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California’s Inyo County is home to the highest point in the lower 48, Mount Whitney. This Sierra Nevada peak is just five feet short of measuring 14,500 feet above sea level. Less than 100 miles to the southeast, still in Inyo County, is Death Valley. This depression’s deepest point (near Badwater) lies some 282 feet below sea level. This is the lowest point not just in the 48 contiguous states, but in the whole North American continent.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition from 1804-1806 was the first scientific reconnaissance of the Rocky Mountains. Specimens were collected for contemporary botanists, zoologists, and geologists. The expedition was said to have paved the way to (and through) the Rocky Mountains for European-Americans from the East, although Lewis and Clark met at least 11 European-American mountain men during their travels. Mountain men, primarily French, Spanish, and British, began roaming the Rocky Mountains in 1720. After 1802, American fur traders and explorers ushered in the first widespread Caucasian presence in the Rockies south of the 49th parallel.

The Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado—with a group of soldiers, missionaries, and African slaves—marched into the Rocky Mountain region from the south in 1540. (almost, 300 years before Lewis & Clark)

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