Saturday, August 15, 2015

Hike 2015.063 -- Methuselah Loop, Schulman Grove of Ancient Bristlecone Pines, Inyo National Forest, CA

Hiked Friday, August 14. 4.5 miles. Originally posted this as Hike 62 for the year, but I realized I left one out, so this was actually number 63 for the year. Drove up on the 13th, and I tossed in some of the driving up pictures, too. The wider pictures are from my cell phone; the "standard," 2x3 aspect photos are from my DSLR. Both are reduced in size for faster loading.
Schulman Grove is in the White Mountains. From U.S. 395, you go east on CA-168 (just north of Big Pine) 13 miles, to White Mountain Road. Follow White Mountain Road (signed, on your left) ten miles, to the signed visitor center, on your right. If the pavement ends, you went too far. This is approximately 250 miles from Los Angeles. Long drive!

If driving from Los Angeles, it's pretty scenic once you get near Olancha, about an hour north of Mojave. For those of you who keep track of such things, there's a rest area on the east side of U.S. 395 there, called Coso Junction. I took this picture right adjacent to the rest area, by walking across the bridge that spans a small creek and crossing through a person-opening in the fence.

There's another rest area a little over 66 miles north of this one, called, Division Creek. That one's about ten miles north of Independence.

On the day I was driving, there were a lot of clouds, and smoke from some nearby wildfires. Made for a dramatic backdrop.

I camped as part of a group, so I stayed at Ferguson Camp, Cedar Flats Group Campsites, which is off of CA-168, just before the turnoff for White Mountain Road. I spent that night looking for meteors (this was a day or so after the peak for the Perseid Meteor Shower) and chatting with friends.

I slept in my car, and woke to the light of the rising sun, poking between the branches of some conifers. Despite the late night, I was up pretty early. Debating hiking on a different trail with friends, but because I thought they might need to stop for a wilderness permit, I opted for the sure thing.

(Turns out, however, that wilderness permits are not needed for dayhikes in Inyo National Forest, unless you're at Whitney Portal. This is different from the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests, which do require permits, except for the San Gabriel Wilderness area, which was formed prior to the 1964 Wilderness Act. That's also where there's currently a major wildfire burning. I think they're calling it "the Cabin fire."

Because the White Mountains are a lot drier than the Sierra (even the east slope of the Sierra), there aren't that many wildflowers. Also, it's getting late in the season. But what I did see was pretty much all new to me (except for the Indian paintbrush, which I didn't photograph specifically because it was NOT new to me!).

Not entirely sure which specific flowers these all were. The one here resembles a "musk thistle." It's obviously a thistle of some sort--that's just the closest match I could find. The one before that is a type of penstamon, but the specific color and flower distribution doesn't look like anything I've seen before.

The penstamon had an annoying habit of being very sensitive to wind and growing only in high-contrast environments. I mean it either the flowers were in sun, or the flowers grew near very reflective rocks, or near a mixture of bright and dark objects. That just means they were hard to photograph.

Of course, the main attraction for the Schulman Grove is not the limited variety of wild-flowers, but the density of Bristlecone Pines.

(Almost) everyone loves Bristlecone Pines, because they look cool, and live really long lives.

The two points are related. The trees live longest when they live hardest. In places where they are just barely hanging on, where other trees can not thrive, there they are. And there, they are mostly dead. Often, the tree is all dead wood, except for a single branch.

Under these harsh living conditions, the trees grow slowly, and often only for a few months out of the year. The slow growth means the wood is incredibly hard--so hard that it often erodes rather than rots.

And so, standing snags (dead trees) often remain upright for hundreds or even thousands of years. During their life, they grew twisted. After their deaths, they erode aesthetically.

On this trail, trees of a variety of long-lived-ness are found, mixed with mountain mahogany and londgepole pines. Those trees also often grow in harsh environments, with dense wood and twisted branches and roots.

In other places, they grow well, but then are almost unrecognizable, compared to their more "classic"-appearing brethren.

The trail was a moderate 4.5 miles, with a fair amount of up and down. Given the altitude, you'd be well-served if you spent the previous night at a mountain camp (7-8,000 feet up) rather than near sea level. For me, at least, the night sleeping at altitude makes a huge difference in how I handle the 10K foot level, where these trees are located.

Because of the high altitude, the weather here is often quite bearable, even when it's 100 degrees-plus, down in the Owens Valley. Bring along a sweater, even in the summer.

No comments:

Post a Comment