BISHOP, Calif. — Perhaps you’ve heard this piece of state lore: California is home to the tallest, largest and oldest trees in the world.
Well, it turns out to be true, with some qualification. The tallest tree of all is Hyperion, a coastal redwood in Humboldt County, exceeding the Statue of Liberty in height. General Sherman in Sequoia National Park is the biggest tree on the planet by volume. And Methuselah, a bristlecone pine in east-central California that is believed to be a stunning 4,855 years old, is generally considered the oldest living tree in the world.
California has its geography, size, unique climate — and a big dose of chance — to thank for this impressive arboreal distinction. Researchers in Chile recently revealed that they may have discovered a tree even older than Methuselah, though its age has yet to be officially verified.
“I think it’s part of the California story — the land of superlatives,” said Edward Smith, a forest ecologist for The Nature Conservancy’s California Program.
I recently drove from Los Angeles to Bishop, an outpost popular with wilderness tourists in Inyo County, to visit the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, home to Methuselah.
The hallowed wood, 10,000 feet above sea level in the White Mountains, is the first place scientists discovered living trees older than 4,000 years old.
The forest is otherworldly, nestled in a harsh alpine desert where the air is thin and everything is quiet. On previous vacations I had hiked through California’s redwood and sequoia forests, and here I marveled that the ancient bristlecones too were within the state’s borders.
“In California, we’re blessed with these extreme, charismatic flora,” said Brandon Pratt, professor of biology at California State University, Bakersfield. He described his first trip to see Methuselah this way: “For a plant biologist, it’s as near to a spiritual experience as you can get.”
Pratt and other experts told me that the state had an incredible amount of plant diversity because of its many latitudes and climates. California is also one of five places on earth with a Mediterranean-type climate ecosystem, known to foster unusually high levels of plant and animal diversity.
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“We have as much of the climactic variation in this single state as we do almost across the entire continent of North America,” said Todd Dawson, professor of ecology and plant biology at University of California, Berkeley. “You’re taking all of the climates and all of the habitats that could be across North America and compressing them into just a single state, so it creates all these really amazing habitats.”
The redwoods thrive in misty forests along the coast in the northern half of the state. The giant sequoias grow inland on the fire-prone slopes of the Sierra Nevada. And the Great Basin bristlecone pines eke out an existence at elevations so high and arid that few other plants and animals can survive.
There has been a tremendous amount of logging in California and elsewhere that has undoubtedly destroyed other superlative trees, experts say. But Hyperion, General Sherman and Methuselah are all in places that aren’t easy to reach and were further hidden before highways, Dawson said.
“We’re fortunate for that reason,” he said, “to be able to have some of those old and tall trees still with us.”
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from David Hayashida, who lives in Greenbrae:
“Fall in the San Francisco Bay Area is raptor migration season. One of the best places in the country to observe this natural phenomenon is Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands, which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Standing on Hawk Hill, with the Golden Gate Bridge below you and surrounded by a stunning view of the Bay Area, you can see large numbers of falcons, hawks, eagles, vultures and other raptors, many making their way south. During the season, there are often very knowledgeable volunteers from the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory conducting their annual migratory bird count and who are always happy to answer questions.
Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a ‘birder’ before visiting Hawk Hill, it is likely that you will become a ‘fledgling’ bird watcher after you depart!”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
What we’re recommending
A Cy Twombly exhibit at the Getty Center: cheeky, challenging, classical.
What are your favorite places to visit in California?
Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. Please include your name and the city where you live. We’ll be sharing more travel tips in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Nicole Mann, the first Native American woman in space, said she is in awe of the beauty and delicacy of Mother Earth, The A.P. reports.
Mann, a NASA astronaut, is a member of the Wailaki tribe of the Round Valley Indian Tribes and was born and raised in Sonoma County.
From the International Space Station this week, Mann showed off the dream catcher she took up with her, a childhood gift from her mother. The small traditional webbed hoop with feathers is used to offer protection, and she said that it had given her strength during challenging times.
“It’s the strength to know that I have the support of my family and community back home and that when things are difficult or things are getting hard or I’m getting burned-out or frustrated, that strength is something that I will draw on to continue toward a successful mission,” Mann told The A.P.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back on Monday. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.
Briana Scalia and Steven Moity contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.
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