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mather pass
 
Sierra Nevada & Owens Valley Place Names: A - F
mule train mule train

 Sequoia & Kings Canyon Map

 Yosemite Map

See USE NOTICE on Home Page.


The Sierra Nevada and Owens Valley are full of fascinating names garnished over the centuries from Native Americans, trappers, explorers, surveyors, geologists, packers, fisherman, frontiersman, and settlers. These pages represent but a few of those names and their origin. These are some of my favorite gathered from my packing days with Mt. Whitney Pack Trains. These are names which, for me personally, evoke wonderful Sierra and Owens Valley memories - packers, camp fires, Sierra Club girls, nick names such as Veggie, Manure Man, and Peek-a-Boo, mules with personality, biting horses, Trail Riders of the Wilderness, countless trips to the summit of Mt. Whitney, pack train wrecks, bronc shoeing in the backcountry, rain at night in the Sierra, frozen tie lines, loves lost and loves gained, and a host of majestic wilderness scenes painted for all of us by the One Who seeks but to have our hearts focused on Him.

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alabama hills
The Alabama Hills, Lone Pine Peak (left) and Mt. Whitney (center background) from off of Movie Road in the Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA.
(Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea)
Alabama Hills
"In the early 1860's the Hitchcock boys discovered a mine in these hills which they called the 'Old Abe' mine, and they called their district the 'Alabama District.' They were Rebels and in those days 'Old Abe' was a term of ridicule. But they named the district in honor of the Confederate Cruiser 'Alabama.' These hills are now called the 'Alabama Hills.'"
The CSS Alabama was a British-built ship, with Southern officers and a British crew, that destroyed a total of 64 American merchant ships in the Atlantic and Indian oceans during the Civil War. She was sunk by the USS Kearsarge off the port of Cherbourg, France, in June 1864.
[Thomas Keough, "Over Kearsarge Pass in 1864"]

alabama hills

The Alabama Hills and the Sierra Nevada - Lone Pine, CA.
(Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea)

yellow sky

Gregory Peck and Anne Baxter in the Alabama Hills during the
filming of Yellow Sky

(Photo - Unknown)

alabama hills
The Alabama Hills - Lone Pine, CA.
(Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea)

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Army Pass was a route originally used by sheepmen. The trail was built in 1892, at a time when the U.S. Army was patrolling Sequoia National Park, by black soldiers from Georgia - Troop K of the Fourth Cavalry. The name first a ppeard on the 1907 Olancha 30' map.

New Army Pass was constructed in 1955 because the original east facing Old Army Pass was usually snow-clogged until late summer. The two passes are only about 1/4 mile apart .
army pass
army pass
View towards Old Army Pass

(Photo by moosewilliams)
army pass view
View down to Cottonwood Lakes from Old Army Pass

(Photo by moosewilliams)

new army pass view
View southeast from New Army Pass: Long Lake and Upper and Lower Southfork Lakes

(Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea)

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mt bago
The namer and the origin of the name are not known. Bolton Coit Brown and his wife Lucy climbed the peak in July 1896, as did J. N. LeConte and W. S. Gould. Brown described it as "the red peak south of the lake." Bolton and Lucy climbed the peak during a thunderstorm and an invisible something passed with tingling prickles and a thin, squeaky, crackling sound through their outstretched fingertips. Lucy's front hair streamed out towards the storm.
mt bago
Mount Bago and Bullfrog Lake
(Photo unknown)

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mt baxter
Mount Baxter
(Photo unknown)
mt baxter
John Baxter was an Owens Valley rancher. J. N. LeConte and party stopped at Baxter's on their 1890 trip. "Baxter cordially invited us in, showed us the best place to camp, told us to help ourselves to fruit and honey, and did everything in his power to make us comfortable. We were somewhat astonished that a perfect stranger should take such an interest in us dirty tramps, but Mr. Baxter said he had spend many a week in the mountains, and was thoroughly in sympathy with the genus camper." Mt. Baxter was named by George R. Davis of the USGS in 1905.

