The Magnificent Sierra

It was the obstacle that the California-bound pioneers feared the most: crossing the formidable Sierra Nevada. Stretching from just below Lassen Peak in the north to Tehachapi Pass in the south, the Sierra is a single mountain range about 400 miles long, varying in width from 40 to 80 miles. Except for the angle of the state of Continue reading The Magnificent Sierra

Tragedy in Death Valley

In October 1849, more than 100 wagons left the Salt Lake City region opting to take the Old Spanish Trail to the pueblo of Los Angeles, and from there north to the gold fields. For some of them, their journey became a saga of adversity, loss, extreme hardship, and sheer grit. Twenty-seven wagons unwisely took a Continue reading Tragedy in Death Valley

Whitney Conquered August 1873

Because Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the contiguous United States, scores of mountaineers have made it their goal to reach its 14,505-foot summit since its official discovery in 1864. But who was the first to stand on its lofty heights? It gets complicated. Geologist Clarence King thought he was the first, in June 1871. Two years later—to his shock and embarrassment—King learned that his ascent had not been on Mt. Whitney at all, but on another peak entirely. King at last stood on the summit of the true Mt. Whitney on September 19, 1873, where, to his further chagrin, he found a monument and documents left by two preceding parties. Months of claims, counterclaims, and accusations by contenders for first place scorched the pages of the local newspaper, the Inyo Independent. When at last the controversy was sorted out, the honor went to Charley Begole, Johnny Lucas, and Al Johnson (three men on a fishing and recreational excursion)  who attained the summit of Mt. Whitney at noon on August 18, 1873, having climbed the wrong mountain themselves the day before. In October 1873, the famous environmentalist John Muir ascended the peak, his first of several climbs. The first woman to succeed in climbing Mt. Whitney was Anna Mills, in 1878. The first recorded death on Whitney was that of Byrd Surby, a United States Bureau of Fisheries employee who was struck by lightning while eating lunch on the summit in July 1904. Named for Josiah Dwight Whitney, California’s first appointed State Geologist, Mount Whitney lies on the boundary between Inyo and Tulare Counties.

Settling California’s Borders

California Nevada mapCalifornia’s southern border was resolved by treaty in 1848 after the Mexican-American War, but until 1849 its northern limits stretched into Oregon Territory and its eastern boundary extended somewhat vaguely into present day Utah. That year the pre-statehood Constitutional Convention at Monterey set the Continue reading Settling California’s Borders

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 Continue reading Geographic Extremes