Discovery Loop Trail
The Trail and the Plants
The drive to Schulman Grove from Big Pine features many exciting plants. First as you begin to climb into the mountains look for the bright yellow flowers of Prince’s Plume. The tall spires (4-5’) really caught my attention when I made the drive late in June. As you go higher pines begin to appear. When you turn onto White Mountain Road you enter a forest of Pinyon Pine and Utah Juniper. It’s a gorgeous forest with very useful plants. The Pinyon Pine of course holds the delicious seeds of this well know pine, and the Utah Juniper provided the wood used in the best Native Indian Bows.
At Schulman Grove 2 trails begin at the east end of the parking lot, the far end as you drive in, the Discovery Trail on the left and the Methuselah Trail on the right. The elevation is 10,050 ft. I’ve hiked here in June and late October, wearing shorts both times. In October there were small patches of snow on the ground and the air was crisp indeed, so it’s best to carry some extra layers.
The Discovery Trail is a short 1-mile loop hike. As you set off the whitish ground seems void of most plants. But when you look closely you find a number of very low growing, mat forming perennials. The most common is a nearly prostrate Popcorn Flower with silvery foliage. I was surprised to find this as most Popcorn Flowers I have seen in the past had narrow green leaves with small flowers and this one has much larger and wider silvery leaves and also much larger flowers. Nearby dark green mats of Stemless Mock Goldenweed accented the Popcorn Flowers. When blooming bright yellow daisy flowers often completely obscured the short pointed leaves.
The trail switches back past an old fallen tree. This tree died in 1676 and was nearly 3200 years old and the old trunk is still there lying on the ground. It is estimated that 1 inch of growth can have 100 rings in it. Things grow and die slowly here. Just up from this tree look for mats of Shockley’s Buckwheat small white-gray, cupped leaves and large pink-white ballflowers in spring. The trail switches back again and here features a bench to enjoy the view from.
There are some larger shrubs (3-4’) of Wax Currant on the right with glossy green leaves and small white tubular flowers in spring. Look also for the short lived perennial Cooper’s Rubberweed with narrow white-gray leaves and upright stems topped with bright yellow daisy flowers.
The trail switches right and heads into a straight section that is lined with stairs. Here are the ancient weathered trees of the Schulman Grove, some 3000-4000 years old. My favorite features a long, above ground root sloping down to the trail. It’s on the right. I put my hat on it to show the scale.
The trail soon summits the ridge and than cuts across a dark talus slope (this dark rock formed in a shallow, warm ocean) where we find shrubs like Black Sagebrush (silvery leaves), more Wax Currant, feathery leaved Fernbush, Antelope Brush (small deep green leaves and white flowers, they (fade to tan) and perennials like Lobeleaf Groundsel (yellow daisy with lobed leaves), deep green mounds of Nuttall’s Linanthus (white flowers) and grassy like mounds of King’s Smooth Sandwort (small white flowers with red spots). But for once look up and revel in the amazing view south of the Sierras in the distance.
The trail turns right and heads down a switchback staircase. On the left is a venerable specimen tree, the trails cuts back sharply to come up close to this amazing tree. Then the trail cuts out straight across the dark talus slope with more Sierra views and more Fernbush is on the left. Turning left we descend down towards the parking area and cross the white talus slope composed of high concentrations of dolomite. Only a handful of plants can tolerate dolomitic soils.
Rare plants, ancient plants, amazing vistas, this is Bristlecone country.