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  • Writer's pictureMick McMurray

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Updated: Mar 10

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, a protected area in the White Mountains, is located just east of the Owens Valley and can be accessed from Big Pine, California via US 395. To get there, take Hyw. 168 east and then turn on White Mountain Road. We stay at the Grandview Campground, which is 17 miles from Big Pine on White Mountain Road. The campground offers 23 first-come-first-serve sites with no hook-ups or other services, so be sure to come prepared and pack out your trash. Please note, there is a one-lane section on the road with a blind curve, so large RVs and trailers are not recommended. The campground is located at an elevation of 8,600 feet.

Our site at the Grandview Campground

From the campground, it's a 5-mile drive on paved roads to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center at the Shulman Grove. Along the way, you will be able to enjoy beautiful views of the Owens Valley and the Eastern Sierra.

The Eastern Sierra & Owens Valley

The visitor center offers two loop trails: The Discovery Trail and The Methuselah Trail. Many of the trees in the forest are over 4,000 years old, with The Methuselah Tree being the oldest. The hikes take you from 9,500 to 10,500 feet of elevation.

For even more breathtaking views, continue on to The Patriarch Grove, which is 12 miles away on a graded dirt road. There is nothing in between, but the grove offers picnic tables and restrooms. The grove is named for the largest bristlecone pine, The Patriarch Tree, and is located on an interpretive trail. The elevation at the grove is 11,000 feet.

The night skies here are some of the darkest I've ever seen. I think it must be the combination of the distance from any large town and the elevation. The ancient trees look awesome and surreal at night.

Most of my Milky Way exposures are taken with a 2.8 aperture, ISO of 3200 to 6400, and between 20 to 30 seconds. I just experiment and take test shots to get the correct exposure for the conditions. I don't go over 30 seconds on the exposure or the stars start to blur. It can be tricky getting the lighting correct. I use a small flashlight for the light painting and for the wider scenes I cut up a plastic cutting board to hold in front of the light to eliminate hot spots. Sometimes I light the scene on the same exposure as the milky way and sometimes I take 2 exposures. One for the foreground and 1 for the Milky Way and combine them in Photoshop.

Photo gear for Milky Way photos can be seen in the Photography Gear Guide

Next: Searching for Sky Rock


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