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