The oldest living forest is as sacred as it gets for someone who is into natural history – and that is what Schulman grove of the ancient bristlecone pine forest is. Just imagine walking among the living beings that are as old the Egyptian pyramids! Discovery of these ancient plants was very important for dendrochronology, the technique of dating events, particularly climatic changes, by the characteristic patterns of annual growth rings tree trunks. There is a nice tourist information centre, where you can get brochures about these trees and maps with the trails. This is not an official naturist territory, but being a part of the Inyo National Forest, it is a federal land, and there’s no federal law against nudity; needless to say we wanted to experience the hike in this ancient forest ‘as nature intended’, naked. We of course picked the longest trail, which is ~4 miles, and didn’t see any other hikers.
Looking at the cones, you clearly see how this tree got its name. Young seed cones are quite brightly colored; it takes them two years to mature.
Pollen cones are also bright but much smaller and mature within one season.
Given very dry conditions in the area, fallen cones accumulate in massive numbers before decaying,
sometimes forming “rivers” of cones.
Some lucky seeds would sprout in conditions where hardly any other would be able to…
and eventually would grow for thousands years on!
Perhaps a part of the bristlecone pine can die, even a large part, but even then it can go on with whatever is left. We were hiking on a beautiful warm and calm sunny day… but at these elevations of more than 3km above sea level, conditions can change drastically from hot to cold – throughout the day, and throughout the year; and surely it can get very windy there too.
There is hardly any rain, winter brings precipitation but as snow. As the brochure explained, the bristlecone pines reach their record age not despite these harsh conditions but rather because of them, because they have to grow extremely slow. However, even though bristlecone pines clearly dominate this ancient forest,
there are some other plants too.
Rock Spiraea creates a very dense moss-like cover, soft to touch.
But it’s certainly no moss, with its flowers sticking out… and attracting flies. I thought that they would stink, as many flowers do when they use flies for pollination, but I couldn’t smell anything.
The bushes of mountain mahogany cover a few less steep slopes.
Their long fuzzy-tailed seeds drill into the soil, when moisture causes them to untwist (according to the brochure).
If you are not so much into botany,
the views are pretty amazing too!
And it’s just a very pleasant hike – not too easy, but not too demanding either. (But keep in mind there are also shorter trails, if you don’t have much time or aren’t adjusted well to lower oxygen levels at this altitude).
Also keep in mind that sun radiation is much stronger at this altitude;
so even though I’m not a fan of hats, I appreciated I had one on the hike (I hope that still counts as a naked hike).
But you can always chill in the shade too…
Sitting on the roots of these trees, you can’t help thinking of their impressive longevity… or brevity of our civilization? The oldest known specimen has lived virtually throughout our entire written history!
And some of them offer even cozier seats for lounging
(or artsy photos, if you consider the first one of this blogpost as such).
PS For weather reference, this hike was done in early September of 2016.