Errata and Updates for

The Mountains that Remade America

While it was great fun and a challenge to collect all the information in my book, the one problem is that once published it is as though it is in stone. And covering a lot of terrain, I miss things or don't dig deeply enough and I later learn some of what I thought I knew was wrong. So rather than let that fester, below are some notes--in some cases outright corrections, a few pointers to more in depth information, and in others updates on new material--to pass along for those of you who are interested. And if you are aware of any issues, please email me with the relevant information.

Ch. 4: Modern Rivers, Fossil Water.
Water law is a messy subject that I've collapsed down quite a bit--perhaps a bit too much. For instance, one aspect of water law controls when you are allowed to move water acquired under riparian rights outside of a drainage--a trick critical to Los Angeles's ability to move Owens River water to LA. I didn't pursue this in part because it seems to have originated with the creation of irrigation districts in the Central Valley--it isn't a trivial outgrowth of prior appropriation law even if that precedent made it more possible to treat water as a commodity. A reference I regretably missed in writing my book was Mark Kanazawa's Golden Rules: The Origins of California Water Law in the Gold Rush. Kanazawa points out among other things that prior appropriation water law was already present in some of the early mining camps. His far more thorough review focuses on some different water cases and seeks the roots in mining camp rules that preceeded judicial decisions. Despite my shortcuts, I think the general sense in my book is still correct: without the bounty of the Auriferous Gravels, the curiousity of some camps using a form of prior appropriation would have failed to create new water law. What Kanazawa's economic analysis makes clear, though, is that something beyond riparian rights was almost certain to emerge in the arid west. I've discussed this book a bit more in a blog post elsewhere.
Ch. 7: Granite, Guardian of Wilderness
Arguably the detailed analysis of glacial lakes from a Moore and Moring 2013 paper might be more complete than my brief analysis. In the notes, I said that there has not been a lightning caused fire since at least 1930; this should have been qualified as the cited source was complete only until 2002. Some park personnel after a 2017 talk said they thought there had in fact been a lightning caused fire in the valley since 2002. Unfortunately the fire history map the park provides does not distinguish the cause of fires (indeed, it includes prescribed fires); the summaries online for 2008-2010 show only human-caused fires in the valley itself, and a 2011 report does not show any naturally sparked fires in the valley itself though a "lightning fire ignition density" map seems to suggest that some ignitions have occurred in the valley. The ultimate source is the NPS fire GIS database (which is complete through 2016), which requires burrowing past a lot of management and human-caused fires in the valley. Only a 2003 0.1 acre fire a little north of Northside Drive near the base of the Rockslides (west of El Capitan Meadow), the 2006 0.25 acre Southside fire (kind of below Taft Point) and a 1985 0.1 acre fire a bit above that 2006 fire were caused by lightning in what arguably is the valley. No lightning caused fires have started between the Northside and Southside roads. Four other fires that plot close are on the valley walls: a 1992 fire a little below Columbia Rock, another 1992 fire near the Four Mile Trail, a 1989 fire on the east base of Washington Column and a 1952 fire high on the lowest of the Cathedral Rocks. These three lightning caused fires in more than 80 years tends to support the rarity of natural fire in the valley, though the citation in the book and text I wrote does appear to exaggerate that rarity.
Ch. 8: Big Trees, Big Battles
Although it does not contradict anything in the text, I probably should have pointed out the observations on the spatial relationship of sequoia groves to glacial extent made by Moore and Moring in a 2013 paper and I might have relied more on the Moore and Mack map of the maximum extent of glaciers published in 2008 as USGS Scientific Investigations Map 2945. Since completing the book, some inquiries about the changing status of the cabin community at Mineral King has turned up some interesting disagreements, with some claims that the cabin owners were actually well aware that their cabins would be subject to removal under the 1978 omnibus parks bill (as John Krebs, who spearheaded the legislation, argued was the case some years later), and others saying this was not at all apparent. It sounds like Louise Jackson (whose Mineral King book I cited) might have the testimony that would clear up this matter. She also noted in conversation that the private property owned by Disney has recently been transferred to the Disney family.
On a recent visit, I looked for the old speed limit sign heading up towards Mineral King--I guess it is now gone or I missed seeing it. Maybe the county agreed with me that the sign was unnecessary. But the official speed limit remains 25 mph.
The geologists working in Mineral King are continuing to gain insights into the unusual geology preserved here: two presentations at the GSA meeting in 2017 have abstracts here and here. Although Mineral King was ignored for many years, it seems to have attracted a very active group of researchers who are likely to continue to develop this story over the coming years.
A sidenote I missed, and arguably the second-most widespread impact of Disney's foray into building a ski area in Mineral King (next to leading to a revision in how to obtain standing in lawsuits), namely the trail signs you see at North American ski areas: Disney came up with the green circle/blue square/black diamond rating system for ski runs, and when this was discovered by the National Ski Areas Association, they dropped their original attempts at a uniform marking system and adopted Disney's.
I said at the end of the chapter that the National Historic District designation in 2003 ended the Park Service's program of removing cabins form Mineral King once the leaseholders had passed away. However, this fight was not complete; a specific bill addressing the future of the cabins was introduced by Congressman Nunes (representing the area) but only got as far as producing a report with the opinions pro and con. this apparently was introduced as the Park Service introduced their master plan for gradually removing the cabins. While Nunes's specific bill went nowhere, language was inserted into the Consolodated Appropriations Act of 2005 to modify law 95-625 (which first moved Mineral King into Sequoia National Park) to allow the leases in Mineral King to be transfered; this was signed on December 8, 2004, effectively ending the dispute (although the Park Service can revoke permits if they conflict with park management goals). Similarly, 2008 legislation to create the John Krebs Wilderness within Sequoia National Park was crafted to avoid affecting the cabin owners; its wording was incorporated into the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (also at
Ch. 10: What Lies Beneath.
I said that the surroundings of the volcanic cones near Whitney Meadow and Tunnel Meadow climbed by Gilbert and Lawson were unglaciated; this isn't true, the Moore and Mack 2008 map mentioned above shows glaciers extending to the Kern River here. The oldest cinder cones and their flows are in fact postdated by some glacial action represented by outwash, glacial erratics, and damaged flow surfaces. But the youngest cinder cone (Groundhog Cone), which is untouched by glacial activity, is more than 50,000 years old, as a 2017 GSA abstract makes clear, meaning glacial action in this area is at least that old. Between the older glacial advances and their relatively minor impact on topography, it is fair to say that the landscape is not strongly affected by the passage of ice the way areas a short distance to the north were.
Ch. 11: Paradoxes and Proxy Wars
It might seem amazing given all the footnotes, but a lot of literature is overlooked here. And new work continues to emerge on many facets of Sierran geology, though the basic battle lines described remain more or less as presented.


Please send mail to if you encounter any problems or have suggestions.

C. H. Jones | CIRES | Dept. of Geological Sciences | Univ. of Colorado at Boulder

Last modified at January 30, 2018 2:56 PM