California, the third largest state in the Union, has a total area of 423,971 sq km (163,696 sq mi), including 6,926 sq km (2,674 sq mi) of inland water and 575 sq km (222 sq mi) of coastal waters over which it has jurisdiction. The state is roughly rectangular in shape, although the southern two-thirds bends in a dogleg toward the east. It has a maximum distance north to south of 1,052 km (654 mi) and an east-to-west extent of 945 km (587 mi), although even locations along the state’s eastern border are less than 350 km (220 mi) from the ocean. California’s mean elevation is about 880 m (2,900 ft).
Much of California lies in a geologically unstable area, crisscrossed by fault, or fracture, lines in the Earth’s crust. The great San Andreas Fault extends for 1,000 km (600 mi) northwestward from the Imperial Valley to Point Arena and out to sea. This fault line has caused several notable earthquakes in the recorded history of California. The most widely publicized was that of April 18, 1906, which resulted in the destruction of central San Francisco. Although major earthquakes are rare, landslides, mudflows, minor tremors, and cracks in the ground occur regularly.
California lies within four major natural regions, or physiographic provinces. They are the Pacific Border province, the Sierra-Cascade province, the Basin and Range province, and the Lower Californian province. The Pacific Border province, also called the Coastal Uplands, extends nearly the entire length of western California. It can be subdivided into four sections, the Klamath Mountains, the Coast Ranges, the Transverse Ranges, and the Great Central Valley.
The Klamath Mountains, partly in Oregon, occupy the northwestern corner of California. They include a number of separate ranges, such as the Salmon and Trinity mountains, and form a rugged forested area that rises to 2,700 m (9,000 ft). The Coast Ranges parallel the Pacific Coast in a complex series of ridges and valleys. The only major low-lying pass through the ranges is formed by San Francisco Bay and its tributary bays, as they carry the waters of California’s largest river, the Sacramento, into the Pacific Ocean at the Golden Gate.
The principal range is the Diablo Range, which flanks the Central Valley and rises to 1,500 m (5,000 ft) above sea level. Between the interior Diablo Range and the coastal Santa Lucia Range lies the long Salinas valley.
The Transverse Ranges, so named because they run transverse or perpendicular (west to east) to the north-south oriented Coast Ranges, extend from Point Conception, on the coast, roughly eastward to the Mojave Desert. These generally narrow ranges increase in elevation toward the east, where Mount San Gorgonio in the San Bernardino Mountains rises to 3,505 m (11,499 ft) above sea level. The Transverse Ranges partly enclose low but often hilly Los Angeles and its suburbs. The Great Central Valley is a vast structural depression that extends from northwest to southeast for 640 km (400 mi), with an average width of 80 km (50 mi). The valley is surrounded by mountain ranges that rise steeply from the valley floor on the west and more gently on the east.
The Central Valley, with its flat land and rich alluvial soils, is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. The northern part of the valley is called the Sacramento Valley, and the southern part is called the San Joaquin Valley. The Sierra-Cascade province is, in California, a vast upland area that extends from Oregon to the Transverse Ranges. It is subdivided into two sections, the southern Cascade Range and the Sierra Nevada. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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