Tuesday, Oct 08 2013 06:00 AM

Pen in Hand: The unfettered beauty of Tehachapi skyscapes

Related Photos

Flat-bottomed fair weather cumulus clouds graze across a summer Tehachapi sky like unsheared sheep.

Sunset painted this beautiful cloud in this view looking southeast toward Oak Creek Pass.

A couple of altocumulus lenticularis clouds glow bright at day's end.

Clouds brought a layer of snow to Tehachapi Mountain Park but started dissipating the following morning.

Cumulus clouds shadow a spring patch of Goldfields wildflowers in Cummings Valley.

One of the persistent joys of living in the Tehachapi Mountains is observing the beauty and diversity of the clouds overhead -- we have interesting and attractive landscapes, of course, but we also consistently have gorgeous skyscapes.

I'll admit that I spend at least a little time each day looking at the skies over the Tehachapi Mountains, especially if there are clouds. Typically of mountain ranges, even in the drier air of Southern California, we have lots of cloud activity. One some days, the skies over the Tehachapi area are like a cloud zoo, with such a rich diversity of cloud types. From a single vantage point, I have seen as many as seven or eight different types of clouds -- assorted versions of stratus, cumulus and cirrus clouds at different elevations overhead and in the distance.

We famously have lenticular clouds, the lens-shaped (or flying saucer or guitar-shaped) clouds that form at the crest of wind waves, often as air currents flow over mountains. During the warmer months we can see towering cumulonimbus clouds, often forming over the Sierra. These sometimes massive thunderheads have been called the "Kings of the Sky" because of their size and dramatic structure. The base of these fluffy, whipped cream clouds can be as low as a few thousand above the ground below, but then they may billow upwards as cottony monsters that are from 30,000 to 50,000 feet high or more.

While those with a passing curiosity about clouds are probably well aware of three main types of clouds -- the aforementioned stratus, cumulus and cirrus -- there are dozens and dozens of Latin-named variations with assorted specific features and appearances. It is fun to see how clouds have been described and categorized, akin to the genus and species designations of plants and animals.

Whether you use scientific nomenclature, or the more informal terms like mare's tails, mackerel sky, scud, anvil clouds, virga, roll cloud, turrets and the like, clouds are some of the most beautiful and ephemeral of natural phenomena. They can also have much to tell about the weather at that moment, since specific conditions lead to the formation of identifiable cloud patterns.

Regardless of the cloud shape, they all get even more lovely when the fading evening light paints them golden, orange, purple or red, like the glowing embers of the day. If the setting sun is obscured by a cloud, we can sometimes see "crepuscular rays," the heavenly beams that radiate upward or downward from a backlit cloud.

Tehachapi has enough clean air, blue skies and interesting clouds to impress even the most casual observer. If you're a dedicated skywatcher, the view above us is even more unique and impressive. Try to take a moment to appreciate the beauty overhead when you can, and don't worry if you get busy indoors and miss a day of beautiful clouds -- you won't have to wait long for another opportunity to admire some dazzling skies above.

Have a good week.

JON HAMMOND has written for the Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to:

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