• Bristlecone Pine

    Great Basin

    National Park Nevada

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  • Wheeler Peak Summit Trail Closed

    A small smoldering fire near the trail has caused the closure of the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail. park staff is observing the fire. Check back here to get an update whne the trail will open. Alpine Lakes Loop and Bristlecone Trail are open. More »

  • Road Work at Great Basin National Park

    Road work will begin in Upper Lehman and Wheeler Peak Campgrounds. Campgrounds will be open but may be noisy and have large vehicles on the roads. The Scenic Drive is open with up to 15 min delays due to road work. Click more for details. Updated 9/9/14 More »

  • Travel Not Recommended - Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive Above 8,000 Feet

    Snow and ice may make travel on Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive unsafe, travel is not recommended at this time. Warmer weather later in the week is expected and conditions may improve. Please check back. 9/29/2014

  • Snake Creek Road and Campsites Closed

    The Snake Creek Road will be closed from the park boundary into the park to begin work on campsites, trails and restroom improvements. Work will continue until snow closes the project. Work will resume in Spring 2015.

The Prometheus Story

Bristlecone Pine

Bristlecone Pines can be thousands of years old

NPS PHOTO

Destruction Leads to Preservation
In 1964, a scientist was granted permission by the United States Forest Service to study some of the bristlecone pines growing in a grove beneath Wheeler Peak. The researcher was studying the tree rings of these ancient trees, which were known to be over 4,000 years old. Bristlecone pines, like most trees, add a ring for each year of growth. Scientists can study the variation in width to determine patterns of good and bad growing seasons in past years. The trees literally record the seasons of their lives in their rings. This is very valuable for the study of climate change.

Bristlecone pines often grow in a twisted fashion and one section of the tree may die off several thousand years before another part, making it very difficult to capture the oldest part of the tree in a core sample. The Forest Service granted permission for the researcher to take core samples from several old-looking bristlecone pines and to cut one down to obtain a more accurate count. The tree the researcher selected to cut down was known as Prometheus.

Counting later revealed that Prometheus contained about 4,900 growth rings, making it the oldest living tree ever found. Today, the oldest known living tree, is a 4600 year old bristlecone pine in the White Mountains of California. Count the rings for yourself in the Great Basin Visitor Center! A new permanent exhibit was installed in 2007 featuring a tree ring that was taken from Prometheus in the 1960s.

 
Prometheus tree ring

Examine a cross section of Prometheus in the Great Basin Visitor Center

NPS PHOTO

According to ancient Greek myths, Prometheus was an immortal who brought fire (symbolic of knowledge) to humans. Prometheus the bristlecone pine also imparted much knowledge to humans. Information gained by studying this significant tree added to the knowledge of carbon dating (which is valuable to archeologists and paleontologists) and climate data.

These ancient trees are now protected on federal lands, in part due to the public outcry over the loss of Prometheus. The researcher responsible for cutting down the tree later became one of the strongest advocates for the creation of Great Basin National Park.

Did You Know?

Great Basin Rattlesnake

Great Basin rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus lutosus) are the only venomous snake species in Great Basin National Park. These rattlesnakes rarely exceed 40 inches in total length, reproduce every two to three years, and feed primarily on rodents and lizards.