California Sierra Nevada > Preface


What will it be—the mountains or the beach? That’s usually the question if you’re heading outdoors in California. The beach has always been the big lure in California, especially if you come from an inland place. But as millions would now attest, the Sierra Nevada holds a charm and splendor quite apart from the coast. Maybe it’s because the crowds were getting so big at the beach, but visitors these days are placing Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe on their itinerary right next to Malibu or Big Sur. When they get to these Sierra playgrounds, people discover natural history, cultural depth, and days filled with hiking, biking, kayaking, horseback riding, picnicking, rock climbing, fishing, backpacking, and sight-seeing.

But besides Tahoe and Yosemite, is there anywhere else to go in the Sierra? My mission in this book was to answer that question. Yes, I wanted to tell the story of Tahoe and Yosemite too, but there is so much more that often goes unexplored. There are plenty of guidebooks on the Sierra, but this represents one of the few that tackles the entire 400-mile range. It is also one of the few that combines the science of the Sierra with the nuts and bolts of where to go and what to do.

Western redcedar (Thuja plicata)With 10 national forest, 3 national parks, and numerous state parks, it is a lot to digest and consider for anyone planning a trip to the Sierra. The glacial wonders of Yosemite and the awe-inspiring size of Tahoe are just the beginning. The Sierra also includes the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, Mount Whitney, and the deepest river canyon in the country, Kings Canyon. The primitive backcountry throughout the range makes it a hiking and backpacking attraction for people from around the world.

But the Sierra has its own set of problems. Thirty-two million people—California’s population—living anywhere close to a mountain range will have an impact. Air pollution from the state’s growing population is beginning to affect trees in the Southern Sierra. Streams are becoming polluted, and amphibians are disappearing here as fast as they are anywhere in the world.

More houses and cabins are sprouting every year in the foothills and front country of the Sierra. Tahoe’s clear mountain water is in jeopardy as watersheds become contaminated. The forests continue to grow thicker with vegetation because too many fires have been extinguished in the past century. The threat of catastrophic fire confronts forest managers throughout the range.

Elk (Cervus elaphus) Also called “wapiti” — the Indian word for “white” — referring to the light color of the animal’s rump, elk herds are distributed through mountain forests and valleys in the West.I felt I understood many of these issues because I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley next to the Southern Sierra and have written about the Central and Eastern Sierra over the past decade. But I learned a lot about my own back yard. The number of things I did not know about my own home state still amazes me. But considering that it is a full day of nonstop driving from the Southern Sierra to reach the northern edge of range, it’s no wonder that there are few people who have an understanding of the entire range.

With a fuller knowledge and deeper appreciation of the Sierra, I feel the tug of conservation more than before. I live in Fresno just west of about 4 million acres of forests and national parks. I have a ringside seat to observe what conservation efforts can do for the Sierra. Years from now, when my children are vacationing with their own families, I want them to have the same choice I do—indeed, the mountains first, then the beach.

—Mark Grossi

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