Defying the Odds – The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Tree

We are so behind with our storytelling not only because we’ve had no internet connection but also we are having so much fun and enjoying so much beautiful scenery.  For now lets go to White Mountain

White Mountain, CA
At 10,000′ elevation, White Mountain is home to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Another excursion not to be missed while in the Eastern Sierra is a day just to visit and touch a very special tree, the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine that is.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Tree
Eroded Ancient Bristlecone Pine Tree
Checking out an eroded Ancient Bristlecone Pine tree

 Why is this tree so special?  Well, these Bristlecone Pines are the oldest and most picturesque trees on earth.  They exhibit spectacular growth forms of twisted and beautifully colored wood.  How old?  How about more than 4,000 years old – which would make them older than Jesus and the Pyramids.

These ancients thrive by growing slowly and steadily in the most difficult environment in the White Mountains area at an elevation between 9000 to 12000 feet.  White mountain peak is the third -highest peak in California at 14,246 feet.  The climate here is characterized as arid, dry and windswept cold.  It is seemingly an unlikely place to find the oldest living trees but this is where the bristlecones have survived for more than 40 centuries.  They have the ability to adapt to this unique environment and attain great age not in spite of it but because of it.  They can only survive where other plants can’t compete with them for rare resources, and what other plants would want to live here?

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Tree

To see these ancient trees we walked one of the three trails at Schulman Groove (named after Dr Edmund Schulman), the Discovery Trail.  Here we learned a short lesson in the natural history of the bristlecones and had breathtaking views of the southernmost glaciers in North America high atop the Sierra Nevada range (and we thought we have seen them all in Alaska).  We also saw the red quartzite rocks.  Dozens of Clark  Nutcracker birds were there keeping us company with their chirping and cracking.

Southern most glaciers in North America
Southernmost glaciers in North America at the Siera Nevada range

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees

Red Quartzite Rocks

Fallen Dead Bristlecone Pine Tree

After our hike, we watched the movie “Bristlecone Pine, Oldest Known Living Thing” at the just-opened new visitor center.  We learned more about Dr Schulman’s discovery and research using a tree borer that helped in tree ring chronologies dating back to 6700 BC.  In 1957 he said , “Microscopic study of growth rings reveals that a bristlecone pine tree found last summer at nearly 10,000 feet began growing more than 4,600 years ago.”

Tree core of the Ancient Bristlecone Tree
Tree core sample, where growth rings are counted

Clark Nutcracker
Clark Nutcracker

Bristle Cone

After a day of learning and exploration, we had lunch at the Sierra View Vista Point about a quarter-mile from the forest.  We had an extraordinary million-dollar view across the Owens Valley to the Sierra crest.

Lunch with a view

And one more awesome view.

Sierra Vista Point

Although we never got around to it, Steve very much wanted to ride his bike all the way down White Mountain back to the outskirts of Big Pine.  Wow, from 10,000′ to 3,800′ – all downhill and lasting something like 23 miles!  Maybe you want to give it a try if you make it up there?




  1. Highly fascinating, and so magnificent-looking! A nature’s sculpture, so wonderful. What I wouldn’t give to see it. Someday, someday.

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