Alturas is located on the Pit River, east of the center of Modoc County, at an elevation of 4370 feet (1332 m). As the county seat, the town is a home to regional government offices, including a California Highway Patrol office and a state Department of Motor Vehicles office.
Main Street in 1975
Alturas now occupies what was initially an Achumawi (Pit River) village known as Kosealekte or Kasalektawi. The city was initially known as Dorris Bridge (or Dorris' Bridge), named after Pressley and James Dorris, who built a bridge across the Pit River at this location.
The Dorris Bridge post office opened in 1871, renamed Dorrisville in 1874, and in 1876, was renamed Alturas, which is Spanish for "heights".The census of 1880 showed a population of 148. However, settlement continued over the next two decades, until the city was officially incorporated on September 16, 1901; the county's only incorporated city. Because of its central location, Dorrisville became the county seat when Modoc County formed in 1874, even though both Adin and Cedarville were then larger towns.