White Mountain Documentary Premieres November 17

(Press Release) LA JOLLA, CA, October 27, 2004–See just what it means to study life on the edge at the University of California’s White Mountain Research Station (WMRS) when In the Shadow of White Mountain makes its television debut Wednesday, November 17 at 8:00PM. The evening’s expedition continues at 9:00PM with programs profiling two sites within the University’s renowned Natural Reserve System (NRS). Viewers who miss the November 17th “White Mountain” premiere can catch repeated airings the following Mondays at 10:00PM and Wednesday at 8:00PM. Each repeat broadcast will be coupled with a new set of NRS profiles, giving viewers an inside look at the work being done to uncover California’s many scientific secrets.

Featuring the distinctive voice of narrator Peter Coyote, “In the Shadow of White Mountain” tells the many stories of this unique resource for science, a biological field station with both the highest research lab and the highest Internet node in North America. WMRS provides unprecedented access to a host of environmental conditions, animals, and vegetation, and is yielding a vital understanding of change, from physiology to climate, from the oldest known living organism, to a short-lived beetle, and what this understanding means for all.

Nearly three years in the making, “In the Shadow of White Mountain” was produced by UCSD-TV, the broadcast television station based on the UC San Diego campus. Funding was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of the organization’s effort to increase public awareness and appreciation of NSF supported science, such as WMRS’ remote monitoring of field data on a real-time basis using the Internet, and a new molecular biology laboratory used for a variety of biological investigations, including the Sierra Bighorn Sheep Recovery program.

In addition to sharing this scenic research location with the public, the program’s producers hope to convey a deeper understanding of what locations such as White Mountain contribute to science and our lives. “This beautiful place is a unique resource for science, and by extension, for us all,” said UCSD-TV producer/director Rich Wargo. “Environments such as White Mountain play a critical role in our understanding of the changing world in which we live, and I hope our viewers will come away with an appreciation for the work being done here by many fields of science.”

Peter Coyote, Emmy Award-winning narrator, noted actor, award-winning author, and seasoned environmental advocate, provided the voiceover narration for “In the Shadow of White Mountain,” illuminating how the research conducted at the WMRS continues to help us understand what is happening to our changing world, and what that may mean to our future. Of the narration Coyote said, “I love this–this is a fascinating story, it’s very interesting, and it’s challenging.”

The diversity of research that takes place at WMRS is reflected in the hour-long documentary, which includes segments about the endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep; the amazing survival of the ancient Bristlecone Pine Tree; the extreme hibernation of White Mountain’s squirrels; the evolution of the Willow Beetle and what it tells us about climate change; and how extreme altitude effects equines, known for their incredible aerobic performance. For more information on “In the Shadow of White Mountain,” including exclusive behind the scenes photos, producer’s notes, and links to additional resources, visit http://www.ucsd.tv/whitemountain/.

With each November airing of “In the Shadow of White Mountain,” UCSD-TV will air additional programs about UC’s NRS sites, as well as two operated by Stanford University. The month’s schedule follows:

Wednesday, November 17

8:00PM In the Shadow of White Mountain

9:00PM Hastings Reserve–Tour this biological field station in the Santa Lucia Mountain range in Monterey County.

9:30PM The Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve–Situated on the Big Sur Coast, this reserve provides a spectacular location to study nature.

Monday, November 22

10:00PM In the Shadow of White Mountain

11:00PM James Reserve–Located in Southern California’s San Jacinto Mountains, this reserve uses technology to gain insight into the natural world.

11:30PM Sedgwick Reserve–At this site near Santa Barbara, researchers explore the microorganisms that support California’s ecosystems, and work to preserve the disappearing oak woodlands and restore native grasslands.

Wednesday, November 24

8:00PM In the Shadow of White Mountain

9:00PM Coal Oil Point Reserve–This reserve near the UC Santa Barbara campus protects a variety of coastal and estuarine habitats and hosts thousands of visiting migratory birds.

9:30PM Sedgwick Reserve

Monday, November 29

10:00PM In the Shadow of White Mountain

11:00PM Jasper Ridge Preserve–Owned and operated by Stanford University, this Central California site yields studies of the potential effects of global climate change.

11:30PM Hopkins Marine Station–Located on the Monterey Peninsula, this Stanford University-run research and educational facility is the first marine laboratory established on the American Pacific coast (in 1892).

The White Mountain Research Station (WMRS) is a multicampus research unit (MRU) of the University of California Office of Research, with a campus office located at UC San Diego. The station includes a base facility (Owens Valley Lab; elevation 4000′) located in the high desert near the town of Bishop, as well as three facilities in the White Mountains: a montane station at Crooked Creek (elev. 10,200′), an alpine station at Barcroft (elev. 12,500′), and a remote high alpine lab on the summit of White Mountain Peak (elev. 14,250′). The combination of facilities, high elevation, year-round access, and dry air make the station uniquely valuable for scientific study and educational purposes. More information can be found at http://www.wmrs.edu/

The University of California’s Natural Reserve System (NRS) contributes to the understanding and wise management of the Earth and its natural systems by supporting university-level teaching, research, and public service at protected natural areas throughout California. The NRS is the largest university-operated system of natural reserves in the world. Visit http://www.nrs.ucop.edu for more information.

