Astronauts aboard the International Space Station looked obliquely down at the steep eastern flank of California’s Sierra Nevada. Even from space the topography is impressive. The range drops nearly 11,000 feet from Mt. Whitney (under cloud, arrow), the highest mountain in the lower 48 states (14,494 ft), to the floor of Owens Valley (the elevation of the town of Lone Pine is 3,760 ft). The Sierra Nevada landscape is well known for deep, glacially scoured valleys, like Kern Canyon west of Mt. Whitney.
The Sierra Nevada, part of the Betic Cordillera of southern Spain, were formed during the Alpine Orogeny, a mountain-building event that also formed the European Alps to the east and the Atlas Mountains of northern Africa across the Mediterranean Sea. Veleta Peak, at an elevation of 3,398 meters (11,148 feet) above sea level, is a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders. This astronaut photograph depicts the Veleta Peak region of the range and illustrates the sharp contrast between the snow-capped mountains, adjacent dry lowlands to the west and north, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south.
The smoky remnants of October’s devastating fires still filled the southern California Central Valley on November 2, 2003. This “upside down” digital photograph was taken from the International Space Station from a position over the Pacific Northwest looking southward toward southern California. At the time this image was acquired, the fires had finally been brought under control, but ash and smoke remained trapped in the atmosphere above the valley, a bowl of land ringed by the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east (left) and the Coast Range Mountains to the west (right).