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bear creek spire
bear creek spire
Bear Creek Spire
(Photo courtesy of Brice Pollock)
Bear Creek Spire was named by J. N. LeConte, James Hutchinson, and Duncan McDuffie in 1908
because it was at the head of the Hilgard Branch of Bear Creek.

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bighorn plateau
Bighorn Plateau looking south west towards the Great Western Divide
(Photo Michele D'Amico)
bighorn plateau
The Bighorn Plateau was named for the mountain sheep seein in the area. The name applies to an area and to a specific point, where there is a Verticle Angle Benchmark (VABM) - which makes one suspect that the name was given by the U.S.G.S. The plateau was called "Sandy Plateau" on Mt. Whitney 30' maps from 1907 through 1927. It was changed to the Bighorn Plateau in 1933.

bighorn plateau
Bighorn Plateau looking south west towards the Great Western Divide

(Photo Peter Burke)

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kaweah peaks
Peaks of the Kaweah range.
(photo courtsey of Leor Pantilat)
kaweah
kaweah

"Red Kaweah", "Black Kaweah", "Mount Kaweah", "Kaweah Basin", "Kaweah Gap", and "Kaweah Queen" all derive their names after a Yokuts tribe called Kawai, or probably more exactly, Gawia. They lived on or near the "Kaweah River" where it emerges from the foothills into the San Joaquin Valley plains. The river was discovered by the Gabriel Moraga expedition in 1806. Kaweah was originally 'Kah-wah' and some Indians say it means 'I squat here,' or 'Here I rest.' Other Indians say 'Ka' is Indian for crow and 'wia' is Indian for water - getting the name 'crow-water.' 'Ka' came from the sound that a crow makes. There were buzzards and crows by the thousands around the site of Visalia and all the way to the Sierra foothills.

kaweah peaks

The Kaweah Basin as seen from the south end of Red Spur Lakes Plateau. Picket Creek Basin is on the extreme right.

(photo and text courtsey of Lee Watts)

kaweah
The Kaweah Basin as seen from the south end of Red Spur Lakes Plateau. Picket Creek Basin is on the extreme right.
(photo and text courtsey of Lee Watts)

kaweah peaks
Lower end of the Kaweah Basin looking toward Mt. Kaweah on the left and Kaweah Queen on the right.
(photo and text courtsey of Lee Watts)

kaweah peaks
Kaweah Peaks from the Big Arroyo - Black Kaweah (left), Mount Kaweah (right)
(photo unknown)

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bloody canyon
"After crossing Mono Pass, the trail leads down Bloody Canyon - a terrible trail. You would all pronounce it utterly inaccessible to horses, yet pack trains come down, but the bones of several horses or mules and the stench of another told that all had not passed safely.... It was a bold man who first took a horse up there. The horses were so cut by sharp rocks that they named it 'Bloody Canyon,' and it has held the name - and it is appropriate - part of the way the rocks in the trail are literally sprinkled with blood from the animals."
[William Henry Brewer, Up and Down California in 1860-1864]

bloody canyon
Mt. Lewis, Bloody Canyon, Mammoth Peak, Mt. Gibbs
[photo courtesy Gary Heisinger]

bloody canyon
Bloody Canyon and Sardine Lakes
[photo courtesy Gary Heisinger]

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Boreal Plateau
The Boreal Plateau was named by Oliver Kehrlein because of the frigid, windswept character of the plateau. The plateau, which contains Funston Lake overlooks the glacial carved Kern River gorge and the Great Western Divide to the west.

funston lake
Funston Lake high atop on the Boreal Plateau overlooking the Great Western Divide.

(Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea)

boreal plateau

The Boreal Plateau with Funston Lake and the Great Western Divide in the distance.
(Photo courtesy of Bob Steele)
boreal plateau
The Boreal Plateau with Mt. Langley (right background) in the distance.
(Photo courtesy of Bob Steele)
boreal plateau
Looking across the Boreal Plateau towards the Great Western Divide.
(Photo courtesy of Bob Steele)

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bubbs creek
Bubbs Creek
(Photo by Bruce Lemons)
bubbs creek
Bubbs Creek was named for John Bubbs who was part of the Whitney survey party led by William H. Brewer. Brewer met this group of prospectors on the trail between Big Meadows and Kings Canyon in 1864.

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Camiaca Peak
camiaca peak
Camiaca Peak
(Photo courtesy of Noondueler)
In the Yosemite Research Library files is a copy of a handwritten note from Doug Hubbard about an Indian who gave him a piece of root to chew; it tasted like ginseng. The Indian said that when he was young he gathered large quantities of the root and took them to the Sioux country to trade for buffalo robes. "He told me his name was Cloudy Camiaca.... Later... I applied it to rather a fine peak. I thought I was playing quite a joke on Californians and at the same time giving Camiaca a final trip." Although the story is not true it makes for interesting reading.

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cardinal mountain
George R. Davis of the USGS named Cardinal Mountain because of the brilliant coloring of its summit - like the red cap of a cardinal. The lake was named from the mountain. Both names appear in the first edition of the Mt. Whitney 30' map.
cardinal mountain
L/R: Cardinal Mountain, Split Mountain

(Photo courtesy of Ray DeLea)

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The former town of Cartago was created as a steamer landing on the southwest shore of Owens Lake to handle shipments of silver bullion from Cerro Gordo. John Baptiste Daneri, native of Sardinia and a Lone Pine merchant, built the landing, a large warehouse, and a store, in 1872. For six months the place didn't have a name, and was referred to as "Lakeville" and "Danerisburg." On November 1, 1872, Daneri named it "Cartago," perhaps - as Lingenfelter suggested - in the hope that he was creating "the Carthage of the West."
The creek was also called "Carthage Creek" originally before it was renamed to"Cartago Creek."
[Richard E. Lingenfelter, "The Desert Steamers"]
cartago creek

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In 1903, John Lacey, then reunning cattle in the Monache country, said the name Casa Vieja was given for an old house or cabin in that locality.

cabin
Casa Vieja Cabin

(Photo by Patrick Maloney)

meadow
Casa Vieja corral and meadow

(Photo by Patrick Maloney)

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chagoopa plateau
"Chagoopa Creek" and "Chagoopa Falls" were named by W. B. Wallace, J. W. A. Wright, and F. H. Wales in 1881. "We named the highest of the falls Sha-goo-pah Falls, after an old Pi Ute chief." "Chagoopa Plateau" was named by William R. Dudley and party in July 1897 after the falls which bears the same name.
[Mount Whitney Club Journal, May 1902]
[Sierra Club Bulletin, January 1898]


Chagoopa Plateau with Kern River gorge

(Photo by Chris Ryerson)

chagoopa plateau
Chagoopa Plateau, Kern River gorge, and Moraine Lake (R)

(Photo by Chris Ryerson)

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Chalfant Lakes are either named for Pleasant Arthur Chalfant, editor of the Inyo Independent and Inyo Register or his son Willie Arthur Chalfant.
chalfant lakes
chalfant lakes
Chalfant Lakes

(Photo by unknown)

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cloud canyon
Cloud Canyon
[photo courtesy Greg Bowerman]
cloud canyon
Cloud Canyon and Cloud Creek were named after William B. Wallace's mine which bears the same name, The Cloud Mine, in 1924. William often referred to his mine as being "up in the clouds." For a while, on some pre 1924 maps, Cloud Canyon was mistakenly name Deadman Canyon which actually was a few miles to the west.


