Geographic Extremes

california relief mapCalifornia is the third largest of the fifty states; only Alaska and Texas are larger. Its boundaries contain 163,707 square miles, of which 7,734 square miles are covered by water. Its odd shape permits its northern port city of Eureka to be the most westward city in the United States, while San Diego lies farther east than Reno, Nevada. In no other state are there so many variations in topography. Death Valley, the lowest area on the continent, is only 60 miles from Mt. Whitney, the second highest peak in the nation. California’s vast size and geography both contributed to its historical development.  Located on the very periphery of Spain’s holdings in the New World circa 1520, access to it was hindered by the often volatile Pacific Ocean and miles of arid wasteland to the east—difficulties not experienced to the same extent when Spain colonized present-day Texas or New Mexico. For the 16th Century Spaniards and natives living in Mexico, traveling to Upper California was tantamount to getting to the moon. When at last Imperial Spain could no longer postpone settling the region or risk losing it, King Carlos dispatched Franciscan padres who established 21 missions. The irony is that when gold was discovered in California during American occupation, men from around the world endured every hazard and privation just to get there in a hurry.