California, Physical description (Hayward)

John Hayward, Gazetteer of the United States of America… (Philadelphia: James L. Gihon, 1854), 29-34.
Boundaries and Extent. — By the constitution, adopted by the people in November, 1849, and by the act of Congress consequent thereon, the limits of California are established as follows: commencing at latitude 42° north, and longitude 120° west; thence running south on said line of longitude until it intersects the 39th degree of north latitude; thence in a direct course south-easterly to the River Colorado; thence down the channel of said river to the boundary between Mexico and the United States; thence along said boundary to the Pacific Ocean, and into the same three English miles; thence north-westerly, in the direction of the Pacific coast, to the original parallel of 42°; and, finally, along this line to the point of beginning. It lies between 32° and 49° north latitude; and its extremes of longitude, owing to its angular position, embrace an extent of about 10°, — its eastern point being at 114° 30', and the western at 124° 30', — although the average distance of the eastern boundary from the sea-coast, and, consequently, the average breadth of the state, is but 212 miles. Its length from north to south is 764 miles; estimated area, 188,500 square miles. It is bounded north by the Territory of Oregon, east by that of Utah, south by Lower California, and west by the Pacific Ocean.

Surface, Soil, &c. — The face of the country presents, perhaps, a greater variety of topographical features than may be found in any one territory of like magnitude upon the whole earth. Several ranges of huge and lofty mountains —many of their peaks of volcanic origin, ascending into the region of perpetual snow — extend through the central parts, and parallel with the sea-coast of the state, from its northern nearly to its southern extremity. On the coast side of these ridges, as well as between them, the surface is greatly diversified, presenting many varieties of soil, thin and sandy in some localities, but in others abounding in the richest loam. Among the hilly regions, there are numerous valleys and plateaus, of different elevations, covered with a soil of good quality, which, wherever duly watered, is capable of being rendered highly productive. But these are frequently interspersed with large tracts of rough, broken, and apparently sterile territory, or intersected by deep and rocky ravines. Until within a very short period, the entire country, with the exception of a few widely separated spots, exhibited all the harsh and rugged characteristics of a yet unredeemed wilderness.

The elevated lands, at certain seasons, are usually either denuded of vegetation, or partially overspread with stunted trees and herbage. But in places that are sheltered, and having facilities for irrigation, fruits and garden vegetables grow luxuriantly. Though few agricultural experiments on a large scale have yet been made, enough has been ascertained to show that the resources of the state, in this respect, may be advantageously developed. Indeed, it is known that most of the cereal grains can be produced in quantities abundantly adequate to the wants of a numerous population. In most parts of the country, the vine, fig, olive, and other valuable plants, both of the temperate and torrid zones, may be cultivated with great success. Springs of water abound in many districts; while in others, the earth, for leagues together, exposes a naked and arid surface, which is only relieved by the periodical rains. Some few extensive forests, comprising, occasionally, trees of enormous magnitude, were met with by recent United States exploring parties ; but large portions of the territory are very scantily wooded. This absence of trees, and the consequent want of moisture, and of shelter to the earth from the sun's heat, is doubtless a grand obstacle in the way of agricultural improvement; and years will probably elapse before any great measure of public attention will be directed to the subject. Among the forest-trees most common in California are the oak, ash, beech, birch, elm, plane, red cedar, and pine of almost every description. These abound more profusely near the Pacific shore, and in the vicinity of rivers communicating with that ocean, thus affording excellent opportunities for ship-building.*
* Timber is scattered over several counties, and is quite abundant around Bodaga, San Rafael, Sonoma, Santa Cruz, and a few other localities. The red wood, or soft cedar, is most frequently met with in those quarters. It often grows to the circumference of forty feet, and to a height of three hundred. Near Santa Cruz, there is one measuring seventeen feet in diameter.

Climate. — There is nearly, if not quite, as great a diversity of climate in California as of its geological features. The coast and its neighborhood are enveloped in cold mists, borne on the north-west winds, which prevail during most of the summer or dry season, with occasional intervals of more pleasant weather. At San Francisco, although the temperature frequently varies some 30° in a single day, it is said that the mean temperature, in both winter and summer, is nearly equal. Other positions on the coast are more or less affected by the chilly winds and fogs from the point above indicated, in proportion to their relative geographical situations, the line of coast at the southern part of the state being less directly influenced by those-causes than that at the northern. In the winter, or rainy season, the prevailing winds are from the south-west, rendering the temperature much milder than in the same latitudes on the Atlantic side of the continent. Farther inland, beyond the first range of mountains, the climate assumes a very different phase. The sea winds of the spring, summer, and early- autumn, having deposited their freight of moisture upon the summits of the intercepting highlands, (the "Cordilleras of California,") pass gently into the great valley of the Sacramento, carrying a grateful softness, with scarcely a remaining vapor to obscure the brightness of the skies. Proceeding still onward in an easterly direction, these prevailing winds climb the flanks of the lofty Sierra Nevada, and, on reaching its elevated peaks, are deprived by condensation of all watery particles that may yet linger among them. Thence they pass down into the broad basin, spreading eastward to an immense extent, with occasional mountainous interruptions. Here another change of climate is perceptible; the air is exceedingly dry and hot throughout more than half the year, and the earth suffers accordingly. These variations occur sometimes within the distance of a few miles, corresponding generally with the abrupt changes observable upon the face of the country. A most delightful climate pervades the numerous valleys on the land side of the mountains, where they are protected from the rude ocean blasts. Near the western border of the Sacramento valley, the extremes of temperature, between winter and summer, are very great, comprehending some 80° Fahrenheit, viz., from 30° to 110°. A degree of heat almost as excessive as the last indicated is often felt in various parts of the mountain region; but this is here so peculiarly modified as to produce none of those injurious effects upon animal life which result from similar temperatures elsewhere. The rainy season, sometimes termed the winter, commences at the north in October or November, and progresses slowly to the south, reaching the centre of the state in December, and the southern boundary in January. The season has an average duration of about three months, but is longer and more pluvious at the north than at the south. The effect of all these atmospheric mutations upon human health must naturally be diverse, and not always congenial. The subject, however, has not yet been sufficiently investigated and analyzed to enable one to treat with accuracy upon the relations between those phenomena and the diseases incident to the localities where they respectively exist. That great scourge of modern times, the cholera, has visited some of the most populous settlements in the state; and other epidemics occur at different seasons, similar in character to those which visit other parts of the world exposed to like vicissitudes and agencies.

— The waters of California partake of those varied peculiarities which mark its terrene surface and its atmospheric properties. The sea and its numerous contiguous bays and estuaries, the inland lakes, the rivers and their countless tributaries, are all subjects of speculative interest. They yield abundantly almost every description of fish found in like latitudes, besides many kinds which are either unknown or not common in other regions. Some of the rivers are navigable many miles from their mouths; others flow over precipices and ledges, constituting falls or rapids, which the industry of man may hereafter convert into valuable mill sites. The sea-shores are prolific in marine plants, which, at some future day, will doubtless be applied to useful purposes. Immense quantities of kelp are thrown up by the waves — an article that now forms the most available material for the manufacture of iodine, and is also excellent as a compost for arid soils, like those of this state. Lichens, in all their variety, spring profusely from the rocky strand along its entire extent, which, like the mosses of Iceland, arid the carrageen of Ireland, will undoubtedly, in due time, be much prized for their nutritive and medical properties. The coasts and inland watercourses swarm with wild fowl, some of which resemble the aquatic birds found on the eastern shores of the continent, and others seem peculiar to the tracts which they inhabit. The principal rivers, communicating with the Pacific, are the Sacramento and San Joaquin. These flow through almost the whole length of the great valley between the Sierra Nevada and the coast range of mountains, the former taking its rise in the north, and the latter in the south, and both, uniting near the centre of the state, pass into the noble Bay of San Francisco, whence they reach the sea. They are fed in their course by great numbers of mountain streams from the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Other important rivers, though of less considerable extent, intersect the state in various directions...

— Besides the incredible quantities of