Our trip last week to the White Mountains was an unqualified success, and many CIR volunteers and supporters want us to schedule additional trips there and to Death Valley National Park.  CIR has an educational mission in addition to our main focus, which is habitat restoration.  These trips highlight unique natural areas in California that we all cherish and want to conserve.

Our second trip to the White Mountains wrapped up on Sunday, and the 28 participants had a fabulous time and learned a tremendous amount about the natural history of the mountains, including about the geology, birds and the ancient Bristlecone Pines, the oldest trees in the world (see the details below).

We were privileged to have as our principal field staff Dr. Tanya Atwater, emeritus professor of geology at UC Santa Barbara, and Steve Junak, botanist and herbarium curator at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.  Both of these extraordinary scientists and educators guided us through this fascinating alpine ecosystem. We were also joined by Santiago Escruceria, who is an environmental educator with years of experience leading international bird watching trips and birding excursions for the Mono Lake Committee and others.  Our relaxed pace included hiking opportunities and visits to the Schulman Grove (location of the almost-5,000 year old Methuselah tree) and to the Patriarch Grove.  We also enjoyed a hike to Mount Barcroft, bird watching, evenings campfires, astronomy sessions and natural history slide shows.

We have received so many inquires about the White Mountains trip, we are considering holding another one next year (this would be the third one in a row).  We have also been asked to put together another trip to Death Valley National park (like we did in March) and a trip following the San Andres Fault and passing through Big Sur (like we did in September of last year).  We are fortunate that Cindy Kimmick (a CIR Board Member) has volunteered to help organize these kinds of trips, since the fee we charge does not cover the staff time needed to arrange these educational opportunities.  If you would like to help Cindy put together these unique trips, please contact us: volunteer@cirweb.org

Check out our video highlighting all four days of our trip (a compilation of the 2010 and 2011 trips):

Here are the highlights of the August 4 - 7 trip:

Day 1:

We met at noon at Eastern Sierra Inter-Agency Visitor Center at the junction of highways 395 and 136 in Lone Pine.  This is a great visitor center highlighting Inyo National Forest and Death Valley National Park, among other attractions in the area.  We gathered, had lunch and then proceeded to our next two stops along highway 168.  This included a stop at the Owens River Crossing, where we saw a riparian habitat running through a desert environment.

We took a detour along the road to Death Valley to look at ancient lake beds and at an amazing rock outcrop at "Devil's Gate."  We then proceeded up 168, entering piñon-juniper woodland then turning on to White Mountains Road.  We stopped several miles up the road to enjoy the woodland, and the wildflowers along the road.  These included penstemons, pennyroyal and apricot mallows among many others. 

We arrived at the beautiful Crooked Creek research station in the late afternoon.  Crooked Creek is one of four facilities run by the White Mountains Research station.  This attractive and comfortable station is a wonderful place to stay, and the welcoming staff takes great care of visitors.  We had a wonderful meal, and then we were treated to a fascinating presentation by Tanya Atwater featuring the mountain geology and the geologic history of the west.

Crooked Creek Station

Dinner and the Crooked Creek Station (2010 trip)

Day 2:

Our second day stared off with a visit to the  "Sierra View" overlook, which provides spectacular views of the Eastern Sierras and the Owens Valley.  After learning about the geology of the Sierra Nevada and plants around the lookout, we explored the trails of the overlook.

Sierra View Lookout (2010 trip)

Next we hiked in the famous Schulman Grove of ancient Bristlecone Pines, which provided opportunities to study the famous trees, their relationship to the geological substrate, plus the wildflowers and birds.  After lunch in the area (and a hike to an old mine) we enjoyed views and flowers at Silver Canyon and along the Wyman Road.  After another truly fabulous meal, Santiago gave us a presentation about Mono Lake, including a beautifully produced movie.

Schulman Grove

Day 3:

We visited sites north of the station, including the Patriarch Grove (near tree line).  This grove is the home of the world's largest Bristlecone Pine, the Patriarch Tree. Its splendid remoteness and moonscape appearance gives the Patriarch Grove a surreal atmosphere. Bristlecone pines and limber pines dot the landscape with a background view of the Great Basin in Nevada.  Low-growing sub-alpine flowers carpeted the "Discovery Trail" though the grove.  In the same area we hiked along the Cottonwood Basin Overlook Trail, which gave us amazing 365 degree views.  We even saw a golden eagle!

Patriarch Grove

Cottonwood Basin

We then drove to the end of White Mountain Road, had lunch and then visited the Barcroft station, part of the White Mountains Research Station.  This station is normally closed to the public, but we are given special permission to drive to the station on our trips.  About half the group climbed Mount Barcroft, near by, while the others visited the station and took in the views.  Our evening was topped off by a slide show featuring one of our participants (Jeremy Mazur) photography of the trip, plus more campfire time.

Barcroft Station

Day 4: 

Santiago lead us on a great bird walk (and general exploring) around the Crooked Creek Station.  Highlights included a Red-Tailed hawk, American Kestrel, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Sage Sparrow, Violet-Green Swallow and Clark's Nutcrackers.  Here is a complete list of birds that we saw on the trip (in order of appearance):

1 -Black-throated Grey Warbler

2 -Mourning Dove

3 -Pinyon Jay

4 -American Kestrel

5 -Black Phoebe

6 -Mountain Bluebird

7 -Northern Harrier

8 -Mountain Chickadee

9 -Pigmy Nuthatch

10 -Red-tailed Hawk

11 -Green-tailed Towhee

12 -Brewer's Blackbird

13 -Dark-eyed Junco

14 -Broad-tailed Hummingbird

15 -White-breasted Nuthatch

16 -Lincoln Sparrow

17 -Tree Swallow

18 - Golden Eagle

19 -Common Raven

20 -Rock Wren

21 -Horned Lark

22 - ? Falcon -possibly a Prairie Falcon, seen at the Patriarch Grove

23 - ? Say's Phoebe -possibly seen by one of the clients, Santiago could not verify the sighting.

24 -Violet-green Swallow

25 - Clark's Nutcracker

We departed mid-morning and made a stop along the "narrows" on highway 168.  This is a great geology and flower spot.  Once in the Owens Valley, people departed for home or to visit other interesting sites in the area.  Several participants visited the Eastern California Museum and botanic garden in Independence.  The trip leaders (and a few participants) visited the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, which consist of amazing Granite formations.  We then took a detour up the Whitney Portal road, and in a half hour we went from a desert environment to pine forest and waterfalls!

The "narrows" on highway 168