The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range runs some 400 miles (about 650 kilometers) through eastern California. The name means "snowy mountain range" in Spanish.
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The mountains began to 200 million years ago in the Triassic Period. The subduction of the Pacific Plate underneath the North American plate helped form the mountains throughout the millions of years. Even today the movement of the plates is causing the mountains to slowly grow.
The mountains became critical to the development of the theory of conservation. The California settlement rushes focused on gold and silver which were found along the flanks of the mountains while the inner parts of the mountain range were ignored. The first exploitations of the area revealed a natural paradise just at the time the idea of a natural American paradise was being formulated. Yosemite Valley inside the Sierra Nevadas was first declared a protected by the federal government in 1864. This is one of the first cases of a government protecting an area for public benefit and not the pleasure of the ruler and most countries since then have made conservation parks for the public.