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The Eastern Sierra is a lovely and unique place. Like other lovely and unique places, it has a certain language of its own. There are words and names, phrases and pronunciations that are particular and perhaps even peculiar to our part of the world. Some things have a long and rich history while others are simply just so. There are those that are important and others merely amusing.

The questions are asked. What is it, how to say it, what does it mean and where did it come from?

Here’s a short list, certainly not exhaustive, of some of the local words with pronunciations or usage and a little history thrown in.

The Sierra

The Eastern Sierra, the High Sierra, the Sierra Escarpment, and the Sierra Wave are just a few terms that come from the name for the magnificent mountain range that divides California, the Sierra Nevada. Derived from the Spanish words sierra for mountain range or saw and Nevada for snow covered, it literally means the “snow covered mountain range.”

This range of mountains runs for 400 miles, north-to-south, and spans about 70 miles east-to-west. Among its many incredible features, it holds the largest alpine lake in North America, Lake Tahoe; boasts the highest peak in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney; and is home to the largest trees on the Earth, the giant sequoia. It is part of the American Cordillera, an almost continuous sequence of mountain ranges running through North America, Central America, South America and Antarctica.

Most of the Sierra Nevada lies in California and contains three national parks, twenty wilderness areas, and two national monuments. It is vast and breathtakingly beautiful.

It is singularly and unambiguously – the Sierra. (Please don’t call it the Sierras.)

Sierra Wave

Sierra Wave

Sierra Wave. Photo: John DeRosseau

Now that we’ve clarified that, let’s explain the Sierra Wave. There’s no mistaking how to say this, but it may not be what you think it is. It’s not a greeting or a curling body of water. It’s a type of cloud known as wave cloud or lenticular cloud. It requires a certain set of weather conditions and is not uncommon to this and other places around the world.

Here it is called the Sierra Wave. Often during the late afternoon and evening when the winds aloft are strong and stable, the air is moist, and dew point is at the crest of the wave of air, a lens or saucer shaped cloud will form, sometimes with successive layers. If the clouds last until sunset, which they frequently do, the setting sun will tinge the cloud from light yellow to pink to a vibrant blood orange. This is the classic Sierra Wave and it is spectacular.

This spectacle of color in the sky is brief and unpredictable, but the colors on the landscape follow an established pattern in time and place that is almost as predictable as the nightfall after the sunset.

Sabrina (Suh-BRY-nah)

The changing colors of the leaves in Fall is a glorious vision and one of the most remarkable places to see it is up near Lake Sabrina (Suh-BRY-nuh).

The origin of this pronunciation is not known. The lake was named after Mrs. Sabrina (suh-BREE-nuh) Hobbs, wife of C.M. Hobbs first General Manager of California Nevada Power Company, which built the dam. When and why the pronunciation morphed to Suh-BRY-nuh in later years is unclear, but nowadays saying it the local way will earn you kudos for sure.

Lake Sabrina marina

Lake Sabrina marina

Paiute and Piute (Pah-Ute)

The name Paiute, pronounced Pah-Ute and most commonly spelled with an a, is the name given to three closely related groups of indigenous peoples of the Great Basin. The first people of this area have a long and deep attachment to the land where, historically, the tribes and bands covered a large swath of the western US in the states that are today Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah. Here in the Owens Valley the Bishop Paiute Tribe is the fifth largest Native American Tribe in California.

Many place names bear the name Paiute and in a few cases the spelling is given as Piute. There is no known reason for the variance, but when in doubt use the more traditional spelling of Paiute. Visit the Owens Valley Paiute Shoshone Cultural Center at 2300 W Line Street, Bishop, for a deeper understanding of the history and culture of the indigenous people of the Owens Valley.

Mono (MOH-noh)

Mono County was named after Mono Lake, which was so named because of the Mono People, a Native American Paiute tribe that historically lived in the area. It is said the name derived from the name given to them by their western neighbors, the Yokuts, who called them monachie, meaning “fly people.” The abundant fly larvae found at the lake was their staple food and article of trade. The words monachie and monoache were shortened to mona and mono of which Mono became the name of people and the lake.

