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“Exploration of the Sierra Nevada” (1925)
by Francis P. Farquhar


A New Epoch

By the year 1890 the main features of the Sierra Nevada had been pretty thoroughly explored and intensive studies had been made of many important sections. The mining possibilities had been exploited from one end of the crest to the other, with momentary periods of success but ultimate failure. A number of the high peaks had been ascended and all of the principal canyons had at least been visited. Yet, if one were to attempt to compile the reliable information existing in published form at that time, he would find little beyond the writings of John Muir, the publications of the Whitney Survey, a few tables published by the Wheeler Survey, and the recent monographs of Israel C. Russell.

As for maps, the only ones obtainable were the Whitney and Wheeler Survey sheets and the detailed studies of Russell and Johnson in the Mount Lyell and Mount Ritter region. No reliable details whatever of the sources of the San Joaquin, the Kings, and the Kern rivers were available. Even the Yosemite maps prepared by the Wheeler Survey were useful only for their main features and the details had to be supplied by later surveys.

The possibilities of recreational enjoyment in the High Sierra seemed to be almost forgotten since the early enthusiasm inspired by the writings of King, Muir, and Le Conte. The remote recesses of the range were practically given over to the sheepmen, and in the timber belt destruction was steadily going on among the big trees. The management of Yosemite Valley by the State was beginning to excite unfavorable comment and, in short, the year 1890 may be said to mark the lowest point in the welfare of the Sierra as a permanent asset of the State and Nation.

A new generation now came forward, and in the next decade the Sierra was thoroughly explored from one end to the other. Vacancies in the maps were filled in and a great many valuable contributions were made to several branches of the natural sciences. The leaders in this new period of exploration were members of the United States Geological Survey, officers of the United States Army on duty in the national parks, and members of the Sierra Club. Their work was supplemented by that of a number of other groups and individuals.


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