Coyote Howls as In the Shadow of White Mountain Enters Final Phase of Production

(Press Release) Peter Coyote, Emmy Award winning narrator, noted actor, award-winning author (Pushcart Prize; Pushcart Prize Overview) and seasoned environmental advocate recently performed the narration for In the Shadow of White Mountain.

“Well it certainly was not a howl, but a very mellow and expertly interpreted reading performance” said Producer / Director Rich Wargo of the recent narration recording for In the Shadow of White Mountain. “…and he did put his heart into it, something rare and precious anytime, but especially in the oft-jaded world of production. He’s definitely one-of-a-kind,” added Wargo.

As well as his extensive acting, writing and advocacy, Coyote served on the California State Arts Council, which enjoyed unmatched success during his tenure as director.

Well known for his roles (E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial, Erin Brockovich, Cross Creek) as well as his recognizable voice, he has narrated many environmentally-focused productions and takes his commitment to the environment seriously, making hands-on contributions to grass-roots efforts at preservation in many locales, from the Mattole and Salmon Rivers in the north, to the Anza desert.

Coyote brought this passion and interest in our world and environmental issues to bear on the narration of In the Shadow of White Mountain, and illuminates this narrative of how science at the White Mountain Research Station continues to help us clearly understand what is happening to our changing world, and what that may mean to our future.

Of the narration Coyote said, “I love this–this is a fascinating story, it’s very interesting, and it’s challenging.”

Producer-Director Rich Wargo said of the opportunity to work with Coyote, “I knew going into the session that not only Peter’s extraordinary voice talent, but his keen intellect would make an immeasurable contribution to the program. I was familiar with his range as an actor, and knowing that he was recognized with one of the most influential awards in American writing, I knew that he was not just our voice–but that he could be the heart of the program too. However during the session it became evident I had underestimated. I was floored with his grasp of issues and his personal involvement in such issues. Truly a man of action–not just words. We enjoyed many discussions of the science at White Mountain, about which he had an almost innate understanding. I think you’ll find that this understanding and his unaffected sincerity will resonate in the program.”

Having recently completed the final location taping for the program that included yet another journey to the 14,246′ summit while covering material about a new environmental observatory to be located there, In the Shadow of White Mountain now enters its final phase of post-production.

Frank Powell (l), Director of White Mountain Research Station, and Rich Wargo, Producer/Director of In the Shadow of White Mountain discuss the script at the summit. Note the gloves and warm clothing during the first week of August on a calm, clear, sunny day!
With the Owens Valley and The Sierra Nevada range as a backdrop, Powell is taped by the UCSD-TV crew.

The final weeks of production will include the creation of interpretive graphics and the process of “sweetening” the sound track with music and natural location sound (for an interesting perspective on sound in the White Mountains, see producer’s notes)–and of course the addition of Peter Coyote’s heartfelt narration.

A keyframe from an animation test to depict Beringia, better known as the Pleistocene land-bridge that connected North America and Asia during the last ice-age.

An Extraordinary Land, by Rich Wargo

Working in the White Mountains is extraordinary in a number of ways. Some you can’t avoid, like the demands of working in thin air, and the not-so-subtle effects you experience as you suddenly realize that you aren’t at sea-level.

Some experiences are subtle, demanding patient and passive observation, like the incredible silence that you almost don’t notice–but once you do, is almost other-worldly.

Other experiences are more assertive with one’s senses. For one, the White Mountains are one of the most visually stunning settings anywhere. The whole ensemble of color, light, shadows and textures seems somehow accentuated. Scuttling clouds create an ever-changing mosaic that flows over the rolling landscape. At the height of midday the sky is a searing blue that darkens to a deep azure zenith set firmly in space. At dusk, the mountains bathe in alpenglow and the sunset reflects off of clouds that seem close enough to touch.

Clouds leave an ever-changing pattern on the slopes of White Mountain
Yes, on a clear day, the sky is that blue at the higher altitudes in the White Mountains. When looking at the zenith, you feel like you are looking right into outer space.
A Sierra Wave above the Sierras as seen from White Mountain. (Photo: Joe Szewczak)

Another extraordinary aspect of these mountains is the relationship of earth and sky. Except on very rare occasions the thin air here is much more clear than in any more urban setting, making for grand and distant vistas–and one can truly see the dome of the sky set upon an endless horizon.

The view looking north from the summit of White Mountain. In the distant foreground is the Pelissier plateau, an expanse of alpine tundra above 13,000. The view extends on towards Reno, Nevada. (Photo: Joe Szewczak)

From the summit of White Mountain or some other lofty vantage point, all the world seems below you, and for thousands and thousands of square miles around you much of it actually is. Your vision extends for hundreds of miles, across entire states, and for hundreds of miles you get the impression of a thin slice of earth and a huge arc of sky above, dominating most of what your eyes take in.

