In Spanish the word sierra can refer either to "mountain range" or to "saw". That double meaning is known as "disambiguation" (a new word for me), but let's not go there! We are interested in a mountain range, and translate Sierra Nevada in the western US as the "Nevada Mountain Range".
But wait - we're not done. Nevada in Spanish means "snowfall" or "snow clad" in English. So the full meaning of Sierra Nevada is roughly "Snow-Covered Mountain Range". I think that is beautiful. (If Spanish-speaking readers are cringing I hope they will put a correction in the comments.)
That's the end of the cultural vocabulary lesson. I set out to write a little something about what I call the Sierra Nevadas but immediately ran into all that information. I share it with you because I feel that knowing the "back story" of anything adds a dimension.
So "without further ado" I introduce the Kiersarge Pinnacles of the Sierra Nevada, named for the 1861 Civil War vessel USS Kearsarge, which was named for Mt Kearsarge in New Hampshire.
There are dozens of pictures showing the beauty of the range, but I was drawn to the one above for its eerie "other-worldly" feel. For geographical interest as well as beauty some examples are . . .
Mt Whitney, highest peak in the range and Yosemite Valley
The mountain range encompasses a vast area of land, much of it owned by the Federal government. It includes 3 national parks and 2 national monuments, plus many towns and communities such as Carson City, South Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Grass Valley, Mammoth Lakes, Sonora, Nevada City, and Portola.
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Finally, a bit of geologic history: 20 million years ago there was major volcanic activity in this area. (Granite from that period is visible in places.) After millions of years, a crust began to form which tilted slowly westward. Rivers cut deep canyons on both sides, some of which filled with lava, and over time eroded to "table mountains".
Then the earth began cooling. Glaciers carved out U-shaped canyons, while the tilting or "uplift" never ceased. The result is two opposing forces of nature, invisible to us but forever reshaping the landscape. This uptilt makes an especially dramatic view on the eastern side as seen in the "Sierra Escarpment" below. Measurable only with scientific instruments, the relentless movement is often responsible for today's earthquakes.