The grove, named after Edmund Schulman who was the assistant to Astronomer A.E. Douglass, the 'father' of (study of tree rings), is located at over 10,000 feet elevation in the arid mountains towering above the Owens Valley. Both Schulman and Douglass spent the better part of the first half of the 20th Century studying this phenomenon and thus linking the past by counting the rings of trees. Between both of these scientists, they concluded that by utilizing tree ring research they could also date other objects around the globe. An example of this would be the Oxford Tree-Ring Laboratory in Great Britain which used dendrochronolgy to factually date specific beams in the Tower of London and the Salisbury Cathedral. The research indicated beams used to frame these structures could actually be dated from different years showing a difference of 2 to 10 years in some places when the wood had been cut and utilized for the construction.
A simple process is used, not to denigrate the work these dendrochronologists do, by coring out a thin section of a tree trunk or beam and then counting the rings. Of course, I have made this sound too simplistic in our reporting and the actual process is much more scientifically rigorous. But, as always, we wanted to give our readers a general feel of what goes on behind the scene in this world of tree ring counting. For more information the reader can look up both the Oxford Tree-Ring Laboratory or the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the the University of Arizona where both Schulman and Douglass were the founding force in establishing this research facility.
Oxford Tree-Ring Laboratory
University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree Ring Research
Our J & L partner and contributing photographer, Paul Bakas, joined in this expedition to the White Mountains where we camped among the scraggly Pinon-Juniper Forest at the Grandview Campground located a dozen or so miles east of the quaint and beautiful town of Big Pine located on Hwy 395. A quick mention of the Westgard Pass should be made as the pass is itself quite an adventure as one drives up the narrow winding SR 168 out of Big Pine into the White Mountains. Westgard Pass shrinks down at one point to a single lane path for approximately a mile between staggering tall cliffs on both sides of the road before emerging back to a two lane roadway. At that one point the road is so narrow and crooked that we would suggest extremely low speeds and a 'spotter' walking ahead to ensure there is no oncoming traffic which can not be seen easily while driving.
It is well worth the few moments of 'white knuckling' as you traverse into the heights of the White Mountains. Isn't adventure supposed to have some of those moments?
Not for the faint of heart, is the seventeen mile road trip through the mountains to reach the Patriarch Grove at over 11,000 feet which resembles a moonscape with a sparse population of Pines. This road is not four wheel required but after driving on the dirt stretches which take over an hour we were glad to be traveling in the FJ. The last few miles are very narrow, rutty, and again visibility is at a minimum due to the twisting tree lined lane which ends up at a parking lot which is walking distance to some of the most ancient living things on this globe. To visit this site takes the adventurer through some of the most beautiful country in California or perhaps any place in the world. Visions of European backdrops comes to the mind of the traveler. At one point we envisioned the Trapp Family skipping down the Alps.
As we drove down, up, around, and through these seventeen miles of valley and mountains one could not stop but question how so much beauty can be with so few visitors enjoying it. We did not complain but simply drove and took in the wonderment before us.
We spent the next few days in the White Mountains camping and hiking. We chose Grandview Campground which was rather primitive with only 26 single sites for tenting or really small RV's, pit toilets, no water, and you must carry out your own trash. A five dollar fee for up-keep is charged on a honor system at the entrance to the campground. One must remember that weather changes rapidly at 8600 feet so it is suggested that a trip here would be most advisable during the summer months since the roads often close starting in October when the snow arrives. In other words, bring plenty of warm clothes since the nights can drop into the twenties or thirties during the night even in August.
Grandview is well known with amateur astronomers since the nights are so dark as they are almost spooky. There is no light pollution which gives those with telescopes nothing but sky to gaze up at in the evening hours. The visit we had coincided with about a dozen or more astronomy enthusiasts who invited us over to take a gander at the universe using a multitude of various sized and powered scopes. It was the first time I had ever seen the rings of Saturn up close and personal. Be sure to have a flashlight with a red lens since this doesn't interfere with night vision. Otherwise you may find yourself suddenly being chased off the mountain by telescope swinging thugs when you've inadvertently ruined their night sky while stumbling through the darkness of the campground over uneven dirt paths using a flashlight with a beam of white light which could be seen from Alpha Centauri.
The Bristle Cone Pine and Foxtail Pine are cousins which can only found in the western United States and are the oldest living trees in the world with the Great Basin Bristle Cone Pine (Pinus longaeva) being the oldest of the three species. These ancients, the Great Basin Bristle Cones, have a range that includes parts of California, Nevada, and Utah high in dry mountain ranges. These trees are amazing as they need very little water, survive bitterly cold winters, and can stand up to continual high winds with some gusts at the highest elevations exceeding one hundred miles per hour. Their make-up is unique versus other pines or trees usually found in mountainous areas. Instead of the root system going straight down, they are meandering a bit to locate water and nourishment. The Great Basin Bristle Cones have a root system that is near the surface of the ground but extends for 50 feet in all directions thus being able to pick up any moisture and nutrients while at the same time holding the tree fast to the ground. With this sort of trunk and root system, the Great Basin Bristle Cone Pines can survive in extremely dry and windy conditions. The trees in the White Mountains have lived for thousands of years in a limestone soil at over 10,000 feet in elevation.
These trees are the epitome of survivors!
As we hiked through the Shulman Grove, we were awed at the sight of so many of these marvelously twisted trees and honored to be among living things that were so old. These trees in California which we were studying, were around when Stonehenge was built, were ancient at the time of the great Pyramids in Giza, and were old at the time of Jesus Christ's birth. It was truly a humbling experience.
Of course, due to human nature the visitor to this grove of the ancients will never be able to pick out the oldest of the trees, Methuselah, because it is a well-guarded secret with the Rangers who work there. When asked they will only smile and tell you that they are not allowed to give out the location of the oldest living tree in the world in fear people will take souvenirs or otherwise 'kill' the tree. We were saddened but not surprised by this news.