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Sierra Nevada
Sierra Nevada aerial.jpg
The Sierra's Mills Creek cirque (center) is on the west side of the Sierra Crest, south of Mono Lake (top, blue).
Highest point
Peak Mount Whitney
Elevation 14,505 ft (4,421 m)
Length 400 mi (640 km) north-south from Fredonyer Pass to Tehachapi Pass
Width 80 mi (130 km)
Area 24,370 sq mi (63,100 km2)
Etymology 1777: Spanish for "snowy mountain range"
Nickname the Sierra, the High Sierra, Range of Light (1894, John Muir)
Position of Sierra Nevada inside California
Country United States
Range coordinates 37°43′51″N 119°34′22″W / 37.73083°N 119.57278°W / 37.73083; -119.57278
Age of rock Mesozoic
Type of rock batholith and igneous

The Sierra Nevada is a mountain range in the Western United States, between the Central Valley of California and the Great Basin. The vast majority of the range lies in the state of California, although the Carson Range spur lies primarily in Nevada. The Sierra Nevada is part of the American Cordillera, an almost continuous chain of mountain ranges that forms the western "backbone" of the Americas.

The Sierra runs 400 miles (640 km) north-south and its width ranges from 50 miles (80 km) to 80 miles (130 km) across east–west. Notable features include General Sherman, the largest tree in the world by volume; Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America; Mount Whitney at 14,505 ft (4,421 m), the highest point in the contiguous United States; and Yosemite Valley sculpted by glaciers from one-hundred-million-year-old granite, containing high waterfalls. The Sierra is home to three national parks, twenty wilderness areas, and two national monuments. These areas include Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks; and Devils Postpile National Monument.

More than one hundred million years ago during the Nevadan orogeny, granite formed deep underground. The range started to uplift less than five million years ago, and erosion by glaciers exposed the granite and formed the light-colored mountains and cliffs that make up the range. The uplift caused a wide range of elevations and climates in the Sierra Nevada, which are reflected by the presence of five life zones (areas with similar plant and animal communities). Uplift continues due to faulting caused by tectonic forces, creating spectacular fault block escarpments along the eastern edge of the southern Sierra.

The Sierra Nevada has played an important role in the history of California and the United States. The California Gold Rush occurred in the western foothills from 1848 through 1855. Due to its inaccessibility, the range was not fully explored until 1912.

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