The Sweetwater Mountains are a large mountain range that straddle the border between Nevada and California to the southeast of Topaz Lake and generally east of Highway 395 between Topaz and Bridgeport, California. The geology of the Sweetwater Mountains is complex and as of a 1983 study, “incompletely described." Surface rocks are mainly made up of Miocene rhyolite and andesite. The mineral types are in some places sorted into “rock stripes.” According to Wikipedia, the range consists mainly of a pluton--a distinctive mass of igneous rock--that has been surrounded by volcanic flow from the Little Walker Caldera. The highest peak is Mount Patterson (11,673 ft.) closely followed by Mount Wheeler (11,664 ft.). Other main peaks include the East, Middle, and South Sisters. Smaller peaks like Desert Creek Peak at the north end of the range also stand out although it is not comparable in elevation to the larger peaks to the south. According to an information sign found near to Mount Patterson:
The rocky alpine areas, also known as “fellfields”, may appear barren, but alpine plant populations have established here. This is a place of extremes, including both the weather and the growth site. The Sweetwater Range is unique in Western North America with regard to the geologic processes that shaped it.
The Sweetwaters form a part of the barrier between the Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin and although they are part of the Great Basin they lie only 20 miles east of the Sierra crest. As such they are distinctive in containing flora typical of both types. The 1983 study sited here reports that 94% of alpine flora in the Sweetwaters is found in the Sierras, while 75% is found in the Great Basin. The rolling alpine area is cut by steep drainages, notably Sweetwater Creek, Desert Creek, Deep Creek, Frying Pan Creek, Jackass Creek, Cottonwood Creek, and more. Lobdell Lake (actually a reservoir), serves as the gateway to the highest alpine regions for hiking and 4-wheeling.
The slopes of the Sweetwater Mountains serve as habitat for a genetically distinct subpopulation of sage grouse knowns as the bi-state sage grouse. The historic range for this population is the Mono Lake region. According to blogger and birder Aaron N. K. Haiman, this is the most southwesterly of all sage grouse populations. This population has been proposed for inclusion in the listing of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The Sweetwater Mountains contain important mineral deposits and mining districts. Due to mining activity and to the lack of cliffs, the highest peaks of the Sweetwaters are accessible by high-clearance 4-wheel drive during at least part of the year and on a fall hike to Mounts Patterson and Wheeler the author found OHV and Jeep visitors fairly common (although saw no other hikers). This is also a hunting area and the range is surrounded by ranches and used for grazing. Most of the range is part of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
To see more photos of the Sweetwaters click here.
Bell Hunter, Katherine, and Richard E. Johnson. “Alpine Flora of the Sweetwater Mountains, Mono County, California. Madroño 30, no. 4, supplement (October 1983):89–105.
Benchmark Maps. Nevada Road and Recreation Atlas: Third Edition, Revised. Santa Barbara: Benchmark Maps, 2012.
Haiman, Aaron N. K. “The Bi-State Sage Grouse.” abirdingnaturalist: Preserving and documenting nature for future generations. Blog post, January 14, 2014. At https://abirdingnaturalist.wordpress.com/tag/bi-state-sage-grouse/.
“Mars with Flowers.” Informational sign below Mount Patterson. Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
Nevada Department of Wildlife. “Habitat Characterization, Assessment and Monitoring for Conservation of the Bi-State Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of the Greater Sage-Grouse.” N.d. Prepared by Bi-State Technical Advisory Committee. At http://www.ndow.org/uploadedFiles/ndoworg/Content/Nevada_Wildlife/Sage_Grouse/Technical-Advisory-Committee-to-the-EOC-D-Bi-State-Sage-Grouse-Habitat-Characterization.pdf.
Nueffer, Scott. “Sweetwater Mountains: Life and Wonder in the Sweetwater Mountains.” Nevada Magazine, November/December 2013. At http://nevadamagazine.com/home/extras/sweetwater-mountains/.
Wikipedia. “Sweetwater Mountains.” At http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweetwater_Mountains.
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