Winter’s Coming to the Eastern Sierra, CA

Plutonic glow. A storm clears at dawn in the. Alabama Hills, Eastern Sierra, CA, USA

We were closing out the 2021 field season in Owens Valley, and I had been on a long circuitous road trip working on projects in San Diego, California, visiting with colleagues in Henderson, Nevada, and traversing Death Valley to return to our team working on the fans of the Owens Lake basin. While we wrapped up our fieldwork, the first solid winter storm bore down on the Sierra. Travel home was not possible. The storm meant steady rain in Lone Pine, California, our lodging and logistical base, with the Sierra massif clouded over. I took some time to wrap up some field mapping in the southern valley, taking advantage of the road closures that precluded a homebound journey.

Eastern Sierra – Winter’s Coming Collection

Inyo squalls. Strom clouds clearing from the Inyo Mountains, Great Basin Desert, CA, USA

Soon, however, the storm caught up with me and the graded roads of the Olancha and Walker fans were flooded. I retraced my way around to the east side of the valley and visited the falling dunes of the Centennial benches, a small dune-set on the Highway 190 as it climbs out of Owens Valley. I really enjoy this small falling dune and adjacent sand ramps as they move across the dramatic black basalt of the local rimrock benches. Today, the wind was the subject. I was pushed by gusts and polished by grains as a worked low on the dune to tell the story of the wind and its motive power. No changing lenses in these conditions, but I chose well, and I am happy with the results.

Aeolian rush. Reworking of a falling dune, Owens Valley, Great Basin Desert, CA, USA
Ripples repose. Storm winds rearrange the falling ripples, Owens Valley, Great Basin Desert, CA, USA

The rains finally reached the desert side with the Inyo and Coso mountains soon engulfed in clouds and sheeting rain. I was not quite finished, however. I worked my way into blue hour in the Alabama Hills looking for small scenes in the fading light under the stormy clouds – only the lower mountain-front was visible. The barrel cactus seemed to bend the blue light into a kind of warmth, needles glowing against the cold rocks and sandy grus. Looking for a different perspective, I crawled into a tight cave-like alcove to keyhole small cactus. I am not sure it works but the contortion effort of lifting the camera into the slotted crevices to frame a hoped for subject had me laughing out loud; I am sure a strange solitary sound in the windy evening.

Barrel window. Blue hour and cactus in the Alabama Hills, Eastern SIerra, CA, USA
Storm ball. Alabama Hills, Eastern Sierra, CA, USA

I returned to the hotel to hope for a break in road conditions so I could get home. I had logged over 1600 miles on this outing, and the first pangs of homesickness are more acute when conditions change the plan. Clearing skies of the following morning brought reward. Forecasting the changing conditions, I hurried back into the Alabama Hills before dawn. I once again patrolled Movie Road. Driving its full extent and returned eventually to the newly restricted ‘Day Use’ area where the road first bends sharply east. The Sierra crest beckoned, and I had great pleasure watching the refreshed skies on Lone Pine Peak. The light of the Sierra, a gift accepted once again.

Eastern Sierra – Winter’s Coming Collection

Interior pipes. Early sun and texture in the Alabama Hills, Eastern Sierra, CA, USA

Keep going.

Please respect the natural and cultural resources of our public lands. #naturefirst #keepgoing

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