Eastern Sierra Sunrise, Autumn. Eastern Sierra Nevada, California. October 11, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.
First light on rugged, snow-dusted ridges above aspen-covered Parker Bench
This is a special place, high along the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada and open to the first dawn light from the east. It is also just far enough off the beaten track and difficult enough to access that it is usually not very crowded. (Don’t worry if you can’t get to it, there are thousands of other places where you can have a similar experience in the eastern Sierra.) We recently got up early enough to drive here and arrive well before sun rise. To this day, despite seeing many sunrises, I still often am surprised at how quickly the light comes and how silently. Living in a culture in which every spectacular thing, or thing that we are supposed to regard as being spectacular, is pumped up with loud music and lots of action, the sunrise comes often comes in complete silence and with little warning — you look up and notice that the light has already struck some small element of the scene, and soon you discover it moving across the landscape and quietly lighting more and more bits and pieces. I made this photograph when this first light had hit the rugged upper slopes above this aspen-covered bench, but before it had worked its way down to the trees.
This photograph also illustrates something I finally figured out about this strange eastern Sierra fall of 2015. This year the season began oddly, with very early first color in many places. In addition, many groves simply did not have leaves — either they lost them so early that I never saw them or perhaps they did not put out leaves this year. In other groves the leaves went almost straight “from green to gone,” with little or not brilliant color phase. Where this happened, I think it was the result of the four-year drought creating tremendous stress on the trees. At the same time, other climate factors thought by some to be associated with the drought also had the effect of delaying the color change of trees that were not as stressed by the shortage of water. Instead, these trees are changing later, likely due to overall warming temperatures. So far, this has been a season not quite like any other I’ve experienced. In this photograph you can spot examples of almost all of these conditions — completely bare groves, groves that have turned and already dropped leaves, some that are going straight from green to having no leaves, and even some trees that are still very green.
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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