The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Bristlecone Pines on a hillside with cloudy skies

Getting There and Camping

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, a protected area in the White Mountains, is located just east of the Owens Valley. It can be accessed from Big Pine, California via US 395. To get there, take Hyw. 168 East and then turn on White Mountain Road. For camping near the ancient bristlecone pine forest, we stay at the Grandview Campground, which is 17 miles from Big Pine on White Mountain Road. The campground offers 23 first-come-first-serve sites with no hook-ups or other services, so be sure to come prepared and pack out your trash. Please note, that there is a one-lane section on the road with a blind curve, so large RVs and trailers are not recommended. The campground is located at an elevation of 8,600 feet. From this location it is a short drive to get your Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest photos.

Car at the campground under a tree

From the campground, it’s a 5-mile drive on paved roads to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center at the Shulman Grove. Along the way, you will be able to enjoy beautiful views of the Owens Valley and the Eastern Sierra.

Sunbeams in the valley with a cloudy sky

The Schulman Grove for Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest photos

The Schulman Grove offers two trails, Methuselah Trail, and Discovery Trail. This Grove is home to the Methuselah tree. It is considered the oldest known living organism in the world at over 4,800 years old. The Methuselah Trail, which winds through the Schulman Grove, offers visitors a chance to experience these incredible trees up close and learn about their history and ecology. The Discovery Trail offers vistas of the gnarled, weather-beaten forms of these trees. Visiting the Schulman Grove, Methuselah Trail, and Discovery Trail is an unforgettable experience that offers a glimpse into the ancient and enduring natural history of our planet.

The Patriarch Grove

For even more views, continue on to The Patriarch Grove, which is 12 miles away on a graded dirt road. There is nothing in between, but the grove offers picnic tables and restrooms.Stunning ancient Bristlecone pines, including the largest, the Patriarch Tree, reside in the Patriarch Grove, estimated over 2,000 years old. The trees in this grove are truly remarkable, with twisted and gnarled trunks and branches that have been shaped by thousands of years of harsh weather and environmental conditions. Hiking through the Patriarch Grove is like walking through a living museum, where each tree tells its story.. The elevation at the grove is 11,000 feet.

Night Time Photography

If you’re a landscape photographer, you’ll love photographing the Bristlecone Pines and the Milky Way in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest – it’s a dream come true! This place is so remote and rugged, making it the perfect backdrop for capturing the beauty of these ancient trees and the stunning night sky above. The Bristlecone Pines have the most interesting twisted and gnarled forms, which create a unique and fascinating foreground for any Milky Way shot. And the sky here is so clear and dark, ideal for astrophotography – you can capture the Milky Way and other celestial wonders in all their glory. We’ve been to both The Shulman Grove and The Patriarch Grove at night so many times, and it’s always a peaceful experience, whether you’re there alone or with other photographers.

Night time photography

My Milky Way exposures are taken with a 2.8 aperture, ISO of 3200 to 6400, and 25 seconds. I just experiment and take test shots to get the correct exposure for the conditions. I don’t go over 30 seconds on the exposure or the stars start to blur. It can be tricky getting the lighting correct. I use a small flashlight for the light painting and for the wider scenes I cut up a plastic cutting board to hold in front of the light to eliminate hot spots. Sometimes I light the scene on the same exposure as the milky way and sometimes I take 2 exposures. One for the foreground and 1 for the Milky Way and combine them in Photoshop.

Photo gear for Milky Way photos can be seen in the Photography Gear Guide

Next: Searching for Sky Rock

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