Pictures by QT Luong
Eastern California is a sparsely populated place of dramatic topography. It is dominated by the Sierra Nevada, the highest and largest mountain range in the lower 48 states. Four hundred miles long, seventy-five miles wide, ten to more than fourteen thousand feet in height, it ranks with the major mountain ranges of the world. It has some of the clearest weather of any of them, earning the denomination "range of light," with 200-250 sunny days each year. A long, continuous slope in the west to the Gold Country (the site of the California Gold Rush) and the Central Valley contrasts with a short and abrupt rise above the eastern deserts. Because the Sierra Nevada intercepts most of the Pacific storms, the area to its east is dry and arid. It consists of the Basin, which contains Mono Lake, the oldest lake in North America, Owens Valley, the deepest valley in North America (more than 10,000 feet deep, as measured from the top of Mount Whitney), and Death Valley, the hottest place in the Western Hemisphere. Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous US, is less than 90 miles from Badwater, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere.