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California Geography
A Brief Overview of the Geography of the Golden State 

California Geography


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California is a land a tremendous geographic diversity. It has over 1200 miles of coast line, and two of the continent's most protected bays, San Francisco and San Diego. It is home to numerous rugged mountain ranges. The Sierra Nevada, which runs for 400 miles, forms the backbone of the State. Formed from a single batholith, and still steadily rising, the Sierra contains the highest point in the lower 48 states: Mt. Whitney, which rises to 14,494 feet. North of the Sierra Nevada lie the Cascade Mountains, formed in a flourish of volcanic activity and containing two active volcanoes, Mt. Lassen, which exploded in 1916, and Mount Shasta. In the northwest portion of the State loom the Klamath Mountains, formed at the same time, and in the same manner as the Sierra, and cut by several swift flowing rivers, including the Trinity, Smith and Klamath. Running parallel to the sea are the Coastal Ranges, lower mountains whose highest peak is Mt. Diablo at 3849 feet. The Transverse Range, one of the few mountain ranges in North America to run in an east west direction, forms an effective boundary between Northern and Southern California, and provides the mountainous backdrop that can be seen on clear days behind Los Angeles. The Peninsular Ranges come up from Baja California, and divide Southern California into two sections, the arid west and the desert east.

At the heart of the state, surrounded by the Sierra, Coastal Ranges, Cascades and Transverse ranges, is the Central Valley, 500 miles long and 60 miles wide. Once an inland extension of the Pacific Ocean, the Central Valley slowly filled with thousands of feet of sediments washed from the Sierra, creating the rich agricultural center it is today. The Central Valley receives the drainage from the state's two major river systems, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, which converge to form an extensive delta.

California is home to three major regions of desert. In the Northeast corner of the state lies the Modoc Plateau, a wasteland of former lava flows, part of the Great Basin. The Great Basin also extends out of Nevada into the eastern edge of California, and contains Death Valley, which is nestled between the Sierra and the White/Inyo Ranges. Death Valley contains the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. The Mojave Desert, in Southern California, is a high desert, having an average elevation of 3500 feet. In the southwestern corner of the state lies the low Colorado Desert, extending out of the Salton Trough, which cuts 235 feet below sea level. At the center of the Salton Trough lies the Salton Sea, known before 1905 as the Salton Sink. That year a dike on a canal transporting irrigation water from the Colorado River burst, filling the sink with water before the flow was finally stopped two years later. Since then, irrigation runoff has maintained the shallow sea, which is 83 feet deep, 30 miles long and 14 miles wide.



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