Bristlecones, Bakeries and BBQs in Bishop, Calif.

Bishop is a four-season, nature-lover’s town in California’s Eastern Sierra. – Photo by Greg Aragon / Beacon Media News

By Greg Aragon

Bishop, Calif. may have a small town feel but because of its location in the Eastern Sierra region, the city is close to lots of big time sights. Set about halfway between Yosemite and Death Valley National Parks, Bishop is on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada along the banks of Bishop Creek. It sits at an elevation of 4,100 feet but is only a few miles from towering peaks that reach up to 14,000 feet in each direction.

Bishop is world renowned for its scenery, hiking, fishing, climbing, boating, hunting, bakeries, and for its mules. The latter are popular every Memorial Day when the city hosts Mule Days, complete with the world’s largest non-motorized parade down Main Street. The town is also near the Bristlecone Pines, one of the oldest living organisms on the planet.

I discovered Bishop on the way to Lone Pine. My friends and I stopped in town to visit Erick Schat’s Bakkery, a famous bakery known for its original sheepherder bread, baked fresh daily.

The plan was to drive through Bishop, stop for fresh pastry and coffee at the bakery, and then continue on our way. But like many getaways, the road had other plans for us.

While nibbling on pumpkin tarts and sheepherder bread on the bakery patio, we looked across the street and saw a beautiful park with a stream and a colorful building that housed the Bishop Chamber of Commerce. The next thing we knew we were getting local maps and hotel recommendations from helpful Chamber staff.

A half an hour later we were checking into a room with two queen beds at the Comfort Inn. The Comfort Inn in Bishop offers guests a free hearty and healthy breakfast every day, an outdoor pool and hot tub and fast and free Wi-Fi. The place had everything we needed for a last minute home base.

Once acquainted with the room, we headed to see the legendary bristlecones. The Great Basin Bristlecone Pines are not just the oldest things in California or even North America, they are the oldest living non-clonal organisms on earth. The oldest tree, which is unnamed, is currently believed to be about 5,070 years old. This organism began life about the same time humans began to develop the concept of writing. It was about 500 years old when the pyramids at Giza were built. This tree would have been about 3,000 years old when the English language began to evolve.

Many of the individual trees that live in this forest are more than 4,000 years old. The older ones are at least 1,000 years older than any other species on earth. They are about 2,000 years older than the nearby Giant Sequoia, which are the world’s tallest trees. No other non-clonal species has living individuals that have seen more time on this earth.

This healthy forest of trees, which is still growing, is located in the White Mountains above Bishop. Seeing the trees up close is a must for any nature-lover and the trails to them offer incredible views of the Owens Valley to the west and the Great Basin of Nevada to the east.

The Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) grows between 9,000 and 11,000 feet above sea level in a habitat that is essentially inhospitable to most other life. The white, rocky soil, for which the White Mountain range is named, is dolomite – a type of limestone with a very high alkalinity. At this elevation, temperatures range from 55 degrees Fahrenheit in summer to 0 degrees in winter. Precipitation, which is mainly in the form of snow, produces less than 20 inches of water annually on this cold, dry, windswept mountain top. The altitude and latitude here provide one positive growing aspect – almost 16 hours of daylight in summer and as much as 9.5 hours in winter.

After visiting the Bristlecone Pines we followed the aroma of barbecue to Holy Smoke Texas Style BBQ, located on Main Street in the heart of Bishop. Here we enjoyed authentic, Texas-style smoked brisket sandwiches on a French roll. They were moist and memorable.

For more information on visiting Bishop, go to: www.bishopvisitor.com.

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