The Sierra Nevada Mountains, sometimes referred to as the “Range of Light,” are one of the most beautiful continuous mountain ranges in the United States. Although the Rockies are the longest mountain range in the United States, the Sierra Nevada is the longest continuous, unified mountain range. The mountain range is located in the western United States, primarily in California and Nevada, forming America’s “western backbone”.
The Sierra Nevada stretches 640 kilometers across the Great Basin and Central Valley of California.
It is home to the highest peak in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney, which rises to 4,421 meters above sea level. However, only five peaks rise more than 4,300 meters above sea level. from the sea. The mountain range was the site of the California Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. The range is home to redwoods, the tallest tree in the world.
Geography of Sierra Nevada
The Sierra Nevada straddles the western United States, with much of it covering central and eastern California, with the small Carson Range extending to western Nevada. The Basin and Range Province flanks the Sierra Nevada to the east, with the Central Valley of California to the west. The Mojave Desert borders the mountain range to the southeast. The Sierra is 640 kilometers long from north to south, 110 kilometers wide and occupies an area of approximately 63,100 square kilometers. Besides the giant sequoias, other notable features in the range include Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy Valley, Kern Canyon, Kings Canyon, Lake Tahoe, and several long rivers.
The Sierra Nevada has a magnificent skyline, making it one of the most beautiful physical features in North America. The altitude of the chain increases gradually towards the east, from 500 meters to more than 4,300 meters. The northern part has slightly lower peaks, with peaks reaching heights of 2,130 to 2,740 meters. The peaks between Lake Tahoe and Fredonyer Pass have an average elevation of 1,500 to 2,700 meters. The range rises more than 3,900 meters further south, with Mount Lyell in Yosemite National Park as the highest peak at 3,999 meters. It rises to over 4,300 meters near Bishop, California, and over 4,400 meters in Lone Pine, with Mount Whitney as the highest peak at 4,421 meters.
The Sierra Nevada is part of the American Cordillera and is drained by several rivers flowing into the surrounding bodies of water. The central valley watershed drains the western slope and empties into the Pacific Ocean. The San Joaquin River and its tributaries drain the middle third of the western slope and empty into Suisun Bay in San Francisco. The Sacramento River watershed drains the northern third, while the Kern, Tule, Kaweah, and Kings rivers drain the southern third and empties into Tulare Lake. The waters of the eastern slope flow mainly into the Great Basin, with rivers draining the eastern Sierra including the Susan, Truckee, Carson, Walker and Owen rivers. Most of the eastern rivers flow into nearby lakes, including Honey, Pyramid, Walker, and Mono lakes.
Geology of the Sierra Nevada
The Sierra Nevada was formed by the uplift, uplift, and tilt of the earth’s boulder or crust millions of years ago. The block is bounded on the east by a fault zone, along which the mountain range has been raised. This major fault zone is also responsible for the asymmetric shape of the Sierra Nevada. The block was lifted abruptly, with erosive agents such as wind, rain, frost, temperature changes and ice cutting through the eastern escarpment. Although the rise began millions of years ago, the major events that shaped the Sierra Nevada took place around two million years ago. The events were associated with the crustal extension of the basin province and range. The oldest rocks in the Sierra Nevada are metasedimentary rocks, which include shales, marbles, slates, and corneas. Granite rocks began to form in the Triassic and are found mainly to the north and east of the ridge.
Climate in the region
The Sierra Nevada’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean and its location in mid-latitudes are sensitive to the mild mountain climate experienced in the region. The Mediterranean climate of California also influences the weather conditions of the Sierra Nevada. Winter temperatures below -18 degrees Celsius are common in valleys and rare on mountain slopes. Summer days are generally dry, with short periods of thunderstorms in the afternoon. Summer temperatures average 6 to 32 degrees Celsius. Winters are generally cool, with temperatures low enough to withstand heavy snowfall.
Precipitation varies from year to year and ranges from 510 mm in the foothills area to over 2400 mm in the northern half of the range. Precipitation falls mainly in the form of snow. Precipitation is lowest on the leeward slope, especially the ridge of the western slope. The extensive snowpack is the primary source of water for the production of electrical power for domestic use in California. The height of the chain and the slope of the Sierra escarpment produce the “Rotor de la Sierra”, a wind phenomenon causing the atmosphere to rotate horizontally. The Sierra Nevada’s complex weather conditions, such as microbursts and downdrafts, have caused several plane crashes. The “Nevada Triangle” caused approximately 2,000 plane crashes, making it as dangerous as the “Bermuda Triangle”. The Pacific High anticyclone dominating the configuration of the winds of the chain is strongest during the summer season.
Plant and animal life in the Sierra Nevada
Sierra Nevada has several biotic zones that are home to several plant and animal species. These biotic zones include the western piedmont, the pinyon pine-juniper, the low mountain forest, the high mountain forest, the subalpine zone and the alpine region. The western slope is divided into five vegetation zones. Live oaks, shrubs, and deciduous trees grow on the lower buttresses, while the upper buttresses contain ponderosa pine, black oak, and loblolly cedar. The mountain forest is the main source of commercial timber and contains red fir, Douglas-fir, Jeffrey pine, and giant sequoia. The subalpine zone is home to Sierra juniper, lodgepole pine, western white pine, and subalpine hemlock, while alpine lichens, mosses and flowers grow in the alpine forest. The eastern slope supports plants such as bitter, pine, juniper and aspen.
Several mountain animals live in the Sierra Nevada region, although their numbers have declined over the past two centuries due to increased human activities. The foothills are home to mule deer and pumas. Mountain bighorns are mainly common in the southern part of the range. Black bears and grizzly bears are found throughout the mountain range. Small mammals inhabiting the forest include the bobcat, American badger, golden beaver, striped skunk, and northern flying squirrels. The Sierra Nevada is also home to many birds, including the Californian lark, brewerbird, California quail, spotted owl, and mountain tit. The streams that flow from the Sierra also contain several species of fish, including trout.
Much of the range is a protected area, comprising three national parks: Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite. Besides the national parks, there are two national monuments and ten national forests. Protected areas contain twenty-six wilderness areas covering 15% of the total range area. More than half of the land in the range is controlled by the Bureau of Management and the US Forest Service.
The Martis people inhabited the north-central Sierra Nevada as early as 3000 BCE. The northern Paiute tribes inhabited the eastern part, while the Sierra Miwok and Mono tribes lived on the western slopes. The southern area was inhabited by the Tubatulabal and Kawaiisu tribes. Exploration of the Sierra Nevada began around 1827 with the American mission. The first Americans to explore the mountains were led by Jedediah Smith. In 1833, Joseph Reddeford Walker led the Bonneville expedition to find a route to California.
Perhaps it was the California Gold Rush that made the Sierra Nevada famous. Gold began in 1848 when James Marshall discovered a shiny object at Sutter’s Mill. By March 1848, rumors of the discovery of gold had spread throughout San Francisco. President James Polk confirmed the discovery of the gemstone in December 1848. Soon after, hundreds of people from around the world traveled to the Gold Country of California to mine the newly discovered gold. By 1853, most of the gold had been mined from easily accessible areas. Further mining has become more difficult, discouraging miners from exploring other areas. By 1855, more than 300,000 people had arrived in California to search for gold. Immigrants outnumbered Native Americans, forcing some natives to attack miners. However, most of them were killed and shot.