After a little bit of sleep in the car up by the Patriarch Grove at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest the sun started to beam down through the windows of the car and started to bring the body back to consciousness. The frigid air helped to speed up the wakeup process as well. It was the fist time I was awake for sunset in ages. The woman with the dog and the wine sleeping in the bed of the pickup truck last night got up at about the same time. She went off on her hike and I headed over to the Bristlecone Patriarch Grove. I was still wearing the same clothes from yesterday (shorts). The hike started out a bit chilly and whatever way I was walking didn’t lead me to the Patriarch Grove.
After snapping a few photos of some of the trees wherever it was I was walking I headed back to the car to start the hike to the Bristlecone Patriarch Grove again. The initial photos were pretty sweet. The Bristlecone Pines have a much different glow in the light of sunrise than the light of late afternoon and sunset. They tend to have a more reddish glow than the yellowish glow so often seen in the afternoon. After chugging some water and washing it down with a Pop-tart or two the real hike to the Patriarch Grove started over.
The big snow bank was still on the road. From the temperatures last night it seemed like that snow would probably be there until is started snowing again in October of November. The snow was crusty as if it had frozen again last night. There was simply no way my car or maybe even ANY car would make it over that snow bank. Along the mile-long hike to the Patriarch Grove I again veered off the trail to walk among and photo a bunch of more isolated Bristlecone Pine Trees higher up on the mountain to the left.
The light was excellent up along this ridge away from the Patriarch Grove and the road to it. Much like the trip across the country I wandered and wandered and wandered farther and farther from the road while keeping it in sight so as not to wander to far off and get lost. This area up to the left of the Patriarch Grove was a lot more sparsely populated than either the Methusela or the Patriarch Grove but still had a lot of stunning Bristlecone Pine Trees to photograph.
Some looked (and may very well have been) dead while others were flush with life and full of green branches. The Bristlecones that are either dead or have a lot of dead sections tend to be more photogenic than those that look more like regular healthy pine trees. For a couple hours the light continued to be awesome as I wandered through the Bristlecones to the left of the road and the Patriarch Grove. Despite the altitude and being a little out of breath and working up a sweat I continued higher and higher until it seemed I had gotten all the good shots there were to get in this area near the Patriarch Grove.
As I headed back down to the main section of the Patriarch Grove the gravel road took me to the real parking area for the Patriarch Grove (still blocked by the snow bank), THE Patriarch tree (it is marked by a plaque as the largest Bristlecone Pine Tree in the world) and the start of the Cotton Wood Basin Overlook trail that winds through a bunch more Bristlecone Pine Trees including the Sorcerer. Unlike last night when the mountains blocked the sunlight on the many of the trees along the Cottonwood Basin Overlook Trail, today the light was awesome everywhere since it was earlier in the day.
In some areas I stuck pretty close to the trail while in other areas I wandered all over the place framing and taking photos as they popped up along the hike. The views were awesome overlooking the cottonwoods off in the distance. The Bristlecones here were a mix of live and dead trees. Sometimes it is difficult to tell if they are in fact dead or alive since a tiny portion of the tree continues to grow after much of the tree dies.
The heavy snows and winds in the Sierras at this altitude tend to uproot some of the dead trees. Most of them retain their brilliant colors even after they die. The wood itself would be nice for making furniture or carving sculptures. It is very hard, rugged, and colorful and often remains this was even after the dead Bristlecones have been uprooted by the elements and lay sideways on the ground. Some of the dead trees tend to whither away while standing tall and look like some sort of modern art.
The highlight of the hike through the Patriarch Grove was undoubtedly “The Sorcerer”. This particular Bristlecone Pine Tree looks just like a sorcerer. I can be photographed from a number of different angles and excellent shot can be taken from a bit of a distance or close up to get a detailed view of the face of “The Sorcerer”. On the first pass through the Patriarch Grove I probably snapped 100 photos of “The Sorcerer” and then moved on to the Patriarch itself.
The Methusela tree is said to be the oldest living Bristlecone tree in the world and maybe the oldest living thing anywhere in the world and it down along the Methusela trail in the Schulman Grove by the visitor center. The Patriarch is the largest Bristlecone in the world by some measure. The Methusela is not marked for fear of it being destroyed, however the Patriarch has a big plaque in front of (and naturally I got my photo taken in front of it).
After the Patriarch I hiked around much of the Cottonwood Overlook Trail and once again stopped at “The Sorcerer” for even more photos. There have been a few trees along the way that looked like creatures of some sort from snakes to the tree people in one of the old X-Files episodes but nothing like “The Sorcerer”. It looked as if it could come to life at any point and cast a spell on anyone who dared to do any harm to the collection of Bristlecones at the Patriarch Grove.
With hundreds of photos on the chip from the Patriarch Grove, it was time to head back down to the visitor center and go hike the four-mile Methusela Trail through the Schulman Grove. After throwing a few camera lenses and bottles of water in the backpack the hike along the Methusela was underway. Initially I couldn’t remember if I’d hiked the trail last year but after about a quarter mile it all began to look familiar. The Methusela Trail offers scenic views throughout the trail but the best photos come between the about the 2 and 4 mile mark.
At about the 2-mile mark (halfway) there are nice distant views of mountains and valleys off in the distance. Between about mile 2 and 4 the Bristlecone Trees tend to be better for photographs. The trunks tend to be larger; the trees are at times spread farther apart and easier it is easier to get photographs of individual trees. By the time I made it to the second half of the trail the sun was past its prime
When heading up to the Ancient Bristlecone Forest I couldn’t remember for sure if I had hike the Methusela trail last year. Once I started out on the trail the memory came back and I had in fact hiked it. I got to it rather lake in the day last year and unfortunately got to it late in the day again this year. Photos of the Bristlecones are always better in the sun. Sunrise and sunset are both nice but since a large portion of the Bristlecone Pine trees are in a bit of a valley along the Methusela trail. A couple hours before or after noon tend to be the best along the trail through the Methusela Trail through the Schulman Grove.
The first part of the Schulman Grove trail (if you start out to the right as the signs indicate at the beginning of the trail) isn’t particularly impressive as far as the Bristlecones go for photography purposes anyway. If you want to see the best sights along the Schulman Grove trail first then hike the trail backwards. If you only want to see some of the best sights then hike about mile or so along the trail starting at the opposite end of the loop than where the trail signs indicate the trail starts.
After completing the hike around the Methusela Trail it was time to go find a place to crash for the night. With no water, the Grandview Campground wasn’t a particularly desirable spot and I wanted to get closer to Death Valley anyway. The plan would be to spend the night at the hostel in Lone Pine, California. When I stayed there last year the place was not even close to full so I figured it would be a safe bet this year too. When I got Lone Pine they only had one female bunk that they would not give me. Everything else in town was full too!
In the end I ended up driving up into the Alabama Hills, finding a parking spot that was (almost) in forest service land and sleeping in the car for the night. As usual it was not particularly comfortable but it was free. When sleeping in the car (if you can call it sleep) I always wake up early with the sun and get a jump-start on the day. The plan for tomorrow would be to check out the Alabama Hills a little bit and then head down into Death Valley for a night or two.