Lesson 304: Sierra Nevada and the Making of California

The mighty Sierra Nevada is our most important mountain range. It influences much of California’s weather and produces most of its water. It was once the greatest barrier to transcontinental transportation and communication. It is a symbol of earthquakes, which created it. Tectonic geologist, Eldridge Moores, helps host David Yetman decipher the mysteries of the range’s origins and describes the sierras’ importance.

Learning Objective

Students will learn about the geological, economic and environmental factors that make the Sierra Nevada mountain range a national treasure.

Social Studies Standards

People, Places, & Environment: E, F, G

Discussion Prompts

  • Discuss why the Sierra Nevada is called the greatest mountain range. Which of its contributions do you think is the most important and why?
    Host David Yetman brings his brother along on this trip. Who would you take on a trip to the
  • Sierra Nevada and what geological, historical and environmental highlights would you share with them?
  • If you were a highway builder in the Sierra Nevada, what decisions would you need to make and what geological, environmental and human factors would you need to consider?
  • When they mention the secrets of the Sierra Nevada, what do you think they might be referring to? Compare to a natural monument in your part of the country that could also be considered to hold secrets.

Lesson Activities

  • If you wanted to be a geologist, what skills would you need to be successful for working in the Sierra Nevada? Research some of the specialties within geology, including tectonic geology. Why does Eldridge Moores state that geology is an important career?
  • Create an informational presentation highlighting what the Sierra Nevada has done for the state of California and for our country. Discuss water, gold, food and economic productivity.
  • Create an illustrated timeline of the history of the Gold Rush including events mentioned in the video such as the Donner party.
  • Make a brochure or pamphlet about the California Water Project. Include a description of how the dam works and provides water to cities such as Los Angeles. Explain why L.A. can’t survive without the Sierra Nevada.


  • colossal
  • cornucopia
  • decipher
  • fault
  • geology
  • ingenuity
  • productivity
  • reservoir
  • transcontinental
  • unraveling


Lesson Plan S03E04