Eastern Sierra

“Between every two pine trees, there is a door leading to a new way of life.” – John Muir

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” – John Muir

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – John Muir

The 400-mile (645 kilometers) long mountain range running along the east side of California is called the Sierra Nevada, which in Spanish means snow-covered mountains, a name given by the original Spanish explorers.  Its magnificent skyline and spectacular landscapes make it one of the most beautiful physical features of the United States.  It is the home of the giant sequoias, an essential water and power source, and was the epicenter of the gold rush period.

Geographically it sits between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the high desert to the east.  The peaks range from 11,000 to 14,000 feet (3,350 to 4,270 meters), with Mount Whitney at 14,505 feet (4,421 meters), the highest peak in the United States, excluding Alaska’s higher mountains.

When I drive on Highway 395, along the east side of the Sierra, I imagine the caravans of pioneers in the  1850s coming through the high desert to face the daunting task of crossing this natural barrier on their long journey to California.  What a scary hurdle!  A testament to their stamina and spirit; this is the stuff that makes myths and legends.  Was it like a voyage to a promised land? 

I also think about John Muir, a man that hiked these mountains most of his life and penned his experiences, which inspired the creation of the conservation movement.  He was the founder of the Sierra Club (1892).  He also helped inspire President Teddy Roosevelt to create Yosemite National Park.  I think of him as a great example of a man using the power of words to move and shape history for the better.