Soaring Glacier Divide from Bishop
Geologists first settled California. They didn’t know they were geologists. They called themselves prospectors and later we named them 49ers. Nonetheless they discovered that gold always occurred with quartz underground. More than a hundred years later college educated geologists explained the science behind the miner’s observations. In the molted soup created by the friction of plate tectonics, the first rocks to crystalize at the highest temperatures where iron, aluminum, copper and other metal bearing silicates.
Unlike other metals, gold does not incorporate into the crystal lattice of silicon. When the molten mixtures has cooled sufficiently, only gold and pure silicone dioxide (quartz) remain to solidify in the cracks of the existing granites forming veins of gold bearing quartz.
These early prospectors also discovered and mapped the diried-up, millions-of-years-old so called Eocene rivers of California. They had enough data for many a dissertation. But is wasn’t degrees they were after; it was the gold: placer gold just like in the modern rivers.
About 12 years after the discovery of gold, the California Legislature decided it needed to know the breath of California’s mineral wealth. They hired college educated, Josiah Whitney, author of the acclaimed book, Mineral Wealth of the United States, as Director of the California Geological Survey.
When Whitney was doing his geology, John Muir was doing his natural history studies of the Sierra Nevada. In 1869, the same year that saw the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, and the arrival of John Muir in California, Whitney published his travel guide to Yosemite Valley, The Yosemite Book and claimed that the Yosemite Valley was formed by the sinking of the valley floor. John Muir contended that the valley was formed by the action of glaciers.
To discredit Muir, Whitney claimed that it was impossible for glaciers to have created the valley because the Sierra didn’t then and never did contain glaciers. John Muir demonstrated the existence of Sierra glaciers by demonstrating the movement of permanent blocks of ice, completely undermining Whitney’s theory. The public, to this day, accepts the theory that glaciers carved Yosemite Valley, even though there is scant evidence that glaciers can do the massive carving required to create such monumental features.
Soaring from Bishop, you can view the namesakes of these historic figures. Josiah Whitney got the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states named after him, while Muir was honored with a hiking trail, a mountain pass, and a peak next to Whitney’s 479 feet lower.
About 20 miles south west of Bishop, Glacier Divide houses about six glaciers in a series of cirques -- huge steep-walled amphitheater-like features. As you fly down the ridge,
you encounter several more glaciers – Goethe, Darwin, Palisade, Norman Clyde, until you reach the mountain peaks named for the opponent and champion of Sierra Glaciers.