The Sierra Nevada (translates to "snowy range" in Spanish) is a major United States mountain range that lies mostly in the state of California with a small portion extending across the border into Nevada. Covering more than 250 miles from the Mojave Desert to the Cascade Range, and ranging from 50 to 80 miles wide, the Sierra Nevada was a significant barrier to westward settlement. Most pioneers were forced to divert around the formidable peaks through Oregon in the north or Southern Utah and Arizona in the south.
Contained within the Sierra Nevada are numerous significant areas, wildlife preserves and tourist attractions. These areas include Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, as well as Devils Postpile and Giant Sequoia National Monuments. Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America also lies within the Sierra Nevada. Almost 4 million people visit Yosemite National Park each year.
Flora and fauna in the Sierra Nevada, although typical of mountain areas in the American West, also includes some unique species. The Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) occurs naturally only on the western slopes of the mountain range. The world's largest trees by volume, the Giant Sequoia can reach heights of 300 feet and live longer than 3,000 years. The mountains are also home to the endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep.
Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the range at 14,505 feet (4,421 m) and the highest point in the lower 48 states of the United States. Other significant peaks in the Sierra Nevada include Freel Peak, Mount Lyell in Yosemite National Park and Mount Humpreys.
The Sierra Nevada has played a significant role in United States history. Although the mountains were an early barrier to settlers, they quickly became a draw for gold miners. Today their beauty brings tourists and adventurers from around the world.