The Full Wiki

Sierra Nevada (U.S.): Map


Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:

The Sierra Nevada (Spanish meaning "snowy mountain range") is a mountain range located in the U.S. states of Californiamarker and Nevadamarker. The range is also known informally as "the Sierra," "the High Sierra," and "the Sierras."


The Sierra Nevada stretches 400 miles (650 km) from Fredonyer Passmarker in the north to Tehachapi Passmarker in the south. It is bounded on the west by Californiamarker's Central Valleymarker, and on the east by the Great Basin.Physiographically, it is a section of the Cascade-Sierra Mountains province, which in turn is part of the larger Pacific Mountain System physiographic division.

In west-east cross section, the Sierra is shaped like a trapdoor: the elevation gradually increases on the west slope, while the east slope forms a steep escarpment. Thus, the crest runs principally along the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada range. Rivers flowing west from the Sierra Crest eventually drain into the Pacific Oceanmarker, while rivers draining east flow into the Great Basin and do not reach any ocean by natural means. [However, water from several streams and the Owens Rivermarker is redirected to the city of Los Angelesmarker (see Los Angeles Aqueduct). Thus, by artificial means, some east-flowing river water now does ultimately make it to the Pacific Oceanmarker.]

There are several notable geographical features in the Sierra Nevada:
East Face of Mt.
Whitney as seen from the way up on Whitney Portal.

The height of the mountains in the Sierra Nevada gradually increases from north to south. Between Fredonyer Pass and Lake Tahoe, the peaks range from 5,000 feet (1,524 m) to more than 9,000 feet (>2,700 m). The crest near Lake Tahoe is roughly 9,000 feet (2,700 m) high, with several peaks approaching the height of Freel Peakmarker (10,881 feet, 3,316 m), including Mount Rosemarker (10,776 feet, 3,285 m), which overlooks Renomarker from the north end of the Carson Rangemarker. The crest near Yosemite National Parkmarker is roughly 13,000 feet (4,000 m) high at Mount Danamarker and Mount Lyellmarker, and the entire range attains its peak at Mount Whitneymarker (14,505 feet, 4,421 m). South of Mount Whitney, the range diminishes in elevation, but there are still several high points like Florence Peakmarker (12,405 feet, 3,781 m) and Olancha Peakmarker (12,123 feet, 3,695 m). The range still climbs almost to 10,000 feet (3,048 m) near Lake Isabellamarker, but south of the lake, the peaks reach only to a modest 8,000 feet (2,438 m).

Table 1: Major passes

This table shows some major passes of the Sierra Nevada, from north to south, with their elevation and significance.

Name Elevation Significance
Fredonyer Passmarker SR 36 (paved road)
Beckwourth Passmarker SR 70 (paved road)
Donner Passmarker I-80 (interstate highway)
Central Pacific Railroad (first transcontinental railroad)
Lincoln Highway (first road access across United States of America)

Luther Passmarker US 50 (paved road)
Carson Passmarker SR 88 (paved road), Pacific Crest Trail (foot trail).
Ebbetts Passmarker SR 4 (paved road), Pacific Crest Trail (foot trail)
Sonora Passmarker SR 108 (paved road), Pacific Crest Trail (foot trail)
Tioga Passmarker SR 120 (paved road)
No roads cross the Sierra Crest for nearly between Tioga and Sherman Passes.
Sherman Pass Sherman Pass Road (County Road J41)
Walker Passmarker SR 178 (paved road)
Tehachapi Passmarker SR 58 (paved road), Union Pacific Railroad

Out of these, state routes 4, 108, and 120 are closed during winter, while the California Department of Transportation attempts to keep I-80, US 50, and CA 58 open year-round.


See Geology of the Yosemite area for a detailed article about the geology of the central Sierra Nevada.

The well-known granite that makes up most of the southern Sierra started to form in the Triassic period. At that time, an island arc collided with the West coast of North America and raised a set of mountains, in an event called the Nevadan orogeny. At roughly the same time, a subduction zone started to form at the edge of the continent. This means that an oceanic plate started to dive beneath the North American plate. Magma from the melting oceanic plate rose in plumes (plutons) deep underground, their combined mass forming what is called the Sierra Nevada batholith. These plutons formed at various times, from 115 million to 87 million years ago. By 65 million years ago, the proto-Sierra Nevada was worn down to a range of rolling low mountains, a few thousand feet high.
Twenty million years ago, crustal extension associated with the Basin and Range Province caused extensive volcanism in the Sierra. About 4 million years ago, the Sierra Nevada started to form and tilt to the west. Rivers started cutting deep canyons on both sides of the range. The Earth's climate cooled, and ice ages started about 2.5 million years ago. Glaciers carved out characteristic U-shaped canyons throughout the Sierra. The combination of river and glacier erosion exposed the uppermost portions of the plutons emplaced millions of years before, leaving only a remnant of metamorphic rock on top of some Sierra peaks.

