This weekend, I decided to play it somewhat easy and head up into the White Mountains to visit the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. I ended up doing about 5 and a half miles of hiking, checking out these amazing trees, some over 4000 years old, along with a good amount of fun driving. The following day, I decided to also go and visit Hot Creek up in the Long Valley Caldera.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
I took my time getting up Saturday morning, but I decided that morning to head up to the Bristlecones up in the White Mountains. Last time that I was staying in Bishop, I had read about them, but the roads were closed due to snow at that time. This large forest of bristlecones include Methuselah, previously thought to be the oldest living non-clonal tree in the world (they have more recently found another even older bristlecone in the same area).
The way up to the bristlecones from Bishop is a rather long but fun drive up the mountains, but I was able to get in a little before noon and hit the trails.
I quickly walked around the Methuselah trail and Discovery trail. I can’t say that I ever stopped, pointed at any specific tree, and said anything about it that wasn’t already marked. But supposedly, I did see Methuselah and several other trees that are over 4,000 years old in this area. Some of the fallen wood in the area even dates back 11,000 years old!
What is really cool about this is that within the tree rings of these ancient beings and their corpses, we have a window into the history of our world. These trees remember all of the crazy things they see throughout their immensely long lives, and scientists have learned how to read these memories to some degree. Importantly, thousands of years of climate data is locked within the memories of these trees. Those memories have become important in understanding the damage we are doing to our climate today.
These records were even used to calibrate how scientists measure age via radiocarbon dating; beforehand, the method gave dates as much as a thousand years too young. Effectively, these trees rewrote history as we know it today!
After hanging out with these ancients, I headed about 12 miles down the dirt road to the Patriarch Grove. There’s plenty of warnings about how awful it would be to get a flat tire on the plentiful amounts of sharp rocks all along this road, but I did see one small hatchback driving down it okay. Just make sure you’re ready for a flat tire is the wisdom, I suppose.
I found the Patriarch Grove really cool, when I got there. Being right at tree line on dolomite soil, it is like a desert dotted with amazingly strange looking trees. The Patriarch, itself, is the world’s largest bristlecone pine tree, and is actually marked out. It’s a pretty cool thing to see, although I found it less exciting than the other trees around it.
Of course, the views. All of the hiking trails had some absolutely splendid views. The drive, all around, was gorgeous, too. Some wonderful view of the Eastern Sierras to the West and views out to the mountainous Great Basin to the East, even North and South offered some great views up and down the White Mountains themselves. The elevation is high, with some pretty wonderful prominence all around. It is just a wonderful way to spend the day if the altitude sickness doesn’t drag you down.
(Hot Creek continued after these images)
Sunday was to be an even easier day. Waking up, I knew that I needed to get into town and do some laundry. As I was doing that, I was also reminded that the Long Valley Caldera was nearby, including a highlight of hot springs and other cool features. Among these features is Hot Creek.
Previously, people used to be able to swim in sectioned off areas of the hot springs along the creek. Several people died due to high heat–mostly from going out to other sections–and as geothermal activity began to increase in the area, the pools were closed off indefinitely. Nonetheless, there’s some cool trails that go down into the small canyon, offering some really cool views.
I enjoyed the easy strolling through the area before heading out. I drove around the area of the caldera for a bit, taking in the interesting terrain, and headed back to camp outside of Bishop.