Category Archives: Photographs: Owens Valley

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.
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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.

Dawn Light, Alkali Lake and the Minarets

Dawn Light, Alkali Lake and the Minarets - Pink dawn light illuminates the surface of an Alkali Lake and the Minarets, and Mounts Ritter and Banner
Pink dawn light illuminates the surface of an Alkali Lake and the Minarets, and Mounts Ritter and Banner

Dawn Light, Alkali Lake and the Minarets. Eastern Sierra Nevada, California. October 9, 2011.© Copyright 2011 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Pink dawn light illuminates the surface of an Alkali Lake and the Minarets, and Mounts Ritter and Banner

Although it has been almost a year since I made this photograph, I recall the morning very well. I had stayed at a cheap motel in Mammoth Lakes the night before, and when I got up well before dawn I had no specific shooting plan other than to head in the general direction of places where I would find aspens, most likely somewhat south of Mammoth. I drove down to highway 395 from Mammoth and spotted the steam from the hot springs along with some fog in Long Valley. Figuring that I wasn’t certain where I would find the aspen color I was looking for but that I was certain that interesting stuff was happening out in the valley, I changed plans and headed there instead.

I drove to small lake where I have photographed a number of times in the past, pulled off the road, grabbed my gear, and headed out to the bank of the lake opposite the still relatively dark Sierra crest. This was an unusual early October, and three relatively large winter-type storms had passed through during the previous week, dropping substantial early season snow all along the upper reaches of the Sierra. As a consequence, at a time of year when it usually looks more like summer, the range had taken on a very wintry appearance. As the first pre-dawn light came to the sky, it turned the slightly hazy atmosphere a beautiful shade of pink and this light was reflected in the surface of the small lake.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer 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.

Three Towers, Morning

Three Towers, Morning - Three tufa towers in morning light, surrounded by wind-blown patterns on the surface of Mono Lake, California.
Three tufa towers in morning light, surrounded by wind-blown patterns on the surface of Mono Lake, California.

Three Towers, Morning. Mono Lake, California. July 14, 2012. © Copyright 2012 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Three tufa towers in morning light, surrounded by wind-blown patterns on the surface of Mono Lake, California.

In mid-July I was in the Tuolumne/Tioga Pass area of the Sierra for a few days of photograph. In the end, I decided to stay over one extra night so that I could drive down to photograph around Mono Lake early in the morning before heading home. I was up before dawn, quickly in my car, and down to the shoreline of Mono Lake before sunrise. My first objective was to try to photograph sand tufa formations – not the more famous tufa towers. I found what I was looking for, and spend the sunrise period photographing them in first light. However, this opportunity quickly ended, so I turned my attention to the lake itself, along with its surroundings of low hills.

While the tufa towers are the iconic visual symbols of Mono Lake, I have some other and perhaps strong associations with the place. Most of them are connected to a time of day, early morning, when I most often visit. They involve near silence, broken only by the sounds of the many gulls and other birds that are found in and around the lake. In my memories, the air is still, and it is warm, the warm of early an early desert morning that holds the smell of sage and dust. And while the moment of sunrise is what I often go there to find, in the end it is the light that comes a bit later that sticks most in my mind. This light is bright – almost too bright to look into if the lake is hazy – and it is blue with distance. This is the light that I saw on this morning, with a bit of very light breeze forming slight patterns on the surface of the lake near three isolated tufa towers.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer 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.