The view northeast, across Pelissier flat and on into Nevada. (Photo: Joe Szewczak)

The penumbral shadow of White Mountain as it extends east into Nevada at sunset. The shadow above is cause by a cloud above the summit. (Photo: Joe Szewczak)

Hopefully we have captured some of this, and In the Shadow of White Mountain will give viewers a sense of these stunning vistas. But one thing the program will never capture is an equally compelling quality of this special landscape–a sense of its timelessness. For that you must come and visit one of this environment’s most notable inhabitants, the Bristlecone Pine.

RW 10/04

Scenes From White Mountain

UCSD-TV Science producer Rich Wargo took his first trip to the White Mountain Research Station near Bishop, California on the first day of spring 2002, barely outrunning a snowstorm that hammered the high altitude station with 2 feet of snow in whiteout conditions. With such an auspicious start, it’s no surprise that In the Shadow of White Mountain has become one of UCSD-TV’s most eagerly anticipated new programs for the new year.

Scenic Photos
Research Photos
Production Photos

Scenic Photos (click thumbnail to enlarge)

Sunset over the Sierras as seen from the Owens Valley Laboratory

The imposing east slope of White Mountain

Skypilots near the summit of White Mountain

A Sierra Wave in the White Mountain sky

This spectacular sight occurs when a cold front approaches California from the northwest, and the westerly airflow increases over the Sierra crest

A Sierra Wave as seen from Barcroft Station. Photo: Joe Szewczak

A relic Bristlecone Pine. For more about relic Bristlecones read Wisdom from the Ancients in Stories from White Mountain. Photo: Joe Szewczak

The penumbral shadow of White Mountain as it extends east into Nevada at sunset. The shadow above is cause by a cloud above the summit. Photo: Joe Szewczak

Research Photos (click thumbnail to enlarge)

Researchers prepare mules for their participation in tests measuring high altitude performance

A UC Davis research group unloads equipment in preparation for a week of physical testing at high altitudes.

These sheep, frequently seen on the tortuous jeep trail up the west slope of the White Mountains, live in the White and Inyo mountains and are actually genetically distinct from the endangered Sierra Bighorn sheep that inhabit the Sierra Nevada range, only a few miles to the west across Owens valley.

Shoveling out the SnoCat

The SnoCat, the quickest mode of transport in and out of the research station during the winter months – which sometimes extend from October to May. White Mountain is the tallest peak, Mt. Barcroft (13,040) is the peak to the left. Photo: Joe Szewczak

A researcher approaches the summit of White Mountain in January. The roof of the summit facility can be seen peeking above the ridge at upper left. Photo: Joe Szewczak

Production Photos (click thumbnail to enlarge)

Cameraman Gil Barba Jr. using the camera jib at the Owens River near Owens Valley Laboratory

Happy crew at the summit – L to R White Mountain Research Station Associate Director John Smiley with his trusty companion Pulguero, Mike Weber, Matt Alioto, Rich Wargo and White Mountain Research Station Director Frank Powell

Directing an interview at the summit of White Mountain

Rich Wargo prepares a shot in Pine Creek.

The Sound of Silence, by Rich Wargo

In film and video production there is something called the “noise floor”. It is literally the sound of silence. Except that it isn’t really silence, it’s that little bit of sound left after the assistant director has called “quiet on the set!” and everyone on the set or location becomes perfectly still and silent. In some places, like a city street, the “noise floor” is a din, while on the best sound stages you can hear a grip’s stomach growling across the stage. But everywhere there is always some tiny intrusion of sound. Whether it is the barely perceptible sixty cycle hum of a light high in the studio rigging, or the far off murmur of an engine–there is always something that the indiscriminate sensitivity of the microphone picks up–except in the White Mountains.

In much of the Whites there is virtually no noise floor. Nothing. And in a sense it is truly deafening. It is an eerie sensation, as if a burden of our modern reality is lifted from your whole being and you suddenly become aware of the presence of a different world. One’s ears strain to pick up some sound, and when conditions are so silent, one is usually rewarded with only the silent hush of a gentle breath of wind, or the sound of your own blood coursing through your ears as your body works to capture every bit of precious oxygen it can at this altitude.

Even in the process of reviewing tapes for editing, I often found myself double-checking to make sure the headphones were plugged in or that the tape was running, because between statements from the interviewee, or calls from a distant Clark’s Nutcracker that were inadvertently recorded, there wasn’t the usual signal of an indistinct murmur of sound anywhere on the tapes.

I don’t exactly know why this is so. For one thing you are pretty far removed from the onslaughts of all those things technological that like to make noise, however faint. Another is that the air is thin and dry–there is just less material for sound waves to travel in. And except for communicating danger or territory the animals here are fairly elusive. There isn’t usually the gleeful din of birdsong typical of other mountain habitats, or even the occasional nighttime wail of a coyote. But one thing is certain–it is a quiet I have never heard anywhere else, even far out at sea. It is also something that the program will never be able to re-create for you, for wherever you will be when you see In the Shadow of White Mountain will surely be noisier. The sound of silence there is something that you must experience for yourself, and is an experience that shouldn’t be missed.

RW 9/04