The first time I visited Bishop and Mono Lake along U.S. Highway 395 was years ago with my dad. We went out to find fall colors in California, an easier task than many assume. At that time, we planned to visit other places along Highway 395 at some point in time. That, however, never happened. Dad died in February 2014. This year was the first Father’s Day without him. To honor the day, I decided to visit some places along Highway 395 that I knew he would have loved. It was a great weekend full of nature, reflection, memories and visits to two new places along Highway 395.
Earlier this year I visited Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. These glorious parks are nestled against the western side of the Sierra Nevada. The lofty peaks of that mountain range can be seen in the distance as one drives through the parks. However, Mount Whitney is the highest peak of the Sierra Nevada; actually, at 14,505 feet, Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous United States.* Still, it is not visible from western views of the mountain range. Although I knew I would not hike to the top, I wanted to see this mountain!
Fortunately, Highway 395 runs along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada as the road travels through the Owens Valley, offering great views of the entire range. Then, in Lone Pine, California, an access road runs 13 miles west into the mountains, heading to the trail head that leads to the summit, which rises about 2 miles in elevation high above Lone Pine. En route, the partially paved road runs through the Alabama Hills, passes several camp grounds, and then ascends to the Mount Whitney Portal at an elevation of 8,360 feet. The 22-mile-round-trip hike to the top of Mount Whitney starts at the Portal.
Some Views in Lone Pine, California
Turn Left on the Yellow Road
The Alabama Hills, where many westerns and other movies have been filmed, including classics such as Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger as well as scenes in films including Gladiator, Star Trek Generations, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
Various Views of Mount Whitney
*Mount Whitney’s Height: The elevation of any mountain is really an estimate, an educated guess based on the measurements that can be taken at the time. One plague on the summit reads 14,494 feet while another reads 14,496.811 feet. By 1988, improved technologies gave the newest estimate to be 14,505 feet.
ANCIENT BRISTLECONE PINE FOREST
Forty-two miles north of Lone Pine and fifteen miles south of Bishop along Highway 395 is Big Pine, California. It sits in the Owens Valley between the Sierra Nevada and the White Mountains at an elevation of 3.989 feet. The town is not big; the 2010 census recorded its population as 1,756. The tribal headquarters for the Big Pine Band of Owens Valley Paiute Shoshone Indians operates out of Big Pine. But I traveled to this locale for its access to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the Inyo National Forest, just 13 miles east via Highway 168.
A few years ago, I did not even know that the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest existed. But now I am impressed with the strength, tenacity, and rugged gnarled and twisted beauty of these trees.
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest sits on the eastern face of the White Mountains at an elevation between approximately 9,800 to 11,200 feet. The Forest’s Patriarch, Schulman and Methuselah Groves are home to the world’s oldest living non-clonal organisms.** The Methuselah is 4,750 years old, and the Patriarch—discovered and dated in 2103—is 5.064 years old. Imagine that: The Patriarch germinated in 3051 B.C. Incredible! Visitors can hike various trails through the groves to get close to the Bristlecone Pines. However, the oldest trees are not marked with signs to protect them from vandals. In 2008, an arsonist set fire to the Visitor Center, destroying the building, all the exhibits and several trees. Very sad.
Highway 168 runs east from Highway 395 up into the White Mountains. It is a great twisty curvy road that has lots of big dips, like you are on a roller coaster. I loved it. The canyon walls and wildflowers were gorgeous too. But the “dip in the road” was the most fun, making me think of an old B.C. cartoon from John Hart.
Some Views Along Route 168 Heading Up & Down White Mountain
Once in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, the road eventually shifts from paved to gravel and offers some impressive sweeping vistas as well as closer views of the trees themselves.
At the Visitor Center
**Oldest Living Organisms: A list of the oldest living things includes items such as a half-million-year-old actinobacteria, 5500-year-old moss, and 100,000-year-old sea grass. In 2014, Rachel Sussman published an intriguing book that captures her research on this topic: The World’s Oldest Living Things.
I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT MY TURNING 60 NEXT YEAR DOES NOT SEEM SO BAD, GIVEN HOW OLD SOME THINGS ARE.
WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD!