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Redwood Tree Forest, California

North America

California is a state located on the west coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous state in the U.S., as well as the most physically diverse, with the highest and the lowest points in the lower 48 states located within 150 miles of each other. If California were an independent nation, it would have the sixth largest economy in the world (after the rest of the U.S., Japan, Germany, Britain and France;). The state's official nickname is "The Golden State" in reference to California's 1849 Gold Rush. California's U.S. postal abbreviation is CA, and its Associated Press abbreviation is Calif. As one of the most demographically diverse states in the nation, California is a dominant force in American culture as well as the nation's economy. It has some of the nation's largest cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco, and is responsible for many legal and technological innovations.

The entire region originally known as California was composed of the Mexican peninsula now known as Baja California and much of the land in the current states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Wyoming, known as Alta California. In these early times, the boundaries of the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific coast were only partially explored and California was shown on early maps as an island. The name comes from Las sergas de Esplandian (Adventures of Splandian), a 16th century novel, by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, where there is an island paradise called California.
Background Information
The first European to explore parts of the coast was the Portuguese Joâo Rodrigues Cabrilho in 1542. The first to explore the entire coast and claim possession of it was Francis Drake in 1579. Beginning in the late 1700s, Spanish missionaries set up tiny settlements on enormous grants of land in the vast territory north of Baja California. The missions played a dominant role in the decimation of California's indigenous population. Upon Mexican independence from Spain, the chain of missions became the property of the Mexican government, and they were quickly dissolved and abandoned. In 1846, at the outset of the Mexican-American War, the California Republic was founded and the Bear Flag was flown, which featured a golden bear and a star. The Republic came to a sudden end, however, when Commodore John D. Sloat of the United States Navy sailed into San Francisco Bay and claimed California for the United States. Following the war, the region was divided between Mexico and the United States. The Mexican portion, Baja (lower) California was later divided into the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur. The western part of the U.S. portion, Alta (upper) California, was to become the state of California.

In 1848, the Spanish-speaking population of distant upper California numbered around 4,000. But after gold was discovered, the population burgeoned with Americans and a few Europeans in the great California gold rush. In 1850, the state was admitted to the Union of the USA.
Different regions of California have very different climates, depending on their latitude, elevation, and proximity to the coast. Most of the state has a Mediterranean climate, with rainy winters and dry summers. The influence of the ocean generally moderates temperature extremes, creating warmer winters and substantially cooler summers, and the cold oceanic California Current offshore often creates summer fog near the coast. As one moves away from the coast, the climate becomes more continental, with colder winters and markedly hotter summers. The temperature gradient between immediate coast and low-lying inland valleys in the north is about 7 °F (4 °C) in winter, coast being warmer, and in summer roughly 25 °F (14 °C) but opposite. In the south, the figures are approximately 4 and 23 °F (2 °C and 13 °C), respectively; however 4 °F and 35 °F (2 °C and 20 °C) between Santa Barbara and Death Valley.

Westerly winds from the ocean also bring moisture, and the northern parts of the state generally receive higher rainfall than the south. California's mountain ranges influence the climate as well: moisture-laden air from the west cools as it ascends the mountains, dropping moisture; some of the rainiest parts of the state are west-facing mountain slopes. Northwestern California has a temperate climate with rainfall of 15-40 inches (400-1000 mm) per year. The Central Valley has a Mediterranean climate, but with greater temperature extremes than the coastal areas; parts of the valley are often filled with thick fog, similar to that found in the coastal valleys. The high mountains, including the Sierra Nevada, have a mountain climate with snow in winter and mild to moderate heat in summer.

On the east side of the mountains is a drier "rain shadow." California's desert climate regions lie east of the high Sierra Nevada and southern California's Transverse Ranges and Peninsular Ranges. The low deserts east of the southern California mountains, including the Imperial and Coachella valleys and the lower Colorado River, are part of the Sonoran Desert, with hot summers and mild winters; the higher elevation deserts of eastern California, including the Mojave Desert, Owens Valley, and the Modoc Plateau, are part of the Great Basin region, with hot summers and cold winters.

Death Valley, in the northern portion of the Mojave Desert on the east side of the state, is the hottest spot on the Western Hemisphere, with high temperatures over 120 °F common in the summer. The highest temperature in the Western Hemisphere, 134 °F (56.6 °C), was recorded in Death Valley on July 10, 1913. Temperatures of 130 °F or higher have been recorded as recently as 2005. The 24-hour average July temperature in Death Valley is 101 °F (38 °C) (1961--1990 standard).
Alcatraz, San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Map of California