John Muir’s Range of Light: The Sierra-Nevada Mountains…

What better place to start a drive up Highway 395 with its stunning views of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range than Mt. Whitney. I’ve already included some photos of this beauty in on my Alabama Hills’ post. Maybe even this one.

There is a lot to see along California’s Highway 395, and I am bringing much of it to you in this series. We’ve already visited the Alabama Hills with its fascinating relationship with Hollywood. In my last post, I took you to the World War II Japanese internment camp of Manzanar with its tragic history and relevance for our modern world. You have patiently made your way through lots of words! Thank you. It’s time for another photo blog, heavy on pictures and light on verbiage. (grin) What better opportunity than admiring the views of John Muir’s Range of Light: the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s one of my major reasons for visiting the area. These are some of my favorite photos from the trip.

Ansel Adams added to the fame of the Sierra’s with his magnificent black and white photos. Ansel Adams I am not, but I still can’t resist rendering some of my Sierra photos in black and white, taking a step back in time. I thought that the power poles caught in the sunlight added a nice touch.
This illustration provides a perspective on how the Sierras were created. The Sierras are a fault block range with the mountain rising along a fault while the valley sinks. It’s a process that continues today. Think of all the earthquakes in the area. This process also means that the mountains are steeper on the east side than they are on the west— a fact I know well having started many a backpack trip from the east! “Okay, legs, we are going to start this morning with a 3,000 foot climb.”
Views like this seriously detract from paying attention to the traffic on Highway 395! Fortunately, a number of pullouts allow you to stop and enjoy the scenes.
Sometimes the view is more like a glimpse. The clouds provided drama.
The view called for another black and white rendition. Which photo do you prefer?
The moon caught my attention here.
Out came the telephoto for a closer look. Much of the Sierras’ rugged beauty is due to glaciers carving out the granite.
Thunderstorms and showers are common to the High Sierras of the southern part of range. The Sierras increase in altitude as you go south, peaking out at Mt. Whitney.
Here they turn dark. The thunder and lightning shows can be quite impressive when up in the center of the storms, and sometimes downright scary. I’ve hurried off more than one high pass.
For the more adventuresome, a number of inviting roads lead off into the mountains. Most cars could easily travel over this road, assuming you don’t mind a few bumps and dust along the way.
Other roads require a little more thought: Quivera, our small RV, said no on this one. Note how dry it is here. The western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains pull most of the rain out of the clouds, so the eastern slopes are desert like.
The snows were heavy in the Sierras last winter and were slow to melt off this summer. This is a lot for August.
One result is that the creeks and rivers can look like this with snow melt. It isn’t something a backpacker could or would cross. Often there are downed logs across these torrents. As you can imagine, it’s a nervous crossing. The narrower the log, the more nervous!
If you are a skier, especially from Southern California, this mountain might look familiar. It’s Mammoth Mountain. You can see the ski runs on the lower slopes.
I close today with this final view of the Sierras from Carson Valley. At this time last year, I was backpacking down the PCT through these mountains.

NEXT POST: The strange and beautiful Mono Lake.

28 thoughts on “John Muir’s Range of Light: The Sierra-Nevada Mountains…

    • The towns all have motels that provide easy access to the places I am featuring Ray. Good roads will take you everywhere. The one exception is the drive into the ghost town of Bodie. It has three miles of a rough dirt road that seems to go on and on. 🙂 All types of cars make it there, however, and even a number of RVs. If you travel during season, I would recommend getting reservations. Early fall and late spring are gorgeous and you should miss the potentially bad weather. Several of the higher passes across the mountains, like to Yosemite, are closed by snow into mid-summer. –Curt

    • One of the fun parts about the escapism, Dave, is that I get to do it over and over: The original trip and then each time I look at the photos. I just responded to G on how I like the drama of black and white. I think, for example, that the threat posed by the dark clouds becomes more real. –Curt

      • Somehow or other, I think b/w encourages me to look at the form not the filler. It’s the idea that comes across … or maybe it’s just because I grew up in a b/w era where the early (techni)color was too garish …

  1. My favorite was the color version of that one picture, showing the different shades of the mountains. But I have to admit, if you had asked me to pick a favorite picture from this post – it would be impossible.

    • A bit different than Florida, eh, G. But on the other hands, I really love the Everglades. I think most people prefer the color shots, as do I, but I always enjoy the drama of black and white. –Curt

  2. Curt,
    Nice trip and beautiful views along 395.
    Did you / will you be visiting the ghost town – Bodie State Historic Park? It is wonderful and very close to Mono Lake in the scheme of things.

    • Thanks, Pea. And the answer is yes. Bodie is my favorite ghost town. 🙂 I wouldn’t miss it. I spent several hours wandering around there this time and have been twice before. I’ll be posting on it after Mono Lake. –Curt

  3. Curt, I love the “moon over mountain” shot. The contrast is particularly nice on a cloudless, blue-sky day like you had. Anytime I’m out in this part of the world I’m amazed at the wet/dry contrast on opposite sides of the Sierras. I’d love to see a map plotted with precip numbers. I’m sure it’s a textbook illustration somewhere. Oh, and BTW, a bit of geology never hurts. 🙂 ~James

    • Thanks, James. It certainly caught my attention.
      Growing up on the west side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Placerville, we received about 40 inches of rain a year. A hundred miles across the mountains, Reno was receiving less than 10. It is dramatic.
      As for geology, it has been an interest ever since I was a little kid and would fill my pockets with rocks to take home and study. 🙂 –Curt

  4. Well that was a gorgeous ride Curt although I don’t mind your verbage. 🙂 I prefer the color myself but I do see how the black and white can show off details like the telephone poles. looks like one might have to make some decisions about off roading but who can resist such exploring. Also liked the graphic of how those mountains came to move higher. a 3000 ft climb to start the day? I’m going to need another coffee.

    • Laughing about the coffee, Sue. I confess that there were times when I was making those climbs, I would have to stop and ask myself: “Tell me again why you are doing this?”
      I have a copy of Ansel Adam’s “The John Muir Trail,” sitting in front of me. It always serves to remind me of the beauty of black and white. But I wonder if Adams would shoot in color if he were living today. I suspect that the answer is yes for many situations. Thanks, Sue. –Curt

  5. Always nice seeing the Sierras. I think I like the color version better, but just for grins I downloaded it and did my own b/w conversion – darker, more contrasty – looks pretty good! 🙂

  6. That’s an interesting question about Adams and how he would approach photography today. My hunch is that he’d adore digital, and all of the messing around that can be done. He spent plenty of time dodging and burning in his darkroom, and I suspect he’d enjoy testing the limits of the new technology.

    But here’s another idle thought. Adams is such an iconic photographer, I suspect there are plenty of people who prefer black and white when looking at photos of “his” territory precisely because he did such a bang-up job of creating those images. I never think see a birch grove without remembering “those” birches — it’s as though his vision of the mountains and such has been superimposed over our vision. It’s a testament to his genius.

    • I agree with you on both points, Linda. Adams would spend hours and possibly days and weeks working over photos in his darkroom doing tasks that are a matter of minutes and often seconds with Photoshop and other programs working with digital photos. And I know that much of my love of black and white photos is at least partially responsible for my love of Adams’ work. And I often travel in the same country he worked in, so it is easy for me to make comparisons. –Curt

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