Bristlecone Grove Interpretive Loop

Great Basin National Park

The bristlecone pines are the oldest living trees in the world. Some are nearly 5 thousand-years old! Their great age is due to their unusual ability to adapt to their environment. They often live in isolation where trees of other species cannot survive.

The growth of bristlecone pines is extremely slow. Their wood is fine-grained and resinous which makes the tree highly resistant to decay. Instead of rotting, these trees are eroded and polished by the elements. After death, they may remain standing for thousands of years. (plaque at entrance to grove)

The tree below lived for 1500 years, from 100 B.C. until 1400 A.D.

These roots, in the picture below, are entwined along the trail. They remind me of a giant serpent.

We continue our hike around the loop…

The remnant below is 3,000 years-old. Born in 1300 B.C., it died in 1700 A.D.  Part of the tree died in 1100 A.D. and the rest continued growing for 6 more centuries.

Bristlecone pines have a sectored architecture, which means that sections of a tree are supported and fed by their own large roots. That’s why part of a tree can die and the other sector keeps growing. (

So, how do scientists date the age of these ancient trees? There’s a plaque for that!

They use a tool called the increment borer to obtain a core sample of the tree. The core is a cross section of a portion of the tree’s annual growth rings. Use of the increment borer makes it unnecessary to cut down a tree to count its rings. The hole left behind does not harm the tree because within several hours the tree seals itself with its own resin.

 Born: 1150 B.C.

 Born: About 100 B.C.

 Still living since 1230 B.C.

Wheeler Peak overshadows the loop trail.

I learn how to distinguish a bristlecone…

…from a limber pine tree…

The Glacier Trail continues beyond for another steep and rocky mile.

picture from the trailheads information plaque

Nestled beneath the summit of Wheeler Peak is an alpine glacier that is mostly covered in rocks and minerals.

But we head back.

And I take one last picture of these amazing ancient trees sculpted by Mother Nature…

But wait… just one more as we exit the trailhead and drive out of Great Basin National Park…

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