Golden Gate Photo - Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Gallery
Fine Art Photography from Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of California.

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest lies within the Inyo National Forest in the highest portions of the White Mountains, between the Sierra Nevada and Death Valley, in eastern California. Lying between an elevation of 10,000 and 11,000 feet (3,048 and 3,354 meters) above sea level, the ultraviolet rays, extreme cold, wind, and aridity make for a harsh environment. But these trees survive on their ability to grow at an incredibly slow rate, resulting in hard, resinous wood. The harsher the conditions, the slower the growth, and the harder and more resinous the wood is, which becomes resistant to rot and disease. These trees were studied intensely by Dr. Edmund Schulman, a scientist from the University of Arizona, and his colleagues from 1954 to 1957. He studied how the bristlecone pines would die back, leaving mostly deadwood and only a thin strip of living bark to sustain the life of the tree. It was Dr. Schulman that dated the Methuselah Tree at 4,723 years, proving to be the oldest living thing in the world! Dr. Schulman died at age 49, shortly before his data was published in National Geographic in 1958. A nearby grove was named in his honor. On this page, we take a trip around the 4-mile Methuselah Trail loop, where the oldest living things on Earth reside.

Bristlecone and Barren Ground

Bristlecone and Barren Ground

The highly alkaline soils favored by the bristlecone pines, along with the other harsh conditions, result in little to no underbrush or ground cover in these forests. Thus competition for the scarce available nutrients is eliminated.

Print No. A02-29-2

Bristlecone Pine

Bristlecone and Dolomite

The bristlecone pine forests tends to congregate on the light gray Precambrian-age Reed Dolomite. This rock was part of an ancient oceanic deposit that was subsequently (in multiple stages) faulted, folded, uplifted and largely eroded, with the remnants exposed in the ranges of the Basin and Range Province. It is also the calcium-magnesium carbonate, which makes up dolomite, that creates the alkaline soil the bristlecone pines thrive in without competition.

Print No. A02-29-6

Bristlecone  Deadwood

Bristlecone Deadwood

When a bristlecone pine eventually dies, its wood may be so dense and weather-resistant, that it will survive the elements over a thousand years after the demise of the living tree. Dead bristlecone pine wood has been studied in conjunction with the living trees to recalibrate the radiocarbon dating method of Carbon 14 back to 8,600 years! This resulted in the re-writing of a lot of human history, especially in Europe. You can also see in the middle of the distant ridgeline, there is a reddish outcrop of quartzite, upon which very few bristlecone pines grow. Here is a close-up of the polished deadwood.

Print No. A02-30-1

Methuselah Grove

Methuselah Grove

Here on the far side of the Methuselah Trail loop lies the Methuselah Grove with the world's oldest living things. The oldest living tree at 4,723 years, Methuselah, is not identified for its own protection. Before 1964, a bristlecone pine named Prometheus in eastern Nevada was the oldest living thing at 4,950 years. But unfortunately, it was permitted to be cut down, after a coring device failed, for research purposes. Ironically it was that research that proved the tree to be the oldest living thing on Earth.

Print No. A02-30-2

Methuselah Grove

Preference for Dolomite

Looking north from a point 2 miles north of the entrance to the Schulman Grove, this view clearly shows the contact of the Reed Dolomite (white) and the overlying Deep Spring Formation (reddish brown). Ground cover in the form of low schrubs dominates the Deep Springs Formation, while the alkaline soil of the Reed Dolomite suppresses ground cover and the ancient bristlecone pines thrive.

Print No. A03-23-1


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