The Majestic Sierra Nevada: A Natural Barrier and Inspiration for Pioneers and Conservationists
“Between every two pine trees, there is a door leading to a new way of life.” – 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.
2021: Exploring the Sierra Mountains on Highway 395
“In the desert, don’t stray away from the trail; it’s always smarter.” – Bedouin Proverb
The disturbing COVID cloud is fading, and it is time to take a breath of fresh air and do more than just a morning walks outdoors, so we went. Our week-long exploration was along Highway 395. This road runs east of and parallels the Sierra Mountains; it’s a spectacular drive. On one side are the stunning peaks of the Sierras, and on the other, the desert. The Sierra Mountains contain hundreds of gem-like lakes, many miles of fishing streams, and enough hiking trails for a lifetime of walking. It’s a vast and diverse empire of the wild, filled with potential adventures.
Day 1 – Exploring Red Rocks and Fossil Falls at Big Pine Canyon
“When you sleep in a house, your thoughts are as high as the ceiling; when you sleep outside, they are as high as the stars.” – Bedouin Proverb
We stopped for a quick visit at the Red Rock Canyon, where Danna demonstrated a Half-Moon pose. This park’s landscape is a feels-like Bryce Canyon in Utah, with eroding red sandstone in vivid colors. Then we stopped at Fossil Falls for a short walk. Thousands of years ago, when the Owens River flowed through this creek, it sculpted and polished these black and brown volcanic rocks. The river is long gone and dry. What’s left is to Imagine the sound of the waterfall.
We arrived at our rustic cabin at Glacier Lodge in Big Pine Canyon with a panoramic backdrop of the Sierra Mountains in the early evening hours. The lodge’s glory days are long gone. In the 1940s, it used to be the jewel of the Sierra, offering a European-style retreat, but times have changed. The new owners, a couple from Orange County, bought the place recently and are planning to rebuild the dining hall and upgrade the old cabins. We had a great time staying at the big and comfortable cabin.