by Antony Orme, White Mountain Research Center faculty director, geography professor emeritus UCLA
As its name suggests, the White Mountain Research Center (WMRC) hosts many studies in the inspiring White Mountains extending north from Westgard Pass, and maintains stations at Crooked Creek, Barcroft and White Mountain Peak to support these activities. As most visitors know, the Center also supports research in other nearby environments, including the drylands of the Owens Valley, the forests, meadows, and waters of the Sierra Nevada, the unusual ecosystems of Mono Lake and Death Valley, and the geology of the Inyo Mountains and other ranges in the western Great Basin.
A gateway reserve
Yet the Center is also a “gateway reserve” that offers visitors even broader opportunities for research and teaching in the regions. WMRC’s Owens Valley Station, near Bishop, is open to research and educational groups throughout the year. Although the late spring, summer and early autumn months see reasonably continuous use, there are year-round opportunities for groups to use Owens Valley Station as a base camp.
The Mojave Desert, Owens Valley, and adjacent mountain foothills to the south are easily reached from Owens Valley Station throughout the year via U.S. Route 395, as are the Long Valley caldera, Mono Lake and western Nevada to the north. Using Owens Valley Station as a base offers you year-round opportunities for studying the Owens River and neighboring shrublands and alkali meadows, as well as the river’s former (Pleistocene) course through Owens, Searles and Panamint lakes toward Death Valley. From late spring to early fall, trailheads at 3000 m in the Sierra Nevada can be reached within 30 to 60 minutes of eating a hot breakfast at the station, and a day’s studies on alpine meadows or valley glaciers can be followed by a hot dinner, shower and warm bed.
Crooked Creek Station offers similar opportunities for research throughout the summer months, not only in the White Mountains but in the Deep Springs, Fish Lake and Eureka valleys, and the neighboring Inyo and Panamint ranges, provided vehicle tanks are reasonably full of gasoline. Crooked Creek Station is also an ideal location for seminars or workshops, and small conferences (up to 40 persons) devoted not only to regional issues, such as alpine ecology and bristlecone pine dendrochronology, but on global issues such as climate change and threatened water resources, illustrated by field trips to local sites. In addition, Crooked Creek Station is an excellent place to educate student groups from elementary and high schools.
Science ranging from willow beetles to T-REX
The recent research conducted beyond the White Mountains from WMRC is extremely diverse. For example, Nathan Rank (Sonoma State University), Elizabeth Dahlhoff (Santa Clara University), and John Smiley (WMRC) are studying the ecology and physiology of willow-associated beetles in the Sierra Nevada, and Michael Maxwell (National University, La Jolla) has examined mantid reproductive biology in the Owens Valley. The Terrain-induced Rotor Experiment (T-REX) was an international effort involving 29 investigators using instrumented aircraft to generate data for the modeling of complex winds that form in the Owens Valley, particularly the “rotors” associated with Sierra wave clouds and dust storms.
Antony Orme (WMRC Director and UCLA) and Amalie Orme (CSU Northridge) have shown that oscillations of Owens Lake over the past 25,000 years reflect both hydroclimatic and tectonic forcing within the Owens River basin. Further, from lake sediments high in the eastern Sierra above Big Pine, Niki Bowerman and Doug Clark (Western Washington University) have defined several maxima for the Palisade Glacier complex between 2,800 and 250 years ago. And there is a fine body of new research being conducted in the region by graduate students supported in part by WMRC Mini-grants.
It’s clearly worthwhile to conduct your research from the White Mountain Research Center—even if your research is not based in the White Mountains. There’s a whole world to explore, right on the doorsteps of WMRC’s field stations.