The Owens Valley region of California sits at the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada Range, home to the highest peaks in the lower contiguous 48 states. Mt. Whitney, the tallest of those peaks, reaches into the sky to an elevation of just under 15,000 feet, while the floor of the Owens Valley at the town of Lone Pine, just thirteen miles due east as the crow flies, is at 3,700 feet. The Sierra create an extremely effective rain shadow, and the water that collects in the mountains eventually flows downward into the valleys on either side. Historically in the Owens Valley, this water would find its way into the Owens River, and then flow south to end its journey at Owens Lake.
Near the end of the 19th century, long after native Paiute tribes had already developed their own management of local water systems, and after ranchers and small farms had entered the picture after the Paiute, Owens Lake was around 110 square miles in size. It was one of the largest natural lakes in California, and covered a piece of landscape that, if located in Los Angeles, would stretch from Santa Monica to Glendale, and north into the city of San Fernando. But this immense lake of salty water would soon begin a drastic change, and the fundamental nature of the landscape would completely change by the end of the 1920’s.