An Afternoon Among Ancient Bristlecone Pines


The entrance to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is located just outside of Big Pine, CA along CA highway 395.  It can take as long as an hour to drive up the hill into the White Mountains, but it is well worth the trip to see some of the oldest living trees on earth.  Here is how to make your own photos.

There are a few “stands and groves” in the forest.  First, go to the visitor center and hike around the few trials there.  You can see and photograph the Methuselah tree after a two mile hike (I do not think it is a very pretty tree, myself).  An easier routine is to take the dirt road another few miles to the “first parking lot” on your left.  Walk back a couple hundred yards and you will have a chance to photograph 3-5 terrific trees and an interesting downed root system.

Galen Rowell made this tree famous
Galen Rowell made this tree famous

You do not need a ton of equipment, but it is useful to have a super wide angle.  Mary and I use the Canon 17-40 mm f/4.  A 24 mm is fine, but these trees are tall and wide, so composition can be difficult.  You want to be here in the afternoon or for sunset so that the sun is behind you.  The sky is really blue, so watch out for “over polarizing” the sky.  If you have a UV filter, use it here.

Mary working some close-ups
Mary working some close-ups

Since we got up there mid-afternoon and had a bald sky, I knew I would process most of my photos as black and whites.  I tried a few different treatments, including a bit of copper and sepia tone.  The other thing you can do with a blue sky is apply a “red filter” that turns the sky black to create more contrast and drama.

Dr. Seuss could not have drawn this tree any better

This downed tree is really fun to work.  There are a ton of different compositions and angles to play with.  I think Mary likes this dead tree better than the live ones.

1309_MFA_Sierra Infrared_0030-Edit
It helps to have a red Jeep
It always helps to have a red Jeep

To see our longer blog about the Eastern Sierra Nevada, click here.

To see more of our photos, please go to

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