It's said the ancient bristlecone pines are the oldest living trees on the face of the earth, many of them 4,000 years old, even older than the oldest giant sequoia by 1500 years. The bristlecones thrive in high altitudes, this forest being at at least 10,000 feet and possibly 12,000. They also have adpated to the dry, sandy soil.
I had wanted to see the bristlecones in May when I was down near Bishop, but there was still snow on the ground, and the roads were closed. Besides that, with my fear of heights, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to do the drive. So, I passed it up.
Now, six weeks later, the roads are dry, and after talking with a few people in the know, I've decided to take my chances...and the drive. And I'm so glad I did.
The Highway 168 is actually a very fun road to travel. There are very few cars on this 13-mile stretch. It's kinda curvy and narrow and there's even a tiny part where the road becomes one lane, but you're on low, solid ground with a very gradual altitude gain from 4000 feet to 6000, so you don't feel like you're going to drop off the side of the mountain. The really fun parts are the dips in the road that make you say, "Weeee!"
After leaving Highway 168, there's a left turn at the National Park Service sign for the Bristlecone forest. Now the road gets steeper and a little more curvy, several hairpins, but there's still no feeling of fear. In only one section, the last mile or so, one may get a little nervous if their fear of heights is extreme. But I had no trouble with it, and I'd say my fear is probably, on a scale of 1 to 10, a nine. This road travels about 10 miles or so to Schulman Grove where there's a visitor's center and picnic area.
There are two hiking trails, one short and one long. The long one, the Methuselah Trail, is just over four miles long. It's up and down, but not to any extreme. The nice thing is that it's a loop, so you're not backtracking. The shorter one-mile loop is a discovery trail, often with information and facts from a ranger.
If you plan on taking pictures, I'd recommend going in the morning hours. I started the hike at 9:15 and finished at 1, so the sun was almost always in a good spot for getting the best blue sky. An hour earlier would probably be better in the summer months.
I compared the walk through the bristlecones to being in a slot canyon because they're both so unique. The gnarled, crazily-sculpted trees will keep you in a state of awe.
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