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convict lake
Twenty-nine convicts escaped from prison at Carson City, Nevada, on September 17, 1871. Six of them headed south, and murdered a mail rider from Aurora. Posses from Aurora and Benton caught up to the convicts near "Monte Diablo Creek" - now Convict Creek. Robert Morrison (for whom Mt. Morrison is namet), a Benton merchant and leader of the posse, was killed in the encounter. The convicts escaped, but three of them were captured a few days later. Two of those were lynched while being returned to the jail at Carson City.

Mrs. A. A. Forbes, of Bishop, said that the Indian name for Convict Lake
was "Wit-sa-nap."
convict lake
Convict Lake

[Photo by Bill Wight]

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cottonwood lakes
These are old names. Undoubtedly the creeks were named first. Their names were derived in 1890 from cottonwood trees which grew along the lower reaches.
cottonwood lakes
Looking east from Old Army Pass at Cottonwood Lakes
[Photo unknown]

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Dragon Peak was named because its outline as seen from Rae Lakes resembles a dragon. The Dragon Lake was named from the peak.
dragon
dragon lake
Dragon Lake and Dragon Peak.

[Photo courtesy of Dave Coppedge]
dragon peak and lake
Dragon Lake and Dragon Peak.
[Photo unknown]

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dunderberg peak
Dunderberg Peak, locally called Castle Peak, but which was named in 1878 after Dunderberg mines on its northerly slope. The mine was probably named after the Union man-of-war Dunderberg, launched in 1865, which had probably been named after Dunderberg Mountain in New York state.
dunderberg peak
Dunderberg Peak

[Photo courtesy of Windsor Riley]

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dumbell lakes
First it was over hard-frozen snowfields, and then over huge granite fragments to the margin of a lonely lake. This, from its shape, we called Dumbell Lake. The lakes were thus named by J. N. LeConte in January of 1904.
dumbell lakes
Dumbell Lakes
[Photo unknown]

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enchanted gorge
scylla and charybdis
This name, Enchanted Gorge, was given in July 1895 by Theodore S. Solomons to the gorge on Disappearing Creek, with its head between Scylla and Charybdis. The Enchanted Gorge was so named because of the many remarkable features it possesses, and the weirdness of its scenery.

Scylla (left) and Charybdis (right) guarding the upper entrance to the Enchanted Gorge
[Photo courtesy of Joel Guenther)

enchanted gorge

The Enchanted Gorge 
[photo courtesy Jeanne Panek]

enchanted gorge

The Enchanted Gorge 
[photo courtesy Jeanne Panek]

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fin dome
Fin Dome was named by Bolton C. Brown in 1899. On a sketch map he depicted the features between Rae Lakes and Sixty Lake Basin as a south-facing monster. "The Sea Serpent." Of the names of the serpent's parts. "The Fin" is the only one that stuck. The serpent's head is to the left in the photo and the serpent's tail is the long ridge to the right of the fin.
fin dome
Fin Dome 
[photo by Dave Coppedge]

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So named because it is out of the way and "forgotten" by most backpackers. It is located in the lower Rock Creek drainage between Funston Lake and Mt. Guyot.
[photo courtesy Yosemite Steve]

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RECOMMENDED READING

green button Spanish and Indian Place Names of California - Their Meaning and Their Romance by Nellie Van De Grift Sanchez, 1922
green button Place Names of the Sierra Nevada - From Abbot to Zumwalt by Peter Browning, 1986
green button Naming the Eastern Sierra - Dirty Sock to Bloody Canyon by Marguerite Sowaal, 1985
green button
Place Names of the Sierra Nevada - From Abbot to Zumwalt by Francis P. Farquhar, 1926
green button
The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States by Henry Ganett, 1902
face ABE Books, making "out of print" books easier to find. face



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Fr. John J. Crowley   

Trans-Sierra Highway  

Slim Randles "Night Ride"  

Olancha  
 

 More Sierra Names

 

George Brown, Native American

 

To the Top of Mt. Whitney by Rena Moore


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This page was last updated on 04 May 2021