The Patriarch Tree
Grand Teton National Park
In the Grand Teton National Park stands a lone Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine tree better known as The Patriarch Tree. There is no recorded history or narratives written about this tree; however, some people estimate its age to be over a thousand years old. As you will see in the photos, half of the trunk is missing due to one or more lightning strikes and scars from fires can be seen.
This iconic tree is often overlooked by park visitors due to its location off the beaten path. It cannot be seen from any roadway. To get to this famous Juniper, one must hike approximately one-half mile down three sagebrush and grass covered plateaus.
The Patriarch Tree stands almost alone in a pristine and majestic setting with a backdrop of the Teton Mountains. The names of three mountains from left to right are the famous Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot Mountain. This is like a huge magnet for photographers.
I became attracted to the Patriarch Tree in 1996 while vacationing in Jackson, Wyoming. 35mm film was still being used and I had just taken up photography as a new hobby. I visited a local photography shop and inquired where there were good locations to take photographs of the area. Several were mentioned including the Patriarch Tree. The directions to the tree were very skimpy. I only had a brochure with a black and white photograph and verbal directions.
Excitedly, I ventured out Teton Inner Park Road about 20 or so miles to where I though was the right place, pulled to the side of the road, parked, grabbed camera and began my hike in an easterly direction. I would stop frequently and look at the brochure photo and compare it to the trees around me. Finally, after several minutes of hiking down several plateaus I found the tree. I immediately began taking photographs of this tree, 36 exposures as a matter of fact. I rushed back to the photography store and paid extra to have my film developed over night, $36.00 the best I remember. I was at the store when it opened. The employee who I had secretly adopted as my consultant and advisor said that my pictures were really very nice but just one little thing – they were not the Patriarch Tree. Right then and there is when I decided for sure that I had to find this ‘ol tree and just see what was so special about it.
As you view these photographs, just imagine sitting at the base of this tree in such a setting on a clear crisp day and wonder what stories and tales the Patriarch Tree could tell if only it could speak.