California Mountains – Tiny Finds and Large Views

My husband called to me as I was lagging behind on the loop trail, “Why do you keep looking at the ground?! Look up at the mountains, and the trees!”

We were in the Patriarch Grove of the Bristlecone Pines, at 11,000 feet, in the White Mountains, with dolomite rock as far as the eye could see, as in the photo above. One might well wonder why I would look down at it.

But if you click on that photo to enlarge it you will see that there are vague greenish splotches all over the place. Those are clumps of wildflowers, hugging the ground in mats barely taller than my living room carpet.

I was finding whole worlds of flower gardens tucked under rocks, where several species of the most diminutive blooms would pack themselves together in a jumble. I noticed them, but the sun was so bright, and they were so little, that I couldn’t actually see them very well, or know if my photo was decent.

And I didn’t want to make us too late for dinner in Lee Vining that night, a few hours’ drive down the mountain and up the highway. But now I wish I had taken more pictures.

Lewisia, I think…

I’m home, and the photos are uploaded to the computer where I can zoom in on them and reveal more details, but usually I find that they are overexposed and/or a bit blurry from the wind, and identification is hard. The plants seem to be stunted variations of more common forms, likely resulting from living where there is so much sun and wind, but little warmth and moisture. In this high place the temperature rarely gets above 70° even in midsummer, and frost can happen any night of the year.

milkvetch and an old cone

The purple milkvetch pictured (in the Astragalus family), for example, is a shy and minimalist version of other forms that grow above treeline; technically, we are not above treeline or alpine here, because the Bristlecones are of course trees, but all the wildflowers in this area are listed in the Alpine section of my guide, and the conditions are similar to those in the Sierras above 11, 500 feet.

Pippin sent me to a link from an area in Utah where more Bristlecones grow, and to the Table Cliff Milkvetch that looks pretty similar. But from my poor photo, I’m not confident to claim a perfect match.

Maybe it’s even a version of the Whitney’s Locoweed (Astragalus whitneyi) I saw in the lower grove. That one (below) was past flowering and was showing its crazily colorful pods, and this one 1,000 feet higher doesn’t have any pods yet.

Whitney’s Locoweed and Dwarf Alpine Daisy

Mr. Glad was trying to figure out which White Mountain peaks were which; on the way up to the Bristlecones we’d done a lot of that kind of thing when we stopped at Sierra View Point. Here is a movie I found online, showing what we saw across the Owens Valley: the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada. We had been over there somewhere as little hiker specks just the day before.

The starting image of the movie looks similar to the still shot Mr. G took, but not quite as nice, so I posted his version at the bottom of this post.

Another view that was a quiet and calming feast for the eyes was of these sagebrush-covered slopes, as we traveled that gravel road. The total effect was so much more green and lively-looking than what we saw going west up from Bishop. Maybe it’s a different species of sagebrush?

After this day with the Bristlecones and their tiny ground-hugging companions, we went back over the mountains and then north for the last hilly adventure of our July vacation.

View of Sierras from White Mountains

2 thoughts on “California Mountains – Tiny Finds and Large Views

  1. What beautiful travels and hikes you've had lately! I'm like you….always looking for a wildflower or a plant that's *new* to me. Who can resist looking UP at the mountains either? Where shall my help come from?



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