Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
Walking amongst the oldest trees in the world kind of transcends any knowledge of time and space. These trees, called the Ancient Bristlecone Pine, exist just a little over four hours northeast of Los Angeles in the Inyo National Forest. Their bare, twisted limbs look like something out of a fantasy film and their growth rings are a work of art. It’s hard to believe you’re still in California!
The Secret to Longevity
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine’s secret to longevity? The harsh conditions in which they live. The white, rocky ground that these trees thrive in is called dolomite. It’s a type of limestone created in warm, shallow seawaters, which the area, aptly known as the White Mountains, was once covered in. Few other species have adapted to the high alkaline of the ground’s soil thus allowing the bristlecone pine to exist with virtually no competition.
Hiking in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
We initially embarked upon the Methuselah trail. We came to a halt about half a mile in. The trail was covered in several inches of hard-packed snow at about a seventy-five-degree angle. One wrong step and we were tumbling down the side of the mountain.
The Discovery Trail was our next best option. A leisurely and educational one-mile loop with plenty of switchbacks and swiftly changing terrain, we weren’t disappointed. I found myself walking among a reddish stone-covered slope that I learned was once compressed silt at the bottom of an ancient sea. Again, the space and time transcendence was tangible as I imagine the location at which I was standing at over 10,000 feet in elevation was once below sea level. My mind was blown to say the least.
There were multiple benches dotting the trail along scenic lookout points. My heart was pumping extra hard and my lungs were scrambling for oxygen, so these rest stops came in handy. At one point, I stopped to enjoy a cold one, a snack, and the stellar view of the Eastern Sierras in the spring.
The rodents were surprisingly aggressive for a remote forest that doesn’t see a ton of foot traffic. We steered clear of these cute, furry creatures, however. Grandview Campground, located five miles down the mountain, posted a warning sign that they may very well be carrying the plague.
Solitude in Nature
The lack of foot traffic was part of the appeal for me to visit this area, though. Yosemite is amazing, Mammoth is beautiful, but the thing that those two places guarantee is a lot of tourists. When trading an overcrowded city for Mother Nature, the last thing I want to run into is an overcrowded trail or campground. While on the Discovery Trail, we hardly saw a soul. It was quite magical when coupled with the understanding of how old the bristlecone pines are.
I had to wear layers and to cover my head in my scarf as the afternoon sun was quite intense. Comfortable shoes with lots of support are a must. I purchased my Salomon hiking shoes this past December in preparation for my trip to Peru. I opted for ones with Gore-Tex, which is a waterproof, breathable fabric. This was beneficial as December is Peru’s rainy season. They came in handy once again, on the hiking trail, as we trudged through remaining patches of blinding white snow. Sunglasses were definitely a necessity, as well.
I’d like to return to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Later in the summer when the Methuselah Trail is no longer blocked by scary slopes of snow, I may complete the four and a half mile loop. It’s a beautiful and informative place, family and dog friendly, too! As we departed, we had the pleasure of watching a dachshund gallop happily through the snow.