Being the third largest state, California covers 158,693 square miles along the Pacific coast of the United States. Alternating mountain ranges and valleys dominate the landscape beginning with the moderate coastal range and climaxing at the Sierra Nevada range along the eastern part of the state. Much of the Sierra Nevadas lie above 10,000 feet in elevation and Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental U. S., reaches 14,494 feet above sea level.
Great forests cover most of northern California and the Sierra Nevadas including the famous Redwood and Sequoia forests. Southern California tends to be mostly dry and includes Death Valley, one of the most famous desert areas of the United States. The coastal areas of California are famous for their mild climate and warm winters.
Eight national parks are located in California: Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, the Redwoods, Lassen Volcanic Park, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, and the Channel Islands. The variety of these parks is representative of the variety of the state. Yosemite and Kings Canyon preserve spectacular canyons and mountains of the Sierra Nevadas. Redwood and Sequoia National Parks were established to protect irreplaceable forests of the oldest and tallest trees in the world. The Death Valley and Joshua Tree parks are isolated desert preserves, including the lowest and hottest place in America. Lassen Volcanic Park contains what was the only active volcano in the continental United States until the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens. The Channel Islands harbor a isolated wilderness area close to the population centers of southern California.
In the mid 1800s a great western migration occurred. The cities of the eastern states were growing crowded and the good land was claimed. Out west there were new opportunities. Tens of thousands of pioneers trekked across the rugged trails to Oregon and California. When gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill on January 24th, 1848, thousands of prospectors and miners joined the migration. California was admitted to the union on September 9, 1850 as the 31st state. As of the year 2000, 33,871,648 people live in California.
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See Wikipedia's California page.