69 Annals of the Range of Light, California

(Image, March 1998, © 2005 M. Childers)

South of Owens Valley, California’s Sierra Nevada Range gradually loses its alpine majesty and eventually merges with the Greenhorn and Tehachapi Mountains near Bakersfield. The distant white line in this image is the dry floor of Owens Lake.

In 1900 the lake was 7 miles wide, 12 miles long, and deep enough to sink one of the many steamboats plying its surface during a fierce storm. It took about seventy years for the lake to turn into a barren saltpan after the Los Angeles aqueduct was opened.

Sand, a portion of which began as gravel eroding from the flanks of the great range, then transported to the now dry lakebed over millennia by the Owens River, is now blown east by the wind where some of it is captured in desert plant hummocks along the lake’s most ancient shoreline.