An Extraordinary Land, by Rich Wargo

Working in the White Mountains is extraordinary in a number of ways. Some you can't avoid, like the demands of working in thin air, and the not-so-subtle effects you experience as you suddenly realize that you aren't at sea-level.

Some experiences are subtle, demanding patient and passive observation, like the incredible silence that you almost don't notice--but once you do, is almost other-worldly.

Other experiences are more assertive with one's senses. For one, the White Mountains are one of the most visually stunning settings anywhere. The whole ensemble of color, light, shadows and textures seems somehow accentuated. Scuttling clouds create an ever-changing mosaic that flows over the rolling landscape. At the height of midday the sky is a searing blue that darkens to a deep azure zenith set firmly in space. At dusk, the mountains bathe in alpenglow and the sunset reflects off of clouds that seem close enough to touch.


Clouds leave an ever-changing pattern on the slopes of White Mountain.


Yes, on a clear day, the sky is that blue at the higher altitudes in the White Mountains. When looking at the zenith, you feel like you are looking right into outer space.


A Sierra Wave above the Sierras as seen from White Mountain.
(Photo: Joe Szewczak)

Another extraordinary aspect of these mountains is the relationship of earth and sky. Except on very rare occasions the thin air here is much more clear than in any more urban setting, making for grand and distant vistas--and one can truly see the dome of the sky set upon an endless horizon.


The view looking north from the summit of White Mountain. In the distant foreground is the Pelissier plateau, an expanse of alpine tundra above 13,000. The view extends on towards Reno, Nevada.
(Photo: Joe Szewczak)

From the summit of White Mountain or some other lofty vantage point, all the world seems below you, and for thousands and thousands of square miles around you much of it actually is. Your vision extends for hundreds of miles, across entire states, and for hundreds of miles you get the impression of a thin slice of earth and a huge arc of sky above, dominating most of what your eyes take in.


The view northeast, across Pelissier flat and on into Nevada.
(Photo: Joe Szewczak)


The penumbral shadow of White Mountain as it extends east into Nevada at sunset. The shadow above is cause by a cloud above the summit.
(Photo: Joe Szewczak)

Hopefully we have captured some of this, and In the Shadow of White Mountain will give viewers a sense of these stunning vistas. But one thing the program will never capture is an equally compelling quality of this special landscape--a sense of its timelessness. For that you must come and visit one of this environment's most notable inhabitants, the Bristlecone Pine. (Read more about the Bristlecone Pine in Wisdom from the Ancients.)

RW 10/04

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