Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, White Mountains, Bishop, CA, USA by Bruce Hucko

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Picture Story

I try to go someplace interesting for my annual birthday. In the summer of 2019, on the cusp of leaving 65 for 66 I decided to visit some fellow "elders" and so planned a trip to the Bristle Cone forest in the White Mountains of California, near the town of Bishop and the infamous Schaat's Bakery (myMecca!). I arrived a few days before THE DAY, found a camp and immediately drove the 2,000 feet higher to the main grove for sunset. I was really hoping to shake hands with the Methuselah Tree (the oldest tree) but he's neither signed nor on the main trail, and you do not veer off the path. The terrain is steep a full of loose rock. It's easy enough to slip, but more importantly we don't go there because excess/any off-trail walking erodes the ground beneath these elder statesmen and hurries their demise. I was content to just sit that first night at tree line - in fleece and flannel! The next few days were spent hiking all of the prepared area trails, sometime twice or thrice at different hours.

Upper groves were closed by snow on the access roads, though on my last day there they were opened, guess where I spent the day! On that final day I'd ventured above the protected groves on a 4WD road that led to distant peaks. The views were amazing. On my way down I sighted a stand of Bristlecone behind a knoll that had prevented me from seeing them on the way up. I parked and trekked horizontally to them. I could not tell if they were the last of the grove returning to lower elevations or an advance guard moving into new territory. I later found out that global warming has dictated they are the latter. I found several nice compositions but really like this one. The horizon is below (barely) center and was shadowed the whole time. The clouds were active and seemed to only get better and better. I set the tripod to open the space between the trees and to align their positions with landforms in the background. And then I waited.

I could see that shadows of rocks encroaching from the right would create a nice pattern IF they happened to continue. They did. As they did the "color" got better, and yes, I made exposures in RAW, but from the moment I was in this scene I knew I wanted it rendered in B&W. Why? I find B&W great for revealing the personality of an individual whether that be human, rock or tree. These beings are old. The Methuselah tree is 4,851 years and seeded approximately 2833 BC. One source of their longevity seems to be that they've been practicing social distancing for quite a while. My more personal reason for visiting them is that being in the company of so many elders over 3,000 makes this 66-year old feel pretty chipper! Okay. Gotta' go. Time to pick up the pace!

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