mt whitney

On Top of California

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With a camera here I stand, on top of a piece of tormented land.

Pushed and pulled, torn and bent. We went to the top and down we went,

On motorcycles from high to low, taking pictures as we go.

Badwater Basin in Death Valley, California is the lowest point in California at -282 feet  (-86 m) below sea level. Less than 100 miles away is the highest point in California, Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet (4421 m) above sea level. In between those two points is a lot of up and down of tumulted land, created by the tension and compression of the Earth’s crust as the North American and Pacific plates slide past each other on the boundary known affectionately as the San Andreas fault. The landscape is dramatic to say the least, and above all makes you realize how small you really are.

DP Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top

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The Road to Whitney Portal

It was spring break, and we had driven for hours in the rain. At some point as our elevation climbed the rain turned to sleet, something halfway between rain and snow. We drove though miles and miles of wasteland blurred by storm and fogged windows. But once we reached the backside of the mountain range the storm clouds disappeared suddenly. We had reached the desert, the rain shadow created by the jagged peaks we had just traversed. The clouds would unload all their water and snow and precipitous fury within the elevated peaks, and the clouds would evaporate into the atmosphere as soon as they passed, all their piss and vinegar beat out of them by the altitudes of the mountains. The sky was a piercing blue, but we could still see the clouds swirling into nothingness as they passed the snow covered peaks.  The mountains on either side of seemed to be growing taller and steeper, and the shadows longer and darker. Finally we reached our ultimate destination — The Motel Mt. Whitney in Lone Pine, CA.

Having been cooped up in a truck most of the day we all were anxious to get out on the road. One quick little excursion before dark. We unloaded the motorcycles from the trailer and made a quick check of the map. Less than ten miles from out current location we saw a jagged and enticing road that wound up the backside of Mt. Whitney named Whitney Portal. Though Mt. Whitney and surrounding peaks were still enshrouded in the remnants of the storm clouds, we could see the snow at the base. We didn’t know how far we could get, but decided to make the effort and set off through the upthrust boulder fields commonly known as the Eastern Sierras.

To give an idea of the topography of this place without a personal visit is difficult. The land has been folded into steep and jagged and dangerous looking shapes. Mount Whitney is the tallest point in the Continental U.S., and less than 100 miles away is Death Valley, the lowest point, and in between there are many other valleys and peaks. The landscape makes you feel very small and insignificant, and creates a sense of uneasy wonder as you ponder the forces that could create such rugged beauty.

When we reached the bottom of Whitney Portal Rd. we found it closed due to the extreme weather, so we turned around and went back to the Motel. All I could think was that it felt lucky somehow, like that icy, mountain road would have been nothing but heartbreak and trouble. I didn’t feel ready for such extreme adventure yet. Better to ease into such things. But I didn’t have long to acclimate. The destination the next day – Death Valley.

Welcome to paradise.


Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Threes

See more photos of the Eastern Sierras HERE