California is not the promised land, but it sure has fooled a lot of people into thinking that it is. Gold-rush prospectors and dust-bowl refugees all looked on the state as a paradise where their dreams would come true. Unfortunately, most of them didn’t find the Garden of Eden when they crossed the state line.

California is full of contrasts and extremes snowcapped peaks are visible from arid deserts where the temperature can exceed 120 F, and the highest point in the Continental United State is just 80 miles from the lowest. Fertile valleys are nestled beneath rugged mountains and grapevines cover the hillsides. The mountains of California support the world’s heaviest, tallest and oldest trees, and have the sixth and seventh highest waterfalls.

A Map of California, USA

The south and southeast is desert country. Not far from the sprawling mass of Los Angeles the land becomes low, flat and sparsely populated a sandy expanse spanning hundreds of miles, split only by occasional barren ridges. The far southeast, beyond Palm Springs is part of the vast Sonoran Desert, which extends across south Arizona and into Mexico. This desert has the least rainfall and the highest temperatures of the American deserts. A large irrigation system, using water from the Colorado River has enabled this part of California to be farmed quite extensively.

Northern California is generally more mountainous. Most of the far north is part of the Cascade range that stretches northwards to Canada and contains many volcanoes in various stages of dormancy. This area still has many active features the main peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park erupted as recently as 1915. And on Mount Shasta, another dormant volcano, several glaciers are continuously moving.

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