White Mountain Rd., Big Pine, California
Suspended eerily on the rugged slopes of the White Mountains, at an altitude of 10,000 or more feet, is a stand of one of the planet’s oldest living trees: the Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva). The most ancient specimen is the 4,700-year-old Methuselah, which stands in a grove of pines that has been growing here for 4,000 years or more. The exact location of the tree is kept confidential in order to protect it.
Twelve miles farther along the road that crosses the forest is the world’s largest bristlecone pine. Here in the Patriarch Grove, at 11,000 feet, is the Old Patriarch itself, which measures more than 36 feet in circumference.
The bristlecones’ tortured shapes reflect the barren, wind-swept conditions amid which they persevere, jutting out from the mountainside like bleached bones or driftwood. Many branches appear dead, while others are thickly furred with green needles. Drippings of clear, bluish sap perfume the air. For all the seeming aridity of the land, there are lovely stands of wildflowers in the Patriarch area in August.
In most weather conditions the steep road to the forest provides breathtaking views across Owens Valley to the sheer white face of the Sierra Nevada. But after big snowfalls cars must turn back at the Sierra Vista lookout, which is at an elevation of 10,000 feet. In good weather take advantage of miles of trails and picnic grounds beautifully sited in and around this great forest.
–Open daily mid-May – Oct.