The rugged and primitive features of FossilFalls are the product of volcanic activity. Fed by the rains and snows of the last Ice Age, the Owens River once flowed from Owens lake down through this narrow valley between the Coso and Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges. As recent as 20,000 years ago, lava from the local volcanic eruptions poured into the Owens River channel. The erosional forces of the Owens River acted upon this volcanic rock, forming the polished and sculptured features that now can be seen at FossilFalls.
The red cinder cone visible to the north is the result of the violent ejection of trapped gases and molten material into the air from a vent in the earth's crust. Cooling quickly when exposed to the air, the molten material formed a porous rock known as scoria, which built up around the original vent forming a cone-shaped hill.
The Trona Pinnacles are one of the most unusual geologic wonders in the California Desert. This unique landscape consists of more than 500 tufa (calcium carbonate) formations rising from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake basin. These tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, were formed underwater 10,000 to 100,000 years ago when Searles Lake formed a link in an interconnected chain of Pleistocene lakes stretching from Mono Lake to Death Valley.
The Trona Pinnacles are a favorite destination for campers, hikers and photographers. Their other-wordly shapes have also served as the backdrop for several movies and hundreds of commercials.
Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon State Park features scenic desert cliffs, buttes and spectacular rock formations. The park is located where the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada converge with the El Paso Range. Each tributary canyon is unique, with dramatic shapes and vivid colors.
Historically, the area was once home to the Kawaiisu Indians, who left petroglyphs in the El Paso mountains and other evidence of their inhabitation. The spectacular gash situated at the western edge of the El Paso mountain range was on the Native American trade route for thousands of years. During the early 1870s, the colorful rock formations in the park served as landmarks for 20-mule team freight wagons that stopped for water. About 1850, it was used by the footsore survivors of the famous Death Valley trek. The park now protects significant paleontology sites and the remains of 1890s-era mining operations, and has been the site for a number of movies.
Miles of trails meander through the dramatic landscape of the park, and hiking is an intimate way to experience the desert. After wet winters, the park's floral displays are stunning, and wildlife includes roadrunners, hawks, lizards and squirrels.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks contain big trees, high peaks, and deep canyons, but the diversity goes far beyond that. Located in the southern Sierra Nevada range, the parks' elevations extend from 1,300 feet (418m) in the foothills to 14,491 feet (4,417m) at the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 states. Plunging in the opposite direction far below the surface are over 200 marble caverns, many with endemic cave fauna. This huge variation in the landscape contributes to the collage of habitats that create a rich assemblage of terrestrial, aquatic and subterranean ecosystems.
Here one can observe a vast diversity of plants and animals representing an array of adaptations. The richness of the Sierran flora mirrors that of the state as a whole--of the nearly 6,000 species of vascular plants known to occur in California, over 20% of them can be found within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks support a wide diversity of wildlife, with over 260 native vertebrate species found living in the parks.
Joshua Tree National Park is immense, nearly 800,000 acres, and infinitely variable. It can seem unwelcoming, even brutal during the heat of summer when, in fact, it is delicate and extremely fragile. This is a land shaped by strong winds, sudden torrents of rain, and climatic extremes. Rainfall is sparse and unpredictable. Streambeds are usually dry and waterholes are few. Viewed in summer, this land may appear defeated and dead, but within this parched environment are intricate living systems.
Within the park are multiple cross-sections of desert geography, fault lines, plants and wildlife. The Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, two large ecosystems primarily determined by elevation, come together in the park. Few areas more vividly illustrate the contrast between “high” and “low” desert. Five natural oases add to the eco-diversity of the park.
Visitors come to Death Valley to experience the stark and lonely vastness of the valley; the panorama of rugged canyons and mountains; the pleasures of the dry, moderate winter climate; the challenge of the hot, arid summer; the relief of the cooler mountains; and the reminders of frontier and Native American ways of life. Yet Death ValleyNational Park's greatest value is as an outdoor natural history museum.
Death Valley contains fine examples of most of the earth's geological eras and the forces that expose them. Plant and animal species, some of which occur nowhere else in the world, have adapted to the harsh Mojave Desert environment here in remarkable ways. Extremes of climate and geography make it the ultimate showcase of American deserts.
Death ValleyNational Park includes all of Death Valley, a 156-mile-long north/south-trending trough that formed between two major block-faulted mountain ranges: the AmargosaRange on the east and the Panamint Range on the west. Telescope Peak, the highest peak in the Park and in the PanamintMountains, rises 11,049 feet above sea level and lies only 15 miles from the lowest point in the United States in the BadwaterBasin, 282 feet below sea level.
YosemiteNational Park boasts nearly 95 percent designated Wilderness. The expansive park’s 747,956 acres or 1,169 square miles are home to hundreds of wildlife species and thousands of Yosemite plants. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is known for its granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, giant sequoia groves and biological diversity. Two Wild & Scenic Rivers, the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, begin in the park and flow west to the Central Valley. Visitors experience the park's 800 miles of hiking trails and 282 miles of road.
The high diversity of animal species is the result of diverse habitats in Yosemite that are largely intact. The park’s rich habitats range from thick foothill chaparral to conifer forests to expanses of alpine rock.
The native plants of YosemiteNational Park are a significant part of the exquisite beauty and biological diversity of the park. Vegetation zones range from scrub and chaparral communities at lower elevations, to subalpine forests and alpine meadows at the higher elevations.
Not just a great valley, but a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra.