Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor's Center - Update

Not long ago J and L decided to revisit the newly rebuilt visitor's center (the previous center had been burned down by an arsonist) at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest located in the White Mountains. The year before the only structure to greet us had been a small and narrow temporary mobile office which had to be utilized until the new center had been constructed and reopened.

White Mountain Visitor Center
The late afternoon was brisk, very brisk with a north wind blowing down the Owens Valley bringing the temperature down into the thirties when J and L walked into the beautifully stunning visitor center to be greeted by two very friendly and knowledgeable rangers. Dave Hardin and Philly Brooks who manned the long desk full of tourist information concerning the Ancient Bristlecones and the surrounding mountain areas. The interior of the center consisted of a rather large visitor's area including a large rock fireplace (not burning unfortunately) with comfortable looking overstuffed chairs surrounding a coffee table. Book and 'touristy' sort of purchasable items hung on various metal racks and wood bookshelves.
The writer at work
We had made it just a few minutes before the center was to close for the day but both rangers were rather kind to forget the clock and devote a few minutes to a pair of inquisitive explorers. Questions were asked and answers received.

We learned the center was open when the roads cleared of snow, usually around the middle of May or beginning of June (depending on the amount of precipitation received in the White Mountains) and closed around the beginning of November. There was only one road up and down off the mountain and at nearly 11,000 feet above sea level can make the drive treacherous depending on weather conditions.

One interesting fact we learned was there were very few insect issues and no bear problems, unlike across Owens Valley in the Sierras due to so little rain. Made camping under the stars much more enjoyable than slapping at flying thingies all evening or waiting to be eaten by Smokey.
Sierra Nevada Mountains
Philly Brooks was asked why she loved her job so much as she obviously did to this observer and her reply was simple and almost poetic. "What I love about the Bristlecone Pines is that it is different than anything else out there. It's so quiet, no noise except the wind through the branches, no bugs annoying a hiker and miles of trails to wander and simply enjoy life."

Dave Hardin was asked a similar question. "I like the White Mountains because it's like a marriage when one understands they have to accept the whole picture and not just an isolated portion of that person they are marrying. Makes for a healthier relationship and that goes for nature also."

Philly and Dave
Both of their answers must have some validity especially since over 30,000 visitors per year from around the United States and the world visit this very spot where some of the oldest trees on earth reside.

Asked what happens when the weather suddenly changes from sunny to cloudy threatening snow in late spring or early fall Philly simply smiled and said: "We get the hell off the mountain and lock the road barriers behind us."

Heeding Advice
With no cell service, no internet and steep terrain we would have to agree with the ranger.

Seasonal Information:

The Visitor Center is open mid-May until sometime in November depending on weather and snow/road conditions. Call the White Mountain District Office for exact opening and closing dates: 760-873-2500.


An easy drive along Highway 395, either north or south, at the town of Big Pine travel east on Highway 168 for 13 miles. Then turn left at the signed junction for White Mountain Road to the Bristlecone Pine Forest and continue 10 miles until the end of the paved road at Schulman Grove. Turn right into the visitor center parking lot. Do be careful since the road is narrow in spots but well-maintained.  Also watch for sudden shifts in the weather when the roadway may become icy or snow covered.

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