Ancient Bristlecone Scenic Byway
Photo © Public Domain
The Ancient Bristlecone Scenic Byway follows California State Route 168 and Forest Service Road 4S01 (White Mountain Road), in east-central California. Passing through the outstanding scenic area of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, this U.S. Forest Service Scenic Byway climbs through pinyon-juniper woodlands to the world's oldest living trees located in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.
The byway begins in the Owens Valley at 4,000 feet in elevation, a high plains landscape, and ends at Patriarch Grove located at 11,200 feet in elevation.
The route was designated a National Forest Scenic Byway July 13, 1992. The Ancient Bristlecone Scenic Bwyay is eligible for State Scenic Highway Designation.
Length of Byway or Route: 34.0 miles
The byway begins on Highway 168 at the intersection of Interstate 395 in Big Pines, south of Bishop, California. The byway travels northeast on Highway 168 and then north on Forest Road 4S01 (White Mountain Road) through the Inyo National Forest, ending in Patriarch Grove. The byway crosses and can be accessed by Silver Canyon Road and Wyman Creek Road.
Silver Canyon Road can be access north of Bishop and Wyman Creek Road is located north of Deep Springs off of Highwyay 168.
The byway is paved to Schulman Grove and gravel for the remainder. Estimated driving time is 2 hours.
There might be a life lesson or two hiding among the bristlecone pines that thrive in inhospitable and forbidding terrain at the Ancient Bristlecone Scenic Byway's highpoint. From the absurdly old bristlecone pines that begin at around 9000 feet in elevation to the enlightening vistas and the pristine geological record, travelers on the byway face the overwhelming power and weight of time.
A trip on the byway will take you as high as 11,000 feet above sea level along the White Mountain ridgeline, where you can see for miles and observe evidence of billions of years' worth of creation and destruction. Inyo National Forest's unique rocky terrain and sparse rainfall make for an otherworldly array of rock formations in the valley. Geology enthusiasts encounter well-preserved fossils of prehistoric plants and animals among the layers of hardened sediment, including the oldest known trilobite imprints.
As you make your way to higher elevations, you'll notice the different kinds of life that flourish at each level. Desert life thrives at the beginning of the journey but is replaced by wooded mountain forest before reaching the contorted wind-carved alpine flora at the top. During spring months, desert wildflowers bloom in the plains.
Hike on one of three trails within Schulman Grove. A look at these wizened old giants, some of which pre-date the great pyramids of Gizah, may be humbling. In one of the few places on earth where every scrap of land is not fiercely competed for, the gnarled inhabitants of Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest have grown steadily - their roots progressing at roughly an inch per century. Methuselah, the oldest of the bristlecones, and therefore of life as we know it, is approaching the ripe age of 4800, and is still able to reproduce. The Methuselah Trail will take you past this landmark, but to preserve its safety, its location is kept secret. Luckily all the trees along the trail are fascinating enough to warrant scrutiny.
At the end of the byway visit the Patriarch. This massive sentinel claims the honor of being the largest living bristlecone pine in the world. Patriarch Grove is remote, fantastic and unearthly. Rest at the picnic area and eat lunch on another planet. Descend as a different person.
Other key points along the route include campsites, the Sierra View Overlook, and exhibits at Schulman Grove Visitor's Center.
Pets are welcome!