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The Sierra Nevada

by Philip Greenspun,


Right now this is just a working file to help me gather my photos together from various PhotoCDs.

Eastward, beyond the surf of the Pacific, beyond the tawny rolling Coast Range and the wide central valley of California, rises the great wall of the Sierra Nevada. Four hundred miles long, seventy-five miles wide, ten to more than fourteen thousand feet in height, it ranks with the major mountain ranges of the world. Certainly it is one of the most beautiful. Geologically, it is a titled block of the earth's crust -- a long, continuous slope fronting the west, and a short, breath-taking decline to the eastern deserts.

Truly the "Range of Light," as John Muir defined it, the Sierra Nevada rises to the sun as a vast shining world of stone and snow and foaming waters, mellowed by the forests growing upon it and the clouds and storms that flow over it.

-- Ansel Adams, 1938, in the foreword to Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail (quoted in the Sierra chapter of his autobiography )

Lake Tahoe

Mark Twain wrote the definitive treatise on Lake Tahoe in Roughing It .

Yosemite National Park

Mono Lake

Mostly drained to support California agriculture...


The nightlife here isn't what it used to be. In its heyday Bodie had 10,000 residents and a murder every day. Bodie is 8400' up into the the White Mountains and is now a California state park.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

In the White Mountains, just east of the Sierra. Some of these trees are 4,000 years old. They are the oldest living things on earth.

Mammoth Region

Here's the Devil's Postpile granite formation:

Alabama Hills

In the Eastern Sierra.

Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks

These parks include Mt. Whitney (14,495', highest peak in the Lower 48) and catch all the rain so that it doesn't fall on the dry Eastern Sierra. The Giant Sequoia can live up to 3,200 years and typically grow to a height of over 200 feet. They are the largest living things on earth.

Readers' Comments

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David Longerbeam , June 30, 1998; 03:30 P.M.

For the curious: The 9th, 10th, 15th and 16th photos on this page (as of 6/30/98) are all of Vernal Falls.

Joe Decker , July 18, 1998; 09:39 A.M.

In addition to David L.'s comments, both Vernal and Nevada Falls are visible from a distance in the 6th picture on the page (7/18/98), Nevada is the one higher up in the picture.

Brendan Johnston , July 29, 1998; 05:23 P.M.

'In the White Mountains, just east of the Sierra. Some of these trees are 4,000 years old. They are the oldest living things on earth.'

If you take the view that the world contains the USA, this is true. Although this is a frequent and quite reasonable view it is not the only one.

There are some trees in Tasmania (An Island south of Australia) which purport to be more than twice this age (10,500 years). They are Huon Pines which are beautiful smelling, slow growing trees. They have a preservative which enables the wood to stay fresh after being dead a long time (1000's of years), even if under water. The oldest one takes up most of a hill side and has started growing sideways. It has been tested and shown to be one biological entity. I think the aging is done by drilling a core through the tree and counting rings. The age is based on the core with the largest set of rings.

Here is one link: http://cartalk.cars.com/Mail/BBS/Reserved-Booth/19 2x1.html

Victor B. Soto , August 06, 1998; 12:22 P.M.

I am an engineer at the LA Dept of Water and Power and just wish to make a friendly correction to Phil's comment about Mono Lake. Flow into Mono Lake was diverted to support the City of Los Angeles. California agriculture is supported by Eastern Sierra watersheds.

Victor B. Soto , August 06, 1998; 12:24 P.M.

Sorry,my previous post should read "Western Sierra watersheds"

Deborah Gilcrest , August 30, 1998; 11:08 P.M.

When I was about six (or seven) years old, I lived in Bodie for a few months. My grandfather, Norm Cleaver, was the resident State Park Ranger there (mid 1960's). There was a spiral staircase in the main house and my grandmother told us that a ghost lived in the cedar chest at the top of the stairs. That kept me and my sister from spending too much time running up and down that very cool staircase!

Bill Gain , October 14, 1998; 12:05 P.M.

Within the Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, there is a great, little resort called Montecito Sequoia Lodge. It is the only try resort in the mountains. Their summer family camp environment is outstanding, while their Nordic cross country skiing is the best in the area. I have observed weddings, groups, and senior adventure weeks take place. I can't say enough about the staff, food and the rustic lifestyle of the mountains. If you would like more information, call 1-800-THE-TOPS. (Yes, I work for the resort, but it is also my home and the staff-my family).

Nilesh Kamdar , February 15, 1999; 09:18 P.M.

Another place worth a mention is the Tioga Pass itself. You have to cross it if you plan to reach Mono Lake from Yosemite. It is closed for most of the year and open, I guess only a few months in summer. This drive is very scenic and will entice you to click a few pics. It is the highest point in the area (11000 feet almost i think). When we passed Tioga Pass, storm clouds had gathered. We passed it in early evening and reached Mono Lake just minutes before sunset. The range of colors in the sky on that evening still leave me breathless. I recommend people to try and drive to mono lake at around the same time. It is very pleasant.


Mike Sisk , March 29, 1999; 10:35 P.M.

The Devils Postpile is actually columnar basalt, not granite.

Mike Harper , April 02, 1999; 06:54 P.M.

