Death Valley Environs from the Air

PART 1 of 3: OF THE SIERRA RAINSHADOW, AND CLOUDS

(links to the other two pages are at the bottom of this page)

It is May and I am flying from Las Vegas to San Francisco on Ted (to catch flights coming and going to Paris).  My windows are clean.  Wonderful!

The flight path goes west for a while, then a longer stretch straight north past Death Valley, then west again to San Francisco.

We will first look at the cause of this desert in which Death Valley (and most of Nevada) finds itself: the rainshadow of the Sierra Nevada .  As air moves east from the Pacific, it is lifted, cools, and if there is enough moisture it will drop its load in front of and over these mountains:

To the right in the above photo you are looking at the eastern end of the Sierras which grades into foothills that have already lost their snow.  As we get to the eastern end, however, the mountains end very abruptly.  As they end, air descends.  As it descends, it warms.  What moisture is left is not nearly as likely to form clouds, let alone fall out as snow or rain, as it was just a few miles back to the west.  Hence, the rain-shadow:

The valley just east of the Sierras is the Owens Valley, in which the snow-melt fed Owens River flows, toward the large (dry) lake (Owens Lake) visible to the south (between what looks like two snowy mountain ranges in the photo above, and between the clouds at the center of the photo below). In both the photo above and the one below there appears to be a taller mountain to the northwest [toward us, and then to the right some) from Owens Lake.  That is Mount Whitney, highest point in the lower 50 states at 14,494 feet above mean sea level.  I believe we at, but unable to see, Bishop, California.  We are unable to see it because it is directly beneath us:

These photos were taken on the return trip.  On the way up, it was cloudier, and here is what the mountain/valley boundary looked like viewed from the east (Deep Springs Lake directly below, usually dry, in the Inyo Range).

The clouds in the above photo remind me that on the way back we saw some nice lenticular clouds (meaning lens-shaped, and usually "standing" or staying in the place where they are formed by high winds arching over mountains, condensing water vapor for the short time they are at just the right temperature).

Here are some lenticular clouds.  The lower ones are formed as air comes out of the Owens Valley as it moves east and is forced up again by the Inyo range (Owens Lake in the background again):

We also passed directly over a lenticular cloud while flying over the Sierras.  Here we are about to pass over it:

Now we are right over it:

And here it is disappearing under the wing:

A bit further inland (to the left) in the above two photos, there is a lenticular  cloud standing on the leeward side of the Sierras that looks somewhat like a flying saucer.  As we pulled past it, this is what it looked like:

That's enough for clouds and rain-shadows.

You are here now:  the Sierra Nevada and some interesting clouds

The next page will look into Death Valley itself.

The third and last page will look at some of the environment around Death Valley that we have explored by car earlier this year.

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