Thousands of years ago humans first inscribed themselves on the landscape of California’s eastern flank. Indians scratched a fantastic cosmos of circles and squiggles on the dark desert rock in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Photographer Nolan Nitschke captures this geological canvas in the broad foreground, while a fiery sunset over the snowy mountains competes for attention — the grandeur of art and nature holding each other in balance.
The Eastern Sierra, which stretches from the Tehachapi Pass north of Los Angeles for some 400 miles to Lake Tahoe, is a scenic wonderland where high desert meets even higher mountains. It’s a landscape begging to be photographed — and kept intact.
A new show at the G2 Gallery in Venice (through Aug. 5) highlights both the stunning scenery and the need to preserve it. Called “Art for Conservation: Eastern Sierra Land Trust,” the exhibition features seven photographers with strong ties to the region. The photographers are rock climbers, biologists, botanists — several falling into multiple categories. Most live in the Eastern Sierra and all know the land with the intimacy that can be gained only by walking across it and sleeping under its stars.
Nitschke, for example, grew up in Bishop — a town of fewer than 4,000 people but still the largest in the Owens Valley — and has built hiking trails for the U.S. Forest Service. Vern Clevenger, who lives in Mammoth Lakes, has climbed difficult technical routes on peaks throughout the range. And Andy Selters, who has written Sierra hiking and field guides as well as a history of American mountaineering, ventured into the White Mountains during winter to photograph bristlecone pines, the oldest trees on the planet.
The show is a fundraiser for the Eastern Sierra Land Trust, a nonprofit that seeks to preserve the character of the region, which ranges from working ranches to the tallest peak in the lower 48: Mt. Whitney. The G2 Gallery, owned by Los Angeles philanthropists Dan and Susan Gottlieb, focuses on nature photography and inspiring people to conserve wild places.
Drivers enjoying the views from U.S. 395 on a weekend jaunt up to Mammoth might take the vistas for granted, but the Land Trust works to keep them in place permanently. In the last year, for example, the trust has purchased 60 acres of critical deer habitat as a wildlife migration corridor, as well as helping to designate a 600-acre hay farm as an agricultural preserve.
Los Angeles and the Eastern Sierra are linked by more than an aqueduct that supplies the city with much of its drinking water. The Eastern Sierra, the show reminds viewers, can be seen as the pictorial representation of the California Dream: a landscape beckoning beyond strip malls and subdivisions.
The Eastern Sierra photographers turn their eyes toward this vastness. Londie Padelsky’s camera, for instance, freezes three mustangs mid-gallop. The wild creatures run across a grassland, blue and white mountains in the background. The picture celebrates freedom and space — a tonic for anyone who has been trapped in rush-hour gridlock.
Robb Hirsh, on the other hand, looks down at Mono Lake from on high, his wide-angle lens seeming to capture the curve of the Earth, where the blue water and sky and white tufa and clouds all merge into a panorama as timeless as the earth itself.
Ybarra, 45, a regular contributor to The Times, filed this piece a few days before he went climbing near Yosemite National Park and died in an accidental fall this month. A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. July 29 at Yosemite Lodge, The Falls.