A majestic landscape reflecting a history of extremes.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
Inyo National Forest

"While on the roughest ledges of crumbling limestone are lowly old giants, five or six feet in diameter that have braved the storms of more than a thousand years. But whether old or young, sheltered or exposed to the wildest gales, this tree is ever found to be irrepressibly and extravagantly picturesque, offering a richer and more varied series of forms to the artist than any other species I have yet seen."
—John Muir


Of the many scenic wonders found within the lnyo National Forest, one of the most amazing is the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, located between 10,000 and 11,000 ft. in the White Mountains, east of the Sierra Nevada.

These trees (Pinus longaeva) are the oldest known living trees on earth. Here in the White Mountains, the ancient trees have survived more than 40 centuries, exceeding the age of the oldest Giant Sequoia by 1,500 yrs. Each Bristlecone pine, from young seedling to ancient relic, has an individual character. Young trees are densely clad with glistening needle-covered branches that sway like foxtails in the wind. With their bristled cones dripping pine scented resin on a warm afternoon, they exude all the freshness of youth. As centuries pass and the trees are battered by the elements, they become sculpted into astonishingly beautiful shapes and forms.

These "old age" gnarled Bristlecones command complete attention, for there is a definite emotional impact up on meeting a 4,000 year-old tree. The aged tree's tenacity to maintain life is impressive. While most of its wood is dead, growth barely continues through a thin ribbon of bark. When all life finally ceases, the snags stand like elegant ghosts for a thousand years or more. They continue to be polished by wind-driven ice and sand. The dense wood is slowly eroding away rather than decaying. Thin clear air and crisp ultraviolet light drench the high altitude and slopes where the Bristlecone Pine makes its home. At this high elevation, one has the impression of a lunar landscape.

The trees manage to survive in the poorly nourished, alkaline soil with a minimum of moisture and a forty-five day growing season. In fact, the trees longevity is linked to these inhospitable conditions. The trees grow very slowly, adding as little as an inch in girth in a hundred years. Those that grow the slowest produce dense, highly resinous wood that is resistant to rot and disease.

There are two self-guided nature trails at Schulman Grove. Along the Discovery Walk, the first tree dated at over 4,000 years by Dr. Schulman, is Pine Alpha. The oldest living tree, including the 4,723 year-old Methuselah tree, grow along the Methuselah Trail. There is a visitor center, outdoor display case, picnic area, and toilets. WATER IS NOT AVAILABLE. Patriarch Grove is 13 miles farther up the mountain by way of a dirt road. The drive is spectacular with views of great open spaces and colorful ranges.

During the short blooming season, wildflowers crowd the road edges and the rocky soil around the trees. The Patriarch Grove is set within a large open bowl, well exposed to wind and weather. The elements have molded the trees into unusual abstract sculptures. Due to the dramatic setting, the area is a must for photographers. A self-guided trail leads past the Patriarch Tree, the largest Bristlecone Pine in the world. There are picnic tables, an outdoor display case, and toilets at the grove.

Because the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is a very special place, fragile and irreplaceable, everything possible must be done to maintain its environmental integrity. The following regulations apply within the boundaries of the forest. These are not meant to detract from enjoyment, but to protect the ancient trees and their setting. The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is classified as a Botanical Area and is set aside for scientific research and public enjoyment. To aid in preserving the area in its natural state, please observe the following rules while visiting the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest:

  • All natural features are protected. No wood, rocks, or plant material may be removed. Each piece of wood, regardless how small, maybe of great importance in the scientific research of the Bristlecone Pine. Scientific permits are required to collect plant or rock specimens.
  • Archaeological sites are a vital record of the past. Disturbing sites or artifacts destroys these traces of cultural history and is unlawful.
  • Because of fire danger and soil compaction, all camping, stove use outside vehicles, and campfires are prohibited.
  • To prevent tire track damage which remains on the landscape for years, vehicles are to drive only on established open roads. Park in designated areas or stop as close to the road edge as possible.
  • Bristlecone Pine tree roots are shallow and easily damaged by impact and soil erosion. Hikers must remain on trails at Schulman and Patriarch Groves: Do not short-cut trail switchbacks. Thank you for your help in the preservation of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.


CAMPING

Campgrounds have trash containers, picnic tables, and pit toilets. There is no water available. Camping at Grandview Campground is free. To protect the fragile environment, camping is prohibited in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest boundaries. Campgrounds are available for groups, ranging in size from 5 to 55 persons, in the Cedar Flat area
Group campgrounds may be reserved by calling (800) 280-CAMP.

Regulations

Due to the increasing number of visitors in the White Mountains, the Forest Service is faced with the necessity of establishing some regulations to protect the fragile high altitude environment. Please help by taking the time to read the following. Only everyone's extra effort will preserve the unmarred beauty and solitude of these mountains:

Trash
Please place all trash in containers provided by the Forest Service. Trash left in boxes or plastic bags will be scattered by animals, resulting in a smelly mess. Taking trash to containers means a little more effort on your part, but it will help keep the area clean.

Toilets
Keep toilets as clean as possible. Pick up dropped toilet tissue. Close the latrine lid and the door of the building to discourage insects.

Dogs
For the safety of visitors and your pet, your dog must be on a leash within the following areas: Pinon Picnic Area; all campgrounds, and within the boundaries of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

Fires
In established campgrounds, build fires only in fireplaces provided by the Forest Service. Use of wood from any live trees and shrubs is prohibited. Campfire permits are required outside of developed campgrounds. Fire permits can be obtained from any Forest Service office and at Schulman Grove visitor center.

Sound Equipment
Respect other campers' privacy and enjoyment of nature by confining sounds from radio and musical instruments to your campsite. Sorry, but portable speakers may not be used.

Traveler's Caution
Be prepared for unpredictable changes in wind and temperature during any visit to the White Mountains. Due to the elevation changes, temperatures between the desert floor and Patriarch Grove can vary 40-50 degrees or more. For instance, when the temperature is 98 degrees in Big Pine, it will be approximately 85 degrees in Grandview Campground. At Schulman Grove, the temperature drops to a comfortable 72 degrees, and up at Patriarch Grove, it can be less than 60 degrees. Even the nicest warm summer morning can end with a sleet and hail thunderstorm in the afternoon. In the spring and fall, the air can be very cold, so carry adequate clothing. As there is one-third less oxygen available at 10,000 feet than at sea level, some people suffer from altitude sickness. Symptoms are shortness of breath, headache, extreme fatigue, nausea, and dizziness. Slowing the pace and breathing more deeply usually brings relief. In severe cases, travel to lower elevations immediately. During the first days of high elevation exposure, blood pressure elevates sharply. People with heart problems should consult their physicians before planning a trip to the mountains. Dehydration is common in this dry climate, so bring ample amounts of drinking water. Always carry water on any hiking trip. Sunscreen, a hat, and dark glasses are necessary due to the greater exposure to ultraviolet radiation.


Driving Conditions
The only paved roads in the area are Hwy. 168 and the White Mountain Road to Schulman Grove. The dirt road to Patriarch Grove is adequate for most family cars. Automobiles sometimes encounter difficulty climbing the steep White Mountain Road. Vehicles will work more efficiently if well-tuned and the carburetor adjusted to high elevations. Be sure there is adequate coolant in the radiator. Because of the grade and tight curves, the drive to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is not recommended for large mobile homes or trailers.

Most dirt roads leading into the White Mountains wind up steep, rock-strewn canyons, and are recommended only for drivers with 4-wheel drive vehicles, well experienced in mountain travel. Before embarking on any expedition on dirt roads, determine road conditions by checking with a forest ranger.

Plan to visit from Memorial Day through October 31st, as weather and road conditions close the Forest the remaining months of the year.

NOTE: No water is available east of Big Pine. There is NO GAS available beyond the town of Big Pine.

 
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