The Sierra Nevada

USA – The Sierra Nevada

A 430 mile (690 km) long rang of lofty granite mountains, the Sierra Nevada is set between California’s Central Valley and its vast eastern desert. It is a place of incomparable beauty: towering peaks, glacier-carved valleys backed by cliffs, anicent groves of giant sequoias, lush alpine meadows, lake-dotted back-country, misty waterfalls, and wilderness rivers.

large areas of the range are protected in three national parks. Kings Canyon and Sequoia provide spectacular examples of such scenery and excellent opportunities for hiking and wildlife-watching. But to see the best of the range in one trip, the eco-traveler can do no better than to visit Yosemite National Park. It was the lobbying of John Muir that led to the eventual establishment of a national park here in 1890. By the mid-nineteenth century, when Yosemite’s Native American inhabitants had been all but driven out, the Yosemite Valley had already become a tourist attraction and protection was needed to prevent over-development. By the 1940s, over 500,000 visitors were coming to the park each year and today that number has swollen to over 4 million. Most people go to the 7 miles (11 km) long Yosemite Valley, which comprises less than 1 percent of the 1,200 square mile (3,000 km2) park. This is resulting in severe congestion and associated environmental problems, and park officials are considering limiting the number of visitors.

Yosemite Valley and its overlooks are, however, must-sees, especially for the views of El Capitan, a sheer granite wall rising nearly 4,000 feet (1,220 m) above the valley floor; Half Dome, a massive granite monolith; and Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in North America. Other dramatic waterfalls include Vernal, Bridalveil, and Nevada falls. In spring, following the snowmelt, they are at their most dramatic.

There are over 750 trails in the park, providing an easy escape from the crowds. The high country offers exhilarating, truly wilderness experiences. Alpine meadows, remote lakes, and wondrous glacier-carved granite landscapes can be reached from numerous trailheads along the Tioga Road which runs over Tioga Pass and across the park. At Tuolumne Meadows you can join the John Muir Trail, which begins at Vernal Falls and ends 212 miles (340 km) to the south at Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park. This forms part of the Pacific Crest Trail that runs all the way from the Canadian border to Mexico.

Yosemite supports 37 species of tree, including forests of pine and fir, and grove of giant sequoias, which are among the largest and oldest plants on Earth. Some of these trees are almost 3,000 years old and average 250 feet (75 m) in height and 20 to 25 feet (6 to 7.5 m) in diameter. Some 1,400 species of flowering plant grow here, including shooting star, monkey-flower, larkspur, and Indian paintbrush, decorating the alpine meadows in spring and summer.

The park’s animal residents include mule deer and raccoons in the valley, and black bears, coyotes, gray foxes, marmots, badgers, and pikas in the high country. Over 220 bird species are found in the park. Steller’s jays, flickers, and meadowlarks frequent the lower elevations; nutcrackers, and chickadees are common in the higher regions. Golden eagles are sometimes seen soaring above the valley. Rarities include white-headed woodpeckers, great gray owls, and peregrine falcons.