California: The Golden State
Geography and Industry
California is so big that it could practically be a country on its own. It's true! Even though it's not the largest state in the Union (Alaska and Texas are larger), it is the third-largest area-wise, and it does have the largest population of any state. What's more, if California were an independent country, this state's economy is so huge that it would be listed among the ten largest economies among the nations of the world!
California occupies 800 miles along the American Pacific coast, which is over half of America's western coastline. It is long and thin, measuring around 250 miles wide, and bordered on the east by the mighty Sierra Nevada Mountains in the northeast and the Colorado River in the southeast.
In many ways California is one huge valley. Bordered in the east by the Sierra Nevada, its west coast is covered by a long range of low-lying mountains known as the Coast Range. Running for hundreds of miles along the central part of the state in between these two mountain ranges is the Central Valley. Two large river systems, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, run through this valley and provide water for one of the most fertile areas in the world.
Although other states are known mostly as farming states, none produces more fruits and vegetables than California. California grows more almonds, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, onions, strawberries, and tomatoes than any other state. It also leads the country in dairy products. So more milk, cheese, and eggs come from California than from anywhere else in the nation! Cotton, grapes, flowers, and oranges are other important crops grown in California.
California doesn't just lead the country in food production, though. It has a lot of high-tech industry in the state, especially in the north, where part of the San Francisco Bay area is known as Silicon Valley because of all of the computer parts it produces (silicon is a mineral used in making computers). It is also a leading manufacturer of everything from appliances and car parts to airplane parts. During World War II, southern California's manufacturing industry blossomed because of defense contracts to build planes, tanks, jeeps, cars, and so on for the American forces fighting in the war.
ALL ABOUT California
LARGEST CITY: Los Angeles
POPULATION: 33,871,648 (2000 Census)
STATE BIRD: California Valley Quail
STATE TREE: California Redwood
STATE FLOWER: Golden Poppy
STATE MOTTO: “Eureka (I Have Found It).”
STATEHOOD: September 9, 1850
POSTAL ABBREVIATION: CA
Before the arrival of the Spanish in the mid-sixteenth century, there were many Native Americans living in California's mild climate. These groups weren't really tribes, but small family groups. These people were skilled basket weavers, and their art survives down to the present day. Most of them spoke dialects of Native American languages such as Chu-mash, Coastanoan, and Digueno.
The Spanish claimed all of the North American west coast, and explored it far north of what is now California during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. They finally began to colonize north of Mexico, moving into what is now San Diego in the province they called Alta California (upper California) to differentiate it from the established province of Baja California (lower California) in the year 1769.
The Spanish set up a mission system that allowed the Catholic Church to hold the land of the local Native Americans “in trust,” and cultivate it, using the Native Americans themselves as their labor. So these Mission Indians (as they came to be known) had their land taken from them, and then they were herded into the mission settlements and forced to work the very land that was stolen from them for no pay!
After Mexico declared independence from Spain, the Mexican government seized the mission lands and freed the Mission Indians from their slavery. But the Mexican period in Alta California did not last long. Even before Mexico lost California at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, Americans had begun to immigrate to California in droves.
During the Mexican War, a young army captain sent west to map the American possessions in the Rockies led his exploring expedition to northern California in order to see what good he could do for his country there. His name was John C. Fremont, and he succeeded in stirring up American settlers (as well as many Californians of Mexican descent), resulting in the Bear Flag Revolt. The Americans and many Californios (Californians of Mexican descent) threw out the occupying Mexican troops. A republic was formed just long enough to vote to join the United States. California became a free state (a state where slavery was outlawed) in 1850.
One of the reasons why there were enough Americans living in California for it to become a state in 1850 was that gold had been discovered in northern California at a place called Sutter's Fort. The people who crossed the continent intending to get rich quickly in California became known as Forty Niners because the California Gold Rush began in 1849.
THE HIGH AND THE LOW OF IT
Did you know that both the highest and the lowest points in the continental United States are in California? Mount Whitney, which measures 14,494 feet, is less than ninety miles from Death Valley, which is the lowest point at 282 feet below sea level. Death Valley has also had the highest recorded temperature in the United States at 134 degrees Fahrenheit in 1913!