Have you ever sat back and wondered where the name of that mountain came from? Or how someone named that lake you’re floating on? What about the vista you’re enjoying a panoramic view from? If these kinds of questions rattle in your mind, you’ll love this fun look into the history of the names of places in California High Sierra. You may realize the stories of how they got their names is just as interesting as seeing them in person… well maybe.
If you visit the southeastern side of Lake Tahoe, there’s a pair of peaks that might not get as much fanfare as its bigger neighbor Mt. Tallac. But the story of how they got their name is noteworthy. The legend goes that these pair of peaks just to the north of Tallac were named after a particularly healthy barmaid at a Tahoe Tavern by the name of Maggie.
When someone brings up Yosemite, the first person that comes to mind is John Muir and rightly so. He was the helpful voice in making the area into a national park, but he wasn’t the only one. Another prominent figure in this escapade was Frederick Law Olmsted, considered the father of American landscape architecture. He is one of the most important leaders alongside John Muir that helped ensure Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove were the 1st land to be set aside for public use.
Pronounced “Mō-Nō”, this vast salt water lake is one of the most famous geologic and natural wonders of the Eastern Sierra. With its dramatic tufa towers, trillions of brine shrimp, and alkali fly population, Mono Lake is a critical stopover on the Pacific Flyway for migrating birds. From aerial observations, somewhere between 1.5 – 1.8 MILLION birds visit in the fall. Although the origin of the lake’s name is not known for sure, it was named in 1852 for the Native American Paiute tribe, the Kutzadika’a, who lived there. This tribe harvested the lake’s alkali fly pupa for its high protein content as a food source and for trade. A neighboring tribe, the Yokutsk on the west side of the Sierra, referred to the Kutzadika’a as “mono/monachie/monoache” which in the Yokut language means “fly people” or “fly-eating people.”
Originally, the town was named Gray’s Station. This was because of Joseph Gray’s Roadhouse on the Trans-Sierra wagon road. But, in 1867 the name of the railroad station on the legendary Central Pacific Railroad became Truckee. Similar to other origins of names of places in California, there are variations to where it comes from. Our favorite is when a native guide used the Pauite word “all right” which sounded like “Tro-kay” for the route. The European settlers assumed that the chief was telling them his name. While it wasn’t, the chief liked the name so much that he proudly retained it through his remaining years.
If you want to explore Truckee’s history on things like logging or the tragic expedition of the Donner Party, check out Truckee’s history page.
Just like a good meal, you may come for the main course of adventure… but like a good appetizer, the history of names of places in California High Sierra reveal a hidden and fascinating story.