The Sierras or Sierra Nevada in California has an interesting history that has fascinated both ancient tribal peoples and newer settlers for thousands of years. In fact, it extends back some ten thousand years in regards to human beings, but its geological history is much older. It is an area that has incredible diversity.
When discussing the history of the Sierra Nevada (California), most think of the pioneers or Native American tribes, but few give a second thought to the geology of the area and the amazing way in which the land developed over millions of years. In fact, the Sierras are still of great interest to tourists and the many scientists and researchers that are attracted to the area each year.
The earliest know Sierra inhabitants were the ancient Native American tribes' people of the Paiute, Sierra Miwok and Mono. In fact, even today it is not uncommon to find arrowheads made of obsidian dotted across the ground at Duck Pass and other nearby passes. These people were known for their long standing disputes, and this was not discovered until American and European settlers began exploring the Sierras in the mid-nineteenth century. Kit Carson and John Fremont wintered their first before heading out to discover what we know today as Lake Tahoe.
Ten years after the area was sparsely settled by pioneers, the famous gold rush began, greatly increasing Western civilization in the region, but still not enough to uncover all it had to offer. As a result of this unexplored terrain, the federal government permitted the Geological Survey (California) to begin further exploration, headed by the respected Josiah Whitney.
Many other famous men joined the group, discovering the amazing backcountry that is now Yosemite National Park. By 1864, they had uncovered the magnificence of the Kings Canyon, venturing further to climb the Sierras' highest mountain, Mount Langley in 1871.
By 1897 the area was mapped, including the trail called John Muir, after the famous mountaineer. In fact, many of the Sierras' most famous peaks were named after Muir and other like minded climbers.
The name, Sierra, found its origins in a visit (1542) by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who saw the mountains from his vantage point in San Francisco. The name literally means 'snow covered range'.
Other Museums & History Resources
Groveland Historical Museum is a small museum in Groveland, open only on Saturdays or by appointment.
Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park shares the stories of 19th century families who lived in the Sierras.
The Mono County Museum strives to preserve and share the history of Mono County, California.
The Tuolumne County Historical Society is dedicated to preserving local history and artifacts.