This past week Aubrey and I escaped the holiday crowds, the southern desert heat, and the Sierra rains, by exploring the White Mountains in eastern California. This is one of the only areas in California where you can drive to a high enough altitude that the summer temperatures are tolerable. Fortunately, the lengthy approach and lack of water keeps most people out.

4x4, White Mountains, California

White Mountain Roads : Prints Available

Driving along the barren but beautiful roads in the White Mountains - White Mountain (California's 3rd highest peak) is visible in the backdrop.

This high alpine desert paradise is most famous for the bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva). At least one of these tough trees has eked out a living in this dry and wind and lightning battered landscape for over 5,000 years. The average trees range in age from 1,000 to 2,000 years old, making them the real “millennials” of the world. Over these nearly geological time scales, rocks shift, and even entire mountain sides can slide away. But, the toughest of the trees manage to find what little soil is available, clinging to life in the most unlikely places.

Click images for larger view!

Bristlecone Pines, Sage Valley, White Mountains

Valley of Ancients : Prints Available

An ancient bristlecone pine clings to life, with a grand view of endless sage valleys high in California's White Mountains.

Holding on to their rocky perches requires an immense amount of strength, and their exposed wood bodies reveal burly layers of cellulose muscle and sinew marred by scrapes, bruises, and fractures. These weathered souls have suffered for longer than all of mankind’s recorded history.

Bristlecone Wood Abstract, White Mountains, California

Jerky : Prints Available

Exposed and weathered wood of a bristlecone pine reveals layers that resemble muscle fibers and sinews.

Between the solitary trees are acres upon acres of sage land. Afternoon thunderstorms pound the landscape with rain, releasing powerfully sweet and savory smells that waft through the valleys. Life isn’t easy for the sage, either, though. Scores of dead and dying shrubs litter the landscape, like an exhumed graveyard. They are not forgotten, however. Many of their bodies are adorned with summer flowers, breathing seasonal life into their forgotten souls.

Life and Death, Afterlife, White Mountains

Afterlife : Prints Available

A poetic story of life and death is illustrated by these small flowers emerging from a withering sage brush in California's White Mountains.

Renewal, Life and Death, Flowers and Sage

Renewal : Prints Available

Paintbrush blooms in the unlikely heart of a withered sage brush in California's White Mountains, poetically illustrating the nature of life and death.

Judging by the plentiful droppings we saw, I’m certain there is quite a bit of wildlife in the valleys; but the rabbits, deer, and predators made themselves scarce. We did, however, come upon a solitary member of the white mountain wild horse herd. The white mountains are home to 75 wild horses, whose origin likely dates back to escaped ranch horses from the 1870’s.

Wild Horse, White Mountains, California

White Mountain Wanderer : Prints Available

A wild horse grazes the sage brush plains in California's White Mountains.

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5 Comments to “Valley of Ancients – White Mountains, CA”

  1. Haijo de Jong says:

    And again I enjoyed very much your photos.
    I wonder wether you use photoshop before you publish your photos.

    It is my opinion that when you make a photo you have to do the utmost that photoshopping is not necessary. As it was in the time films were used.

    Kind regards,

    Haijo de Jong

  2. Chris Kayler says:

    Beautiful images as always, Floris! I particularly like “Jerky” and “Afterlife”. I’d love to visit here.

  3. Hi Haijo – Glad you like the images. Nearly all of my images require some post-processing. The human eye and brain see the world very differently from a camera, so even just to match what I saw requires some careful adjustments, especially to exposure and contrast. Of course I also take some artistic liberties, but ultimately I want my images to be authentic and representative of the real thing. I don’t add or remove anything (except dust spots and such), and I make minimal adjustments to color.

  4. Riley says:

    Floris I am a new subscriber and a huge fan of your work!

    Your photos and your excellent descriptive writing are a valuable source of inspiration for me, as I pursue my own career as a photographer and naturalist.

    Thank you,

    Riley @

  5. I have been photographing naturee for many years, I just love it. I always amazed by the colors you can get in your pictures. Sucess for you.