The Incredible Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

The Great Basin bristlecone pine, which grows between 9,800 and 11,000 feet above sea level, is a long-living species of tree found in the White Mountains of the Inyo National Forest in California. One member of this species, at over 5,000 years old, is the oldest known living organism on Earth. I had long wanted to capture these trees under a clear night sky, and on a recent trip to the eastern Sierra, we took the long trip from where we were camping at Lundy Lake to this remote area east of Bishop, approximately 70 miles away.

My plan was to arrive before sunset, to allow time to visit the forest, and scope out a location for capturing the Milky Way behind one or more of these iconic trees. However, we didn’t account for the extra time it would take to drive the windy road to get here. We arrived at dusk, later than expected, and I was a little nervous about finding an appropriate location. We parked at the visitor center, which was now closed, and began walking the shorter of the two marked trails I saw: the “Discovery Trail”. Although only a mile, it steeply climbs up for amazing views of the Sierras beyond.

It soon became extremely dark, and I was becoming discouraged at driving all the way here and not finding a composition I liked. I thought we were the only ones wandering around in the dark, only to view red headlamp lights on the hill beneath us. The switchback descended and we stumbled upon the source of these lights, a couple of other friendly photographers from Sacramento, who drove all the way here to photograph one very specific tree! Man, I thought, they are as nuts as we are! But, it was indeed, a gorgeous tree, and they were so nice to let us hang out, play around with some light painting, and photograph their tree alongside them.

Despite the half moon looming bright in the sky, we managed to get a little bit of Milky Way, an incredible amount of night stars, and even the overexposed half moon setting over the Sierras in the background made for an interesting composition. I am definitely hoping to return on one of my future trips to the eastern Sierra!

My name is Beth Young, and I'm a licensed architect specializing in healthcare facilities, with a strong passion for capturing the beauty of the natural world through photography. Please feel free to browse or comment. If you wish, prints are available using long lasting and high quality photographic paper or museum quality canvas using archival inks at my website:

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