Mono Lake is a large, shallow saline soda lake situated in Mono County, California. This desert lake lies in a closed basin, which allows no outflow of water, resulting in high levels of salt in the water. Even so it has an unusually productive ecosystem revolving around the brine shrimp that thrive in its alkaline waters. Millions of migratory birds feed on these shrimp, as do the blackflies or alkali flies, the larvae of which formed the basis of the diet of the early Mono people. Mono Lake is geographically and historically unique and wonderful.

Say it like no-no, but yes-yes, come and visit. The Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center is located 1/2 mile north of the town of Lee Vining.

Storm cloulds over Mono Lake

Storm clouds over Mono Lake. Photo: John DeRosseau

Lee Vining (Lee Vy-ning)

Named for its founder in 1852, Leroy Vining, whose name is pronounced just like the word for which he founded it – mining. More than 70 years later in 1926 the town was laid out by Chris Mattly and unofficially named ‘Lakeview’. When a post office was needed it was learned that another California town already bore the name Lakeview and in 1953 the town was officially named Lee Vining.

The place was also called Poverty Flat, due its unfavorable agricultural conditions, but tourism is now the major economic driver for the town of Lee Vining. It is situated near the foot of Lee Vining Canyon, which is one of only two ice-climbing venues in California.

The Hill

Mammoth Mountain is a lava dome complex that formed from a series of eruptions between 110,000 and 57,000 years ago. The summit is 11,059 ft above sea level (ASL) and the area is now home to one of the largest ski resorts in California. With a vertical rise of over 3,100 ft Mammoth Mountain is definitely a mountain. The local term of endearment, however, for this beautiful mountain is “the hill.”

If you’re out skiing, snowboarding or cycling on Mammoth Mountain then you’ll be held in high regard if you say, “I’m skiing [riding] the hill.” Better yet post a selfie with your status simply, “On the hill.”

Keough (Key-oh)

Keough's Hot Springs at dusk Photo: John DeRousseau

Keough’s Hot Springs at dusk. Photo: John DeRousseau

Keough’s Hot Springs is a marvelously soothing and fun hot spring resort that was initially founded by Phillip Keough in 1919. An early pioneer to the Eastern Sierra, Keough was a community leader and owner of the City Market in Bishop at that time. He had a vision to create a first class health resort and during its heyday in the 1920s & 30s it was well supported by both locals and visitors. It remains so today under the ownership of the Brown family of Bishop.

The resort harks back to its bygone era with much of the original wooden structure intact. The two pools, a large swimming and a smaller soaking pool, are the original ones built in 1919 and have a constant flow of fresh mineral water. The large pool, which measures 100’ long by 40’ wide, is great for lap swimming or just splashing and floating. The hot pool is kept at an even 104 deg F and is perfect for easing muscles and soaking away stress. Enclosed on all four sides the pools are protected from the desert wind, but open to the sky above and sun bathing is an option almost year-round. The grounds outside have lovely picnic spots and the resort offers lodging, a campground and RV park.

Keough’s was conceived as a place to get away and get close to nature. Almost 100 years later it still delivers on the promise.

Yosemite (Yoh-SEM-it-tee)

Yosemite National Park. Monumental. Awe-inspiring.

The indigenous people who lived in the valley first called it Ahwahnee (Ah-WAH-nee), meaning “big mouth.” This referred to the massive valley opening that resembled a gaping bear’s mouth. Related to the Northern Paiute and Mono tribes the name given to them by a neighboring tribe, the Miwok, was Yohhe’meti (Southern Miwok) or Yos.s.e’meti (Central Miwok), which meant “those who kill.”

In the mid-19th century when gold was discovered in California conflict between white miners and the indigenous people escalated and the United States Army was sent to suppress Native American resistance.

