California is usually thought of in terms of North and South, but there is also a lesser-known, less-traveled portion known as “East of the Sierras.” Last summer, Liz Curry and her boyfriend lived in Bishop, CA, where her boyfriend spent the summer working for the National Park Service as a ranger for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. They had a wonderful time exploring the area (and finding the oldest tree!), as Liz explains below.
Located on the eastern side of the Sierra mountains, Bishop, CA, is a town of approximately 3,000. At first we were hesitant about living in such a small town, but it turned out to have a lot going for it — namely its location.
Bishop is located within a few hours of the tallest point, the lowest point, the oldest living thing, and the largest living thing. But Bishop itself had plenty to offer, including great restaurants, an entirely bike-friendly road system, sunshine every day, and some excellent art galleries.
If you decide to visit Bishop, the nearest outdoor attraction is Kings Canyon National Park. The easiest route is to head over Bishop Pass, which is 15 miles outside of town. The hike is arduous, reaching 10,000 feet at the top of the pass. Altitude sickness can take hold as low as 8,000 feet, so if you decide to go for a hike, take note of any unusual feelings of sickness or headache. Even if you’re in good shape, your sea-level accustomed self will probably feel a little woozy during the first few days of hiking, but you will get used to the thinner air and once you do, the scenery will still leave you breathless.
Kings Canyon is full of tall, granite peaks, high tundra meadows, and crystal clear rivers. The trail system is meticulously maintained and good camping can be found nearly anywhere along a trail. This park is perfect for backpacking since the weather is usually sunny and warm, there’s plenty of water, and there are no grizzly bears to worry about. I know I slept much better without worrying about every little sound outside the tent.
Bristlecone Pine Forest
Another short drive from Bishop (this time to the east, towards Nevada) is a forest of the oldest living things on earth. Located in the White Mountain Range, some of the Bristlecone Pines in this forest first took root more than 4,000 years ago. For the safety of the tree, park officials will not tell the public which tree is actually the oldest living thing on earth, but we think we may have found it anyway. It looked very old at least.