For persistant people, very persistant - try the lottery for the High Sierra Loop Trip in Yosemite. It is 53 miles in a loop from Tuolumne (TwoWallOmee) Meadows High Sierra Camp to a series of 5 camps and back again. You will hike down the Tuolumne River to Glen Aulen Camp on the 1st day. Next day the hike is up out of the Tuolumne canyon and up to May Lake - past the famous mammilary rocks. May lake is usually a two day stay so you can make the trek up to the top of Mt Hoffman on the second day of just go fishing. Sunrise Camp is next in line and has a beautiful view of the Cathedral Range. From Sunrise the trail leads to Merced Lake Camp. The unoffical trail leads down Jayne Mansfield Pass. Merced is also a two day stay and the adventurous can climb Mt Clark. The 1st trick is first find a very large tree that has fallen across the Merced, otherwise you have to swim. The next trick is to find the trail to Mt Clark as the Park does not maintain this trail anymore. The last trick is be foolish enough to do some free climbing. Voglesang Camp is the highest of the camps just below Voglesang pass which is 11,000 ft plus. The Voglesang site is fantastic. A huge granite slab rises up behind the camp and on a clear night with a fullmoon the reflected light knocks you on your butt. All good things come to an end with the hike back to Tuolumne Camp. As I remember the longest hike is about 10 miles and as you have all day and don't have to make camp you can go at your leasure. You are at high elevation and the elevation change can be 2,000 to 4,000ft so a word to the wise is to get into condition before you go and also spend a night at Tuolumne Camp before setting out on the 1st hike so your body becomes acclimeted to the high altitude. If you can't get reservations at Tuolumne try for White Wolf. Do the same for the end of the trip and spend another night at Tuolumne or White Wolf. Young kids do just fine. Can't remember the age limit but you will know when they are old enough - you don't have to carry them anymore. Each camp is set up to provide beds (with clean sheets) in tent cabins, breakfast, lunch and dinner. All you carry is your clothes. The other item of interest is *Hot Showers*. Singles bunk domatory style but they try to put families together. We always had a cabin to ourselves. If you have less time try the hike down Yosemite Creek starting from Yosemite Creek Campground to the top of Yosemite Falls and then on to the valley floor. It is about 10 miles almost all down hill. The first half is alongside the Yosemite Creek and the last is down the steep trail up from the valley floor. There are pools at the top of the falls that you can swim in if you go late in the season when the flow is down. Great viewing platform on the rock face right next to the falls giving views of the falls and of the valley. If you use the bus from the valley that goes to Tuolumne Meadows you can do the trip without a car shuttle. Enjoy

eran greenburg , April 27, 1999; 06:54 P.M.

In response to the above response of the Huon pines as being the oldest living organism on earth, here is a quote from the Parks and Wildlife Service of Tasmania's web page: "The Huon pine can reach prodigious ages, often in excess of 2000 years, making it among the longest-lived organisms on Earth. Only the bristle-cone pine of North America exceeds it in age. International headlines were made with the discovery of a stand of Huon pines on Mt Read that was widely quoted as being in excess of 10 000 years of age. All the individuals in this population are genetically identical, and are all males. The stand arose from one or a small number of individuals, and has maintained itself by vegetative reproduction. It is important to remember that no individual tree in the Mt Read stand is 10 000 years old -- rather, the stand itself has been in existence for that long." The moral of the story: Accurate research saves time for everybody.

James Tierney , October 11, 1999; 11:08 A.M.

The little dots up on El Capitan on the 9th photo are rock climbers spending the night up on the wall.

Peter Norquist , April 20, 2000; 02:43 P.M.

Devil's Postpile isn't a granitic formation. The Postpile, like Devil's Tower in Wyoming, is columnar basalt.

Tophie Malloy , May 23, 2006; 09:06 P.M.

I lived in Visalia, CA just outside the Kings Canyon/Sequoia Park area. On the way to the park if you are going, stop in Visalia for some great architectural shots and the Fraser statue "End of the Trail". Along Hwy 198 is a small town called Exeter with great Murals on the buildings dating back to the early 1900's. Both of these cities (Visalia is large, Exeter is very small) boast great food, too!

Logan Needham , June 07, 2006; 01:14 P.M.

dear Brendan Johnston, I suppose this is why we shouldn't believe everything we read on the internet...

"Huon pine is one of the slowest-growing and longest living plants in the world. It can grow to an age of 3000 years or more. Only the bristle-cone pine of North America lives longer." I suppose that means that bristle-cone pines live longer...

"International headlines were made with the discovery of a stand of Huon pines on the west coast that is more than 10,000-years-old. All the trees are male and are genetically identical. No individual tree in the stand is 10,000-years-old, rather the stand itself has been in existence for that long."

Note: "No individual tree in the stand is 10,000-years-old,"

This information was taken from the "discover tasmania" website. Thanks for trying anyhow.

Tara Sims , June 29, 2006; 07:24 A.M.

Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiute chief Captain John

Those are very beautiful photos. I enjoy seeing my people's homeland in photographs. I am a Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiute and think your pictures are fantastic. We Paiutes are the original people of Yosemite, Hetch Hetchy and Mono Lake and you covered a lot of my people's territory. From this Yosemite Indian...Very beautiful work.

William Kramer , August 09, 2007; 10:40 A.M.

After having traveled and photographed much of the area pictured at this site, these are some of the finest photos of the Sierra area I have ever seen. Kudos.

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