It turns out that one of the major geographical features of California is not all that well understood. The feature? The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Here is an article at ArsTechnica entitled Growing Mystery – Getting To The Bottom of The Highest Peak In The Lower 48 that outlines the study of the origins of the range. Reading this was for me a little like reading the biography of a favorite person about whom you just want to know more. Someone you feel that you already know well, but are always willing to learn more about.
The range runs some 400 miles roughly northwest to southeast, almost all within the borders of California. Some features that are known worldwide are Lake Tahoe (largest alpine lake in North America), Yosemite National Park, and Mount Whitney (at 14,400 feet highest peak in the lower 48 states). Interestingly enough, juxtaposed only 85 miles or so southeast of Mount Whitney is Badwater Basin, the lowest point not just in the U.S., but in the entire continent of North America at 282 feet below sea level.
I live in California today because of the fact that my father fell in love with California when the Air Force sent him here in 1959. And one of the reasons he fell in love with California was the mountains. I have camped, hiked and hunted in the Sierras since I was a child. Because the Sierras have been a part of my life since my childhood, I feel that they are indeed a part of me.
And they are one of the reasons – if not the reason – that I will never leave California.
I experience a certain serenity in the higher elevations where the air is thin, cool and dry. Looking upon massive formations, ridgelines and watersheds, I see magnificently functioning ecosystems created only by the hand of God.
The beauty of the Sierras begins in the lower elevations as they they rise from the eastern edge of the central valley, where the dense foothill woodlands are teeming with wildlife both great and small. Penetrating deeper into these environs, a person becomes aware of their diminishing superiority over their surroundings. A feeling arises that caution should be exercised as absolute safety is not a given, and that there may be creatures lurking about that now rank higher on the food chain than you do. Climbing now in elevation, enter the diverse montane forests of massive pines, fir, cedars and giant sequoias. If you travel higher still into the subalpine zones and you will see sparse white pines, lodgepole pines, aspens and beautiful wildflowers in the spring.
And finally, if not on foot, find one of the handfull of high passes accessible by car and experience the alpine zones at the crest where you may behold the spectacular granite desolation above the tree line, where both the flora and fauna are small if present at all.
There are a few places on earth that make a person feel that they are only part of a larger wonderful creation rather than outside it looking in. The Sierras are one of those places for me. They are something I am part of – somewhere I belong.
PS – all photos except the satellite shot are mine. You may click on the picture to see a large version