Sierra Nevada Airstreams -> Education -> Geo

Learning about the Eastern Sierra Nevada and Great Basin Area

Where is the Sierra Nevada Airstreams Territory?

To the west: the Sierra Nevada Mountains

To the North: the Owyhee Uplands with volcanic mesas and plateaus

To the South: the northern Mojave desert

To the East: the mountain ranges of eastern Nevada and 'reefs' or canyon country in Utah.

Home territory for the Sierra Nevada unit starts on the west with the Sierra Nevada Crest in California and goes east towards some of the loneliest country in the United States. To the east is the Great Salt Lake and Wasatch Mountains. To the south is the Mojave Desert. To the north is the Owyhee uplands. Its centerpiece is the Great Basin area of the North American continent. The area runs from 115 to 120 degrees west longitude and 38 to 43 degrees north latitude at elevations from about 4,000 to 12,000 feet above mean sea level.

The country on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range is wrinkled like the skin of a dried prune from the effects of geologic action on the earth's crust as it is stretched between the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountain ranges. This terrain makes a significant impact on the routing, engineering, and drivability of roads. The many mountain ranges mostly run north and south making east west passage especially difficult.

The area to the north is called the Owyhee Uplands. that are volcanic mesas and plateaus drained mostly by the Owyhee River (a Snake river tributary that is a part of the Columbia river basin that drains to the Pacific Ocean). The terrain is quite different from the peaks and sediment filled valleys in the Great Basin area.


The Perimeter: U.S. route 395 runs near the western side of the territory from Lakeview, Oregon to Bishop, California. Along the south is U.S. route 6, the Grand Army Highway, that runs from Bishop to Tonopah to Ely. U.S. route 93 is at the eastern edge and runs from Ely to Wells and Jackpot Nevada and on north towards Twin Falls, Idaho. U.S. route 20 from Boise Idaho to Burns, Oregon where it joins U.S. 395 and then on to Bend Oregon marks the far nothern perimeter of the Sierra Nevada Great Basin territory.

Sierra Tour: South of Susanville U.S. 395 gets close to the Sierra Ridge. To get even closer, take state route 36 west from Susanville to State Route 89 and you can take a scenic route through the middle of the Sierra Nevada range down to Truckee and Lake Tahoe and then to U.S. 395 near Topaz. In this central section of the Sierras, the major cross roads mark the way going over Sierra passes towards the California central valleys and Interstate 5. U.S. 70 goes through the Sierra Valley, Quincy and on towards near Chico. Interstate 80 goes through Reno to Truckee, over Donner Pass, and on to Sacramento. U.S. 50 goes through Carson City to South Lake Tahoe, through the Eldorado National Forest, Placerville and on to Sacramento. Sate Route 88 is a scenic route that goes to Stockton after heading south from the Minden and Gardnerville area. Most of the other Sierra roads, such as state route 4 which also goes to Stockton, are not a routes for large RV's unless adventure and suspense are desired. On the South end of the Sierra Range is state route 120, the Tioga Pass Road, that leads to Yosemite National Park from Lee Vining.

Immigrant trail: Interstate 80 (ne' route 40) follows the Humbolt river from northeast Nevada to its sink near Lovelock. It then crosses the dreaded forty mile desert until it joins the Truckee to follow it up the east slope of the Sierra Mountains.

The Pony Express: . U.S. 50 is often called the loneliest road in the country. It follows some of the route of the Pony express through central Nevada.

A tour on the north side would probably take U.S. 395 to Burns, Idaho then U.S. 20 to Boise and Interstate 84 to Twin Falls. Or you could take state route 140 out of Lakveview towards the National Antelope Refuge. Steens Mountain Recreation Lands, Crooked Creek State Wayside, Jordan Valley, and Bruneau Dunes State Park. These routes encompasses an area of nearly 150,000 square miles centered on Reno and Carson City as the only major metropolitan area in the Sierra Nevada Unit home territory.

Up and down the middle: U.S. 95 runs from Interstate 84 just north of Boise south to Winnemucca where it joins I80 for a while before departing south to Fallon and then to Hawthorne and U.S. 6 west of Tonopah. It is the road to Las Vegas.

A complete circuit of this home territory is about 1500 miles. From Lakeview, Oregon to Susanville, California is about 140 miles. Head out state route 36 for about 40 miles to state route 89 and then 115 miles to Truckee. Following 89 around Lake Tahoe's west shore and on down to where it intersects with U.S. 395 is almost another hundred miles. From that point to Bishop on 395 is 120 miles. To Tonopah is 115 miles then 170 to Ely, 140 to Wells and Interstate 80, and 70 miles to Jackpot. The scenic northern tour goes 120 miles from Jackpot to near Bruneau, 125 to Crooked Creek, 150 miles to the antelope area, and 60 miles to Lakeview.


The rivers in the Sierra Nevada Airstreams Territory are often used a guides for the roads and railroads around mountain ranges and through canyons. They all drain into sinks in the Great Basin remnants of the ancient Lake Lahontan. The Truckee drains Lake Tahoe and runs through Reno and Sparks to Pyramid Lake. The Humbolt River picks up I80 where the Truckee leaves off (after a forty mile desert) and drains water from north eastern Nevada mountain ranges into the Humbolt Sink near Lovelock. The Carson River runs from the area south of Lake Tahoe through Lake Lahontan Dam to the Carson Sink. The Walker River runs from Yerington around the north of the Wassuk Range to Schurz and then to Walker Lake.

To the north of the Great Basin, the Owyhee river sources near the Wild Horse State Recreation Area and Owyhee, Nevada on its way to cross U.S. 95 near Rome, Oregon. It feeds the Snake River which then feeds the Columbia.

West of the Great Basin the rivers run into the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Rivers on the south flow into the Colorado.

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