After crossing the Great Basin we are met with a major mountain range. Imagine the pioneers coming across the prairies and across the deserts of Utah and Nevada to see this last challenge -- and a great challenge at that.
To be specific, the first range one sees is the Carson range, a spot of the Sierra Nevada. From Lake Tahoe, one looks west and those mountains are the Sierra Nevada.
Sierra means saw-toothed mountain range. Nevada means snow-covered. Outsiders might call it the Sierra Nevada Mountains, or the Sierra Nevadas. But this would be like saying the snow-covered saw-toothed mountain range mountains. Folks from Texas or New Mexico would not say Rio Grande River, when Rio Grande is enough.
None the less, this is a range that divides Nevada and California. It runs northward from the Mohave Desert to the Cascade Range of Northern California and Oregon. At Lake Tahoe it is about 80 miles wide and down to about 40-50 miles wide in the south.
It is the largest fault block range in the country, most of which is a single, huge block of the earth's crust. The east side is very abrupt rising to the summit. The west side slopes gently to the Central Valley.
Biologically it is home to the largest trees in the world -- giant sequoias and redwoods. Year around it attracts people to enjoy the outdoor opportunities. Mining, logging and tourism has modified the range almost as much as ice, water, wind, and fire.
As one of the classic books of American geographic writing, John Muir's 1868 "May First Summer in the Sierra" is a must read as it is a diary of camping and exploration that inspires its readers.