California Facts

California is the most populous of all U.S. states, and it is a state of contrasts. California has great sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, high mountains, barren deserts, and redwood forests. The state offers vast and highly reputed vineyards in its northern regions, it has all the glitter in Beverly Hills and Hollywood, and its impressive ranches and farms that can be found all across the state.

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California combines San Francisco’s Old World charm with the pretty unusual lifestyle of a lot of people in Los Angeles, and all these contrasts make the state a true one-of-a-kind region of the country. The state is number one in agriculture, number one in manufacturing, and it boasts a few of the biggest cities in North America.

California has four key regions, the coastal region  (which stretches from Oregon to Mexico), the Central Valley area (between the Sierra Nevada and the Coast Ranges), the deserts (Mojave Desert, Colorado Desert, and the Great Basin Desert), and the mountain region (the Sierra Nevada and the Coast Ranges).

The high Sierra Nevada region made that California developed in some sort of isolation from the other portions of America. Settlers from the eastern states came to California in the 19th century, but it could take weeks for them to get there, and over the years, no less than four flags have flown over the state, the Russian, Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. flags.

The name ‘California’ is derived from beautiful Queen Califia, a persona in a 1510 romantic book who was ruling over an island paradise with a lot of gold and pearls. Men could only come to visit the island’s black amazons on one day every year to help perpetuate the island’s race. When explorer Cortez and his men discovered the area in 1535, they thought they found the island because of the pearls they found. Explorer Francisco de Ulloa found later, though, that what they thought was an island was a peninsula in reality.

The first European settlers were the Spanish, later followed by the Mexicans, and in Northern California, the Russians had set up a few small posts for fur trappers and whalers, but they never really attempted to colonize the region. The Spanish sent priests over to convert the native population to Christianity and to make them loyal to Spain, but the English were also claiming lands under Spain’s control. Some 500 years ago, Queen Elizabeth I of England sent Sir Francis Drake to deal with the Spanish galleons, as England started to see the importance of California. England was not accepting that the Spanish would claim more territory in the new world.

Some two hundred years later, Spain set up more missions to function as trading posts to help its galleons and to convert the Indian population. England was no longer a major threat because the American Colonists were busy driving the English out of the New World, but the Spanish settlers in the area of New Spain (soon to become Mexican territory) were also an increasing problem for Spain.

Spanish-born settlers formed an elite compared to those born in New Spain, and Spanish trade restrictions (the settlers could only trade with Spain) made that Spain got driven from the region just like the English were in the Northeast. The native population was treated harshly and Indian uprisings occurred more and more. This ‘mission period’ was lasting just for some sixty years, and most missions were abandoned and later became state property. The majority of the Southern California missions were destroyed by a big 1812 earthquake but most have since been rebuilt and are now key historical sites.

Around the mid-1800s, the Gold Rush transformed California to statehood, though getting there was quite a challenge. The Rockies and the Sierras were hard to cross and winters come very early, and many lost their lives. Those who could afford it, came by ship, but these settlers had to travel all the way around South America, and also these passages were risky, so some got off ship in Panama to travel west over land and sail all the way up North to California, but many died of tropical diseases.

When in 1848, gold was found at Sutter’s Mill, many people from across the globe came to California’s gold fields. The Gold Rush devastated the Native population and entire native tribes were destroyed. In 1850, on September 9th, California became the 31st U.S. state, and the railroad later contributed greatly to the region’s development.

California’s rich Central Valley became famous as the ‘world’s breadbasket’. The state’s mild climate made year-round farming possible, and some vegetables and fruits that would hardly grow anywhere did very well in California. The region saw many Chinese immigrants who, though they were met with a lot of prejudice, did very well, and they grew fruits and vegetables that were important in their diets.

The railroads could now carry California produce right to the eastern regions. The exotic produce was very popular in the East, and many ‘ice cars’ (today’s refrigerated cars’ precursors) transported it eastwards. Agriculture generated great wealth in California, and today, it is still one of the state’s major industries.

If John Muir, the famous naturalist, would still have been alive today, he definitely would have been convinced of his expression that California is one of his best-favored spots on earth. Tens of millions of visitors couldn’t have agreed more, and despite natural disasters such as earthquakes, hardly anything has reduced that sentiment.

Quick Facts about California

– California is America’s most populous state.
– The world’s longest landlocked harbor, San Francisco Bay.
– Lowest Western Hemisphere point at Death Valley, 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level.
– Hottest temperature recorded in the U.S. at Death Valley, 134* F (56*C).
– Six life zones, more than anywhere else in the U.S.
– It holds the world’s best fertile valley.
– The state has more national sites than anywhere else in the U.S.
– Biggest living tree, the Gen. Sherman tree (Sequoia National Park). Its trunk is 101.6 feet (30.9 meters) in circumference.
– The nation’s oldest living item (a Bristlecone pine in Inyo National Forest). It is around 4,600 years of age.

California brief history

Early 1540’s: early European explorers find 9 major tribes. Hernando de Alarcon set foot on Californian soil at the Colorado River.

– In 1579, Sir Francis Drake has explored the California coast and claimed the region for Queen Elizabeth of England.

– In 1769, the mission of San Diego was founded by Father Junipero Serra and  Gasser de Porto.

– 1776: the city of San Francisco was founded.

– in 1781, the sleepy El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula, the later city of Los Angeles, was founded.

– At the California missions, the settlers tried to Christianize the Indians of which some were treated harshly.

– The year 1812: Russia founded Fort Ross which became important to the nation’s fur trade in Alaska.

– In the year 1825, Mexico annexed California with Monterey as its capital.

– 1841: on November 4 of that year, for the first time a wagon train came from Missouri to California to arrive in the San Joaquin Valley.

In the year 1818, the city of Monterey was taken over for just a week by a French pirate named Hippolyte de Bouchard. This villain had earlier served in the navy of the Buenos Aires Republic, so in a way, you could say that California was occupied by the Argentines at a certain time.

Naturalist John Muir wrote:
…. This is one of my best favored spots on earth…

Industrialist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Sr. wrote:
…. Whow! California is definitely worth the expense of a journey across the continent….