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Colorado's ancient bristlecones; just south of Breckenridge, just a short walk from the parking lot.

Colorado's ancient bristlecones Tenacious, twisted, and starkly beautiful, ancient bristlecone pines endure where lesser trees fail. Six Western states hold stands of these graybeards of the plant world, but there's just one preserve solely for these trees--Bristlecone Pine Scenic Area, just south of Breckenridge. Widened and regraded, the access road now lets autos reach the area easily. It's about a 1-1/2-hour drive west of Denver and worth a side trip off Interstate 70.

Just off State Highway 9 and located on Windy Ridge of Mount Bross, this forest of bristlecone pines lives at about 12,000 feet and must endure harsh conditions--including 100-mph winds. Trees in the more sheltered back section reach 20 to 30 feet, while ones closer to the wind-swept ridge are stunted.

The trees here are thought to be more than a thousand years old. But some bristlecones are considered the world's oldest living things--one in Nevada has been estimated to be 4,900 years old. (Some giant sequoias are about 2,000.)

When you visit, note how few buds are on the trees' windward sides and how bark and branches are stripped and worn, giving the trees a sculpted beauty. You'll also see a spectacular view of the valley below--the towns of Alma and Fairplay, and green hayfields beyond.

The scenic area has two sheltered picnic tables but no water or rest rooms. Because of the high altitude, take it slowly.

From State Highway 9 in Alma (6 miles north of Fairplay), the scenic area is about 6-1/2 miles up the well-graded dirt access road. From Alma, head uphill (west) on Buckskin Gulch Road opposite the gas station and continue on the dirt road. At the sign for Windy Ridge, turn right onto Park County Road 8. After about 3-1/2 miles, the road crosses the shallow waters of Dolly Varden Creek. It's steep here; park and walk uphill or, if your car has high clearance, drive another 1/2 mile to the parking lot.

It's only a short walk from the parking lot to the trees out on the edge of the ridge, but dress warmly and be prepared for a driving wind sweeping up the ridge.
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Title Annotation:Bristlecone Pine Scenic Area, Colorado
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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