I made some friends today, the gnarly, weather-beaten, and resilient ancient bristlecone pine trees.

They live in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest outside of Bishop, CA, within the Eastern Sierras. Ever since seeing a photo of one of these trees, it has been high on our photo shoot list. After arriving it was easy to understand why there were so few visitors. It’s not easy to get to. 

Our starting point was Big Pine, a small town located closest to the entrance to the Forest. Just a few moments outside of town and you are on the ascent rising to more than 10,000 feet from Big Pine’s 4,000 feet in elevation. It’s not only the ascent that is difficult but the windiness of the road with its many hairpin turns. Throw in a single lane portion and you have the makings of a tough drive. After a 45 minutes, we arrive at the visitor center, the location of the first of two major bristlecone groves, Schulman Grove. At close to 10,000 feet above sea level, hiking around the grove was breathtaking.

The second grove, Patriarch Grove, was another 13 miles up a windy pass, this time on a dirt road. 45 minutes later, and another 1,300 feet in elevation, we arrived to more spectacular trees, some of which are more than 4,000 years old, making them the oldest living organisms in the world. 

After a short walk, it was apparent that these trees had loads of personality. Not only are they alive, they seemed to have human characteristics. I caught this guy at his wits end, ready to jump off the ledge. After much haranguing, I talked him down.

“Goodbye Cruel World”

This is not your typical forest as the density of trees is much less than what you would picture as a forest. Nevertheless, I was walking through the forest and came across a bristlecone acting out a scene from “The Wizard of Oz”.

“I’ll Get You My Pretty”

They also seemed to be into fantasy. I later came across this guy pretending to be Nessy, the Loch Ness Monster. As you can see, I stayed out of sight so as not to startle him. I hear they can be quite skittish.


My friends also interact with each other on a very personal way. Kathryn came across this dancing pair.

“Dancing” [photo by Kathryn]

The bristlecone youth seemingly have some of the same issues as our youth. This teenager (equivalent to a teenager in our age scale) was ostracized, bullied by some of his peers.


With the difficulty of the drive, the extreme elevation, and its remote location, it is easy to see why there were so few visitors. For those who drove near and didn’t visit, they missed out on a national gem. I’m glad we made the effort, and we will come back to visit these trees again, for I already miss my new, almost human friends.

Remember, it’s all about the light, bristlecone style.