California's history is unique. It has been shaped, in part, by its geography. California has four main regions. The temperate coastal region, the Central Valley, once an inland sea, the desert, and the mountain region. The imposing Sierra Nevada caused California to develop in relative isolation from the rest of the nation. After Americans began to settle in California in large numbers during the nineteenth century, it would usually be weeks before news would arrive from the East. Four flags have flown in earnest over California. Russia, Spain, Mexico, and the United States.
2. Overall Dimensions and Characteristics
California’s maximum length is 824 miles, its width is 252 miles. California is third in physical size among the states (after Alaska and Texas). Since the early 1960s it has been the largest state in population.
The contrasts in climate, topography, flora and fauna all contribute to the state’s unique character. California offers the wettest weather and the driest; the hottest recorded temperatures on earth and also the coldest, poor sandy soil in the desert and rich loam in the great Central Valley.; the highest mountain in the USA outside Alaska and the lowest point in the country, only sixty miles distant. The state has more land area, more population and more natural recourses than most nations of the world.
The mountains of California occupy half of the state’s surface. These are richly forested and intersected by the deep canyons of rapidly flowing rivers.
By far the largest mountain system in California the Sierra Nevada is almost 400 miles long and between 50 and 80 miles wide, and therefore larger than the French, Swiss and Italian Alps combined. Its central area is capped by Mount Whitney’s 14496 feet. The Sierra contains about 70 small glaciers of quite recent origin, most of which melt during the summer.; this runoff is a major source of the state’s water supply.
Although the beauty of the landscape attracts many tourists, as for example in Yosemite Valley, vast reaches of wilderness are still available to the seeker of solitude.
Earthquakes large enough to be felt occur almost daily somewhere in the state. Seismographs record the magnitude and location of these. The largest quakes in California’s recorded history included tremors at San Juan Capistrano in 1812 (intensity unknown), Fort Tejon (8.0) in 1857, San Francisco (8.3) in 1906, Santa Barbara (6.3) in 1925, Long Beach (6.3) in 1933, Arvin-Kern County- (7.7) in 1952, and San Fernando (6.6) in 1971.
3. The Name "California"
The name "California" came from a knightly romance book that was published in 1510. It was about an island paradise near the Indies where beautiful Queen Califia ruled over a country of beautiful black Amazons with lots of pearls and gold. Men were only allowed there one day a year to help perpetuate the race. Cortez's men thought they found the island in 1535, because they found pearls. Later, Francisco de Ulloa found that the island was really a peninsula.
4. The Spanish & Russians
The first settlers to arrive in California after the Native Americans were Spanish, and later Mexican. Russia had some small settlements for the purpose of whaling and fur trapping in Northern California, but Russia didn't attempt to colonize the area except in very isolated areas. Spanish priests were sent to California to covert the Indians to Christianity. Spain hoped to make the California native population into good Spaniards, loyal to Spain. Spain was becoming alarmed that the Russians and English were encroaching on lands claimed by Spain.
5. The English
The fight for California began almost 500 years ago with Queen Elizabeth I. She sent Sir Francis Drake to harass and raid the Spanish galleons. England was beginning to realize the value of California. England did not want Spain claiming more land in the new world, upsetting the balance of power between the super powers of the time. Tensions were already high between Spain and England. Henry VIII, Elizabeth's father, had divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, a Spanish princess. In order to accomplish the divorce, England severed ties with Catholicism and Henry had instituted Protestantism as the State religion. Henry and Jane Seymore's son had assumed the throne after Henry's death and continued Henry's policies. But when Edward the IV died at the age of 16, Mary I came to the throne. She was the daughter of Henry and his first wife, Catherine. Her ties to both Spain and Catholicism were strong. Elizabeth was suspected of plotting to overthrow Mary and was imprisoned in the Tower. After "bloody Mary" died and Elizabeth I became monarch, the power struggle between Catholics and Protestants did not end. Eventually, Elizabeth had Mary, Queen of Scots, executed for treason. Mary was her greatest threat to the throne since Mary claimed it as her right by way of England's ties with the French throne. Even though Mary had abdicated her rights, she still remained a threat to Elizabeth since Spain and France could use Mary as a cause to move against England. With the death of Mary Queen of Scots, England had secured Protestantism and Elizabeth's reign, but was short on allies. In order to build new European allies, England had to remain a power to be reckoned with. Spanish settlement along the west coast of North America could bolster Spanish power. This was the last thing England wanted.
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