The Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada is a mountain range in the Western United States that lies between the Central Valley (a flat, elongated valley that dominates the interior of California) and the Great Basin (the largest area of contiguous watersheds with no outlets in North America, spanning nearly all of  Nevada, as well as portions of 5 other western states). The range runs some 400 miles north-south and measures about 70 miles from east to west, with the vast majority of it lying in the state of California, and a smaller portion, the Carson Range, located primarily in Nevada. The Sierra is part of an almost-continuous chain of mountain ranges that forms the “backbone” of the Americas.

Notable features include General Sherman, the largest tree in the world by volume (and currently at risk due to wildfires); Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America; Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S., at 14,505 feet; and Yosemite Valley, sculpted by glaciers from 100-million-year-old granite. The Sierra is also home to 2 other National Parks (namely, Sequoia and Kings Canyon), 20 wilderness areas, and 2 National Monuments (including the Devil’s Postpile). The Sierra’s wide range of elevations and climates is reflected by the presence of five “life zones”, or areas with similar plant and animal communities.

The Sierra Nevada has played an important role in the history of California, especially during the California Gold Rush, which occurred in the western foothills from 1848 to 1855. However, due to its inaccessibility, the range was not fully explored until 1912.

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