Uplift of the Sierra Nevada continues today, especially along its eastern side. This uplift causes large earthquakes, such as the Lone Pine earthquakemarker of 1872.


Upper Montane Forest

The Sierra Nevada is divided into a number of biotic zones


The earliest identified inhabitants of the Sierra Nevada were the Paiute tribe on the east side and the Mono and Sierra Miwok tribe on the western side. Today, passes such as Duck Pass are littered with discarded obsidian arrowheads that date back to trade between tribes. There were also prehistorical territorial disputes between the Paiute and Sierra Miwok tribes Archaeological excavations placed Martis people in northcentral Sierra Nevada during the period of 3,000 BC to 500 AD. Washo and Maidu were also in this area prior to the exploration era.

History of exploration

1859 drawing of a camp of covered wagons, in a forest of tall pines in the Sierra Nevada

European-American exploration of the mountain range started in the 1840s. In the winter of 1844, Lieutenant John C. Frémont, accompanied by Kit Carson, was the first Caucasian man to see Lake Tahoemarker.

By 1860, even though the California Gold Rush populated the flanks of the Sierra Nevada, most of the Sierra remained unexplored. Therefore, the state legislature authorized the California Geological Survey to officially explore the Sierra (and survey the rest of the state). Josiah Whitney was appointed to head the survey.

Men of the survey, including William H. Brewer, Charles F. Hoffmann, and Clarence King, explored the backcountry of what would become Yosemite National Parkmarker in 1863. In 1864, they explored the area around Kings Canyonmarker. King later recounted his adventures over the Kings-Kern divide in his book Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada. In 1871, King mistakenly thought that Mount Langleymarker was the highest peak in the Sierra and climbed it. However, before he could climb the true highest peak (Mount Whitneymarker), fishermen from Lone Pinemarker climbed it and left a note.

Between 1892 and 1897, Theodore Solomons was the first explorer to attempt to map a route along the crest of the Sierra (what would eventually become the John Muir Trail, along a different route). On his 1894 expedition, he took along Leigh Bierce, son of writer Ambrose Bierce.

Other noted early mountaineers included: Features in the Sierra are named after these men.


In 1542 Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, sighting the Santa Cruz Mountainsmarker while off the peninsula of San Francisco, gave them the name Sierra Nevada meaning "snowy saw teeth"1 in Spanish. As more specific names were given to California's coastal ranges, the name was used in a general way to designate less familiar ranges towards the interior. In April of 1776 Padre Pedro Font on the second de Anza expedition, looking northeast across the Tulare Lakemarker, described the mountains seen beyond:
Looking northeast we saw an immense plain without any trees, through which the water extends for a long distance, having in it several little islands of lowland.
And finally, on the other side of the immense plain, and at a distance of about forty leagues, we saw a great Sierra Nevada whose trend appeared to me to be from south-southeast to north-northwest.

John Muir was the first person to call the Sierra Nevada the Range of Light.

Owens Valley and the Sierra Escarpment

Climate and meteorology

During the fall, winter, and spring, precipitation in the Sierra ranges from where it occurs mostly as snow above . Rain on snow is common. Summers are dry with low humidity, however afternoon thunderstorms are not uncommon. Summer high temperatures average 42 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The growing season lasts 20 to 230 days, strongly dependent on elevation.

A peculiarity of the Sierra Nevada is that, under certain wind conditions, a large round tube of air begins to roll on the southeast side. This is known as the "Sierra Nevada Rotor" or a "Sierra Wave". This "mountain wave" forms when dry continental winds from the east cause the formation of a stacked set of counter-revolving cylinders of air reaching into the stratosphere. As of 2004, no sailplane has found its top. Similar features occur on many mountain ranges, but it is often observed and utilized in the Sierra. The phenomenon was the subject of an Air Force-funded study in the early 1950s called the Sierra Wave Project.

Many recent world altitude records set in unpowered aircraft were set in the Sierra Nevada Wave, most flown from Mojave Airportmarker. The Sierra Nevada casts the valleys east of the Sierra in a rain shadow, which makes Death Valleymarker and Owens Valleymarker "the land of little rain".

Protected status

In much of the Sierra Nevada, development is restricted or highly regulated. A complex system of National Forests, National Parks, Wilderness Areas and Zoological Areas designates permitted land uses within the stretch of the Sierra. These areas are jointly administered by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service. See List of Sierra Nevada topics for a list of protected areas.

See also


  1. Carlson, Helen S., Nevada Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary, University of Nevada Press, 1976, p. 215 ISBN 978-0874170948
  2. Google Earth images.
  3. California State map, 2007.

External links

Embed code:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address