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Preserving a Sierra Jewel

May 12, 2003

Driving north of Los Angeles on U.S. 395, the first great view of the High Sierra may be the best of all -- from just south of the town of Lone Pine looking up toward the jagged crest crowned by the 14,494-foot summit of Mt. Whitney. That's the scene in the Ansel Adams sunrise photograph, with the Alabama Hills and a grazing horse in the shaded foreground. (Whitney lies shyly in the center-rear of the photo; many mistake the hulk of the closer Lone Pine Peak on the left for Whitney.)

The true High Sierra ends 150 miles northward up 395 in the Sawtooth Ridge on the northeast edge of Yosemite National Park. The high point, Matterhorn Peak, is only 12,270 feet above sea level. But in spectacular alpine scenery, this little granite range takes a back seat to none. The names attest to its jagged nature: the Dragtooth, the Three Teeth, the Sawblade and the Cleaver. Better yet, the Sawtooth is in a spectacular setting just off 395 at the town of Bridgeport and overlooking Twin Lakes. The five miles from the town border to the nearest foothills is a lush meadow that is unparalleled in the Eastern Sierra.

For more than a century, the meadow was part of the 6,350-acre Centennial Ranch, formerly the Dressler Ranch. Though summer homes and cabins are springing up around Bridgeport, this glorious meadow is undisturbed except for the languorous grazing of the cows and chirping of the birds. Now, thanks to the American Land Conservancy, California Rangeland Trust, ranch owners Dave Wood and John Lacey and others, the meadow will remain in its natural state in perpetuity.

The land has been put into a conservation easement that bars development and allows only normal cattle ranching operations. The easement was obtained with a grant of bond money and habitat conservation funds from the state Wildlife Conservation Board and scenic easement money from Caltrans.

Part of the magic of the Sawtooth Ridge is this spacious foreground, where bountiful irrigation water maintains the meadow in an emerald sheen throughout the summer. Some of the Eastern Sierra's most magnificent vistas are secluded from the highway. Not the Sawtooth. Motorists have a spectacular view going into town from the northwest on 395 or from the north on California 182. To take in the view when traveling from the south requires only a prudent twist of the head to the left.

The action: preservation of a Sierra jewel. The cost: $3.21 million. Return on the investment: priceless.

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