The name Yosemite is credited to Dr. Lafayett Brunell, the company physician attached to the Mariposa Battalion of the US Army under Major Jim Savage. Brunell was so awestruck by the place that he later wrote a book entitled “The Discovery of Yosemite and the Indian War of 1851.”

He wrote that, “an American name would be the most appropriate;” that “I could not see any necessity for going to a foreign country for a name for American scenery—the grandest that had ever yet been looked upon. That it would be better to give it an Indian name than to import a strange and inexpressive one; that the name of the tribe who had occupied it, would be more appropriate than any I had heard suggested.”

It is ironic that this beautiful national park bears the name of the people that the army was sent to evict.

The gaping mouth of Yosemite

The gaping mouth of Yosemite. Photo: Bert Dennison

Bishop

The town was named after Bishop Creek, flowing out of the Sierra Nevada: the creek was named after Samuel Addison Bishop, a settler in the Owens Valley. Today the City of Bishop is the only incorporated city and the largest populated place in Inyo County.

Bishop is surrounded by natural beauty and cultural history, safeguarded for future generations. It is a gateway to outdoor adventure and life changing experiences.

Stop by the Bishop Visitor Center at 690 N Main Street for more information on all that there is to find here.

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1 day ago

We appreciate our local businesses as they are working to #KeepBishopSafe. The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Inyo County continue to climb, so we ask you to please do your part to keep our community safe as well!! Thank you. ❤️ ... See MoreSee Less

We appreciate our local businesses as they are working to #KeepBishopSafe. The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Inyo County continue to climb, so we ask you to please do your part to keep our community safe as well!! Thank you. ❤️

Comment on Facebook We appreciate our ...

Stay safe! I want to visit this fall!

I'm going to keep telling you Bishop just how much I miss you. 💜💜💜😷🐈

Maybe next summer I can come, and I will wear a mask if still needed. Love the High Sierras.

Great job

I'm GOING to visit this fall! I promise myself!

Where is the truck located?

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3 days ago

It’s official...WE LOVE THE FAIR, BUT WE LOVE YOU MORE.

Sad news to our friends and families and riders and destruction derby drivers: The Tri County Fair has officially been cancelled for 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic rages on..... Fortunately, it looks like we are planning a major comeback in 2021 and for many years to come.
... See MoreSee Less

It’s official...

Comment on Facebook WE LOVE THE FAIR, ...

Darn, I was thinking about going there for your fair since ours was cancelled here.😏

Ok, but it will be missed!

. Not in Bollings it is going on this week

Sad, but necessary..

This year sucks!!

It will be back bigger and better, than ever. Stay well. <3

It's the Dems again!

Do sorry,. next year.

What ! Ran out of jobs !

Me too.

A couple more months of stuff like this and there will be Prime real estate in Bishop selling cheap!

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6 days ago

Heading into the weekend dreaming of backcountry lakes... which is your favorite?
#DreamNowVisitLater #KeepBishopSafe
Thank you Instagram user @kimonlhi for this spectacular shot!!
... See MoreSee Less

Heading into the weekend dreaming of backcountry lakes... which is your favorite? 
#DreamNowVisitLater #KeepBishopSafe
Thank you Instagram user @kimonlhi for this spectacular shot!!

Comment on Facebook Heading into the ...

Would have guessed Split Mtn, but have only flown over these mountains twice.

Too many to choose, the higher and more remote the better

Saddle Bag Lake. ❤️

Blue lake! The best, at least I know of~!!!

I need a good-looking tour guide(male) to show me around on my next visit. 😉🐈😷

So beautiful. I miss being up there.

Mt. Aggasisz? I probably butchered that spelling.

Blue Lake

Blue lake❣

Sabrina

Dorothy Lake

Horton Lake

Dorothy and Mildred

Beautiful

I'm guessing the trail to Bishop Pass at Bishop Lakes. :)

Beautiful

Upper Lamarck

Beautiful

That’s beautiful.

Nice 👍

Ruwau Lake, Tyee Lakes, upper Lamark lake, Blue lake, & Little Lakes Valley.

Terra Rankin

Lake.

Johanna Atwell

Any part of Bishop is fine, I JUST WANT TO BE THERE TO ENJOY THIS BEAUTIFUL PLACE! 😀❤️😄💙

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1 week ago

Our friends at Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association welcome everyone to stop by for in-person visitor service plus a great selection of area maps, books and more. They do a great job of helping our guests recreate responsibly!Thanks ESIA for providing helpful information and advice to visitors on responsible recreation in our region! ... See MoreSee Less

Our friends at Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association welcome everyone to stop by for in-person visitor service plus a great selection of area maps, books and more.  They do a great job of helping our guests recreate responsibly!

1 week ago

Community: a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals (Oxford Dictionary)
We are grateful to our COMMUNITY locally and afar, for loving and supporting BISHOP and Inyo County. ❤️

Here is a little glimpse of how our community has pulled together over the past few months:
www.bishopvisitor.com/eastern-sierra-covid-stories/
... See MoreSee Less

Community: a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals (Oxford Dictionary)
We are grateful to our COMMUNITY locally and afar, for loving and supporting BISHOP and Inyo County.  ❤️

Here is a little glimpse of how our community has pulled together over the past few months:
https://www.bishopvisitor.com/eastern-sierra-covid-stories/

Comment on Facebook Community: a feeling...

The community stories are wonderful

The big deal when I was growing up was going to the Tri-County Fair rodeo, taking in a movie, and having dinner...all over Labor Day. Then there were the trips from Mammoth to Bishop to go to the grocery store, topped off by a stop at Schatz for sandwiches and to buy bread. What a wonderful place!!!

Used to watch movies at this theater back in the early 70's. Great memories wonderful town. I visit just about every year and enjoy the old school vibe. My parents started AYSO soccer in Bishop. I used to bicycle down the street as a kid, drop a fishing line and pull out lots of trout.

No Bishop does not need a Walmart mart or another supposed better grocery store. We do not have the people to work them. Plus we have new buildings that weren't supposed to be built and a whole mess of empty buildings. We want to keep it a small town feel.

I was sorry to hear that the JC Penny store closed there. I used to work there when I lived in Cali. I had the most wonderful coworkers and the best boss ever!!! Bishop will live on in my heart forever.

Remember Jill Kenmont👍👍

Great little town Bishop is, leave it alone. My mom graduated from Bishop High school, we went to Bishop many years for Christmas with my Grandparents

I was born in Bishop and moved out around 1990. I've moved all over California since then, and no matter where I moved to I always wanted to go back. Some day... Maybe when my kids are all grown and out of the house I'll take my wife and dogs and move back...

Great town. can't wait to come visit when things calm down. Missed Mule days and our family reunion at the lodge but we will be back

Looking forward to visiting as soon and we can! We love Bishop!

Love Bishop! Just passed thru Monday on the way back from Yosemite!

Bishop is in one of the most beautiful settings on Earth. The eastern Sierra and the Owens Valley will persevere.

I love that Bishop is a smaller town. It part id it s charm for visitors. Needed some items last trip , found them in town and what friendly people !! And you should fit your town , not always for the town to fit you.

3 yrs ago we just started driving , landed in Bishop, stayed several days, just loved that trip, no fish but who cares .... 😍🎣🚗💨💨

best town in California

We believe in Bishop. Stay well. <3

Between 1934 and 1939, I spent some Saturday afternoons watching movies at the theatre in Bishop - think the Hollands owned it then - one of the Holland boys was in my elementary school grade. Best wishes to all.

Bishop is fine the way it is.

Please don't change! I love you the way you are!!

We would like to keep it that way, but there are a lot of people coming into the area now who are leaving their trash on the ground & putting graffiti on any available surface. Do that S... at home, not in our town.

You have no idea how badly I need to visit You Bishop.

Saw it has been 100 degrees up there.

Play my brother Danny scene Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at that theater years and years ago

Lived here in the early 80’s

Soon as possible.

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