Rise of the Ranges of Light: Landscapes and Change in the Mountains of California

Experience the world in the making

California is a place of intense and immediate tectonic activity, varied climate, and diverse habitats, and it is a place where stunning arrays of life meet and intermingle. California is also one of the newest places on Earth, freshly hewn, young and full of vitality, a place where one can literally watch the world in the making.

Rise of the Ranges of Light combines captivating first-person narrative with science writing to tell the story of the ever-changing landscapes of California. Picking up where John Muir left off in the classic The Mountains of California, Gilligan takes the reader on a tour of California’s mountains to show how forces of expansion and contraction have manifested themselves for over five hundred million years to create everything we know.

From plate tectonics and devastating glaciers to mass extinction and species competition, the formation of the world is a dramatic and dynamic process. Rise of the Ranges of Light allows readers to witness a world ever in the throes of creation.


"A 'best summer book'."

—Anneli Rufus, East Bay Express





"Following in John Muir’s footsteps, Gilligan endeavors to capture his personal connection to the landscape by employing stunning language to bring the Sierra Nevada to the reader. For anyone with interests in the changing American (and global) landscape, Rise of the Ranges of Light will not only help illustrate and explain these processes but will also provide a starting point of the aesthetic and spiritual experience of witnessing the land."



"An engaging book that easily bears comparison to John McPhee's writings on the geology of the U.S. West, Gilligan's volume is an excellent introduction to the dynamic geology of the Golden State's mountains."

Book News


“Reading Rise of the Ranges of Light is like an invigorating climb up one of the mountains it examines. With every step, we gain richer and wider views and a deeper perspective on our intimate connection with the landscape. David Gilligan’s remarkable book is thought-provoking, evocative, and inspiring.”
—Gary Noy, Director, Sierra College Center for Sierra Nevada Studies

About the Author

David Scott GilliganDavid Gilligan is a naturalist and a writer. He has taught natural history courses and led exploratory wilderness expeditions for Prescott College, the Sierra Institute, and Sterling College, where he is currently a professor. His work and personal interests have taken him far afield to mountain and northern regions around the globe. His other books include The Secret Sierra, In the Years of the Mountains, and I Believe I’ll Go Canoeing.

Photo by Laura Beebe