location for many reasons. This grove is very stark with little vegetation other than bristlecones. Its almost as if somebody went the the Moon and simply planted some trees!
Patriarch Grove, White Mountains, California
The Patriarch Grove is slightly more difficult to get to. The White Mountain Rd is paved for 10 miles to the Schulman Grove Visitor Center. After that, its a rough dirt road which can be accessed by 2-wheel drive (carefully!). However, this is 12 miles further than the first grove and will take you over an hour.

As you might guess, this road provides excellent opportunities for 4x4 driving. Many people drive their trucks up to the 12,000ft on this road for the bragging rights. I successfully took my 2x2 2001 VW Jetta to the top, but this was significantly more tedious. The road is blocked past 12,000ft but hiking and Mountain Biking are still permitted beyond the gate. If you're up for an epic challenge, try hiking or mountain biking the rest of the road up to White Mountain Peak. This peak stands at 14,252ft and is the highest place which can be successfully navigated by mountain bike in the USA.
Proof that a Jetta can make it up the White Mountain road
to an elevation of 12,000ft!
Take only pictures, leave only footprints... Leave No Trace
Before going out, I should let you know that this place is isolated from any form of civilization. The road is paved, but rough with no gas stations or visitor center amenities. This is a very deliberate and purposeful decision of the Forest Service. The White Mountains are a magical destination with the oldest forest on Earth. It is in the best interest of preservation to keep this place untrampled by people who are not familiar with Leave No Trace Principles. I write this guide with trust that you, the traveler, will observe the strictest of Leave No Trace rules with respect to this unique place.
The Sierra Nevada from state route 168
Getting to the White Mountains
The drive to the White Mountains is both a long trip and a scenic trip! From just about anywhere, you will be driving on Highway 395, the Eastern Sierra Highway. For those of you who truck it up to Mammoth for snowboarding, its the same direction. From the LA/Orange County area, its a five and a half hour drive. The town of Big Pine, California is the gateway to the White Mountains and the last stop that has gas or food. From Big Pine, take CA-168 eastwards for 13 miles. You should see signs for White Mountain Rd which will be on the left. Take the paved White Mountain Road for about 8 miles to the campsites or drive on another 2 miles for the Schulman Grove Visitor Center. Please note that the visitor center is not a large facility such as the ones in our national parks. Pit toilets, campsites, and running water sources are available nearby.

The White Mountains are best visited in the summer months but snow can hit this elevation any time of year. Be well prepared!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!