Category Archives: Photographs: Owens Valley

Receding Ridges, Rain

Receding Ridges, Rain
A squall moves across hills near the base of the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada

Receding Ridges, Rain. Owens Valley, California. October 4, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A squall moves across hills near the base of the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada

This photograph belongs to a portion of my work that I think of as minimalist landscapes. They often focus on landscapes that are largely hidden or in which some elements are obscured. Not all involve mist, clouds, fog, and rain, but quite a few do. In many of them I am trying to work with a kind of light that is very special to me, where the atmosphere itself becomes luminous, perhaps when filled with haze or fog or dust and lit from behind, producing a kind of glowing effect that can be so bright that it is hard to look into.

On this day I had, or so I thought, finished my autumn photography on this trip, and I was in my “heading home” mode. I had driven down from the mountains, where I had photographed in rain and incoming light snow earlier in the morning, stopped in a town along US 395 for coffee and something to eat, then gotten into my vehicle to hit the road. Not 15 minutes north of town I came to a familiar spot where I often stop to admire the view and sometimes photograph. I pulled over and went a ways up a side road and watched the landscape disappear behind rain and clouds as a squall moved through. I set up under the rear door of my vehicle so that I could have some shelter from the rain, and I began looking for places in the landscape where there was just enough detail to suggest its form but no more than necessary. (Trivia fact: This is a color photograph!)


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Autumn Snow Storm, Eastern Sierra

Autumn Snow Storm, Eastern Sierra
An early autumn storm drops snow along the summit of Wheeler Ridge, Sierra Nevada

Autumn Snow Storm, Eastern Sierra. Round Valley, California. October 4, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

An early autumn storm drops snow along the summit of Wheeler Ridge, Sierra Nevada

This is not a photograph of eastern Sierra Nevada autumn aspens, a subject that has been quite visible in my stream recently. However, it is as much a photograph of autumn in the Sierra as is another photograph of those trees. During October we often seen the beginning of the grand changing of the gears that moves us from summer to winter. At times it may seem like summer will stick around forever, especially on one of those beautiful, crystal clear autumn days when the light simply glows. But inevitably these days cannot last and soon the first Pacific weather fronts arrive. The first few may only leave a dusting of snow, but the message is unmistakable — winter is coming.

This was such a weekend in the eastern Sierra. On the first day it was sunny and warm, and there was barely any sign that a change was imminent. Yet that night the change most certainly arrived, and when I awoke early in the morning it was in the low thirty-degree range at my camp and snow pellets were falling. Looking outside, through the clouds I could see that the surrounding peaks were covered with a thin coat of snow. After a bit of early morning photography I began my long drive back home, heading up US 395 along the eastern escarpment of the Sierra. Conditions were very changeable, and this scene quickly went from being completely obscured by clouds and rain to clearing conditions with only a remnant of the precipitation along the summit of immense Wheeler Ridge above Long Valley.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Round Valley Cottonwood Trees

Round Valley Cottonwood Trees
Round Valley Cottonwood Trees

Round Valley Cottonwood Trees. Eastern Sierra Nevada, California. October 6, 2014. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Autumn cottonwood trees beneath the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada, Round Valley

I’ve long been captivated by this area at the base of the Sierra Nevada’s eastern escarpment not far from the town of Bishop, California. As you drive south near here you descend a very long grade toward Bishop, and at the bottom of the grade the route crosses a very large valley where the eastern edge of the range seems to retreat far to the west, and a broad valley rises from the lowlands towards much higher peaks. But along the northern edge of this valley the escarpment lives up to its name and is quite sudden and steep.

The valley seems agricultural, with cattle often grazing on the grasslands among the large cottonwood trees. In the late afternoon, and especially in fall when the trees change colors, the backlight coming over the crest lights the trees from behind and from the right point of view they can stand dramatically against the shadowed eastern slopes of the range.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Autumn Morning, Round Valley

Autumn Morning, Round Valley
Autumn Morning, Round Valley

Autumn Morning, Round Valley. Eastern Sierra Nevada, California. October 11, 2013. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Morning light on the pastureland and trees of Round Valley and the eastern Sierra Nevada

This lovely pastoral location sits at the base of the eastern Sierra, and is as much a part of the Owens Valley as it is a part of the Sierra. It is green and lush in the spring and early summer, it takes on some of the typical California golden color later on, and its brown grasses and colorful leaves produce a beautiful sight in autumn. It is not at all a “destination,” but it is a place that I always look forward to seeing when I pass up and down the east side of the range.

There are two particularly beautiful lighting conditions that occur here. One, which I’ll share in another photograph a bit later, occurs in the afternoon. The sun drops behind a tall ridge along the upper section of the valley, leaving the steep slopes of the eastern Sierra escarpment in shade while brilliantly lighting the autumn-colored cottonwood trees from behind. The other lighting, which is seen in this photograph, comes in the morning, when low angle light crosses the meadow, creating long shadows and gradually lighting up the backdrop of the Sierra.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Long Valley Ranch Building

Long Valley Ranch Building
Long Valley Ranch Building

Long Valley Ranch Building. Long Valley, California. October 9, 2011. © Copyright 2011 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Long Valley ranch building with autumn morning mist

This is the same ranch that is pictured in the photograph I posted yesterday, though this photograph was made two years earlier. The ranch is out on the less-traveled back roads of Long Valley, not far from the resort town of Mammoth Lakes. That said, there isn’t anything remotely resort-like about this place, which gives every appearance of being a working ranch with cattle and horses and run-down outbuildings.

I love this area in the fall when the temperatures drop and the steam from the geothermal sources of hot water can rise into the morning light. In the right conditions, small columns of mist rise all over the valley. This particular spot has a lot of water, most notably nearby Hot Creek, which is, uh, hot. As I do so often, here I chose to photograph almost directly into the morning sun, which creates and extremely bright and luminous quality in the mist and which places the shaded side of the building toward the camera in the lower part of the frame.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Ranch, Fence, Morning Mist

Ranch, Fence, Morning Mist
Ranch, Fence, Morning Mist

Ranch, Fence, Morning Mist. Long Valley, California. October 12, 2013. © Copyright 2013 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Morning mist rises above Long Valley ranch land

This is a favorite photography area for me. It isn’t far from the crowded eastern Sierra ski and resort town of Mammoth Lakes by the map, but it every other way it is pretty much a completely different world. In the fall, when conditions are right and mists rise out in these flatlands, I like to leave the Sierra behind and drive out here and explore.

The Long Valley area is the caldera of an ancient volcano, which erupted quite violently many hundreds of thousands of years ago, and which has been active at times since then. Today the visual evidence remains in the form of the large caldera itself (which becomes quite obvious after you look for it) and the many hot springs and even a hot creek out in the valley. On cold mornings fogs form out here, and mist and steam rise from the many sources of hot water. This was one of those foggy mornings, and looking over this ranch and directly into the sun, I saw a beautiful series of receding layers: foreground pasture and several steaming waterways, a fence, more fog beyond, more mist, and then a series of higher and higher hills and mountains.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Mt. Humphreys, New Snow, Sunrise

Mt. Humphreys, New Snow, Sunrise
Mt. Humphreys, New Snow, Sunrise

Mt. Humphreys, New Snow, Sunrise. The Buttermilk Range, California. October 10, 2013. © Copyright 2013 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Sunrise light illuminates overnight snow on Mt. Humphreys and peaks of the Sierra Nevada crest above the Buttermilks

This was the morning after a day of October snowfall up and down the Sierra Nevada. The previous day we had photographed in snow almost the whole day as we traveled east over Carson Pass, then via Monitor Pass to highway 395, and continued south past Walker, Bridgeport, Lee Vining, and Mammoth (where the snow finally let up) and on to Bishop. Photographing aspen color in the snow was a special treat, since it combined the autumn ritual of aspen chasing with the clear indication that the cold season was on its way, a message delivered by snow.

That night I realized that the snow would certainly coat the peaks of the eastern Sierra the next morning, so instead of heading straight up to photograph aspens, I decided that we would instead go to a place in the sage country above Bishop from which a great section of the eastern Sierra is visible, to see if we might get dawn light on the snow-covered mountains. We arrived – of course! – before sunrise, and the jury was still out. There were clouds floating over the crest and, more importantly, there were clouds high up in the White Mountains to the east. Mornings like this have the potential to either be a complete bust if the clouds block the early light, or to bring especially beautiful conditions if the dawn light finds a way to shine through breaks in the clouds. We got our breaks, and on top of that the clouds above the crest began to break up just as the sunlight arrived. In this photograph, a fluffy cloud has been considerate enough to momentarily park its peak-shaped form above Mt. Humphreys, a bit of light hits the peaks, a band of light lower down illuminates the base of the snow-covered escarpment, and a bit of reddish light even hits the nearer and darker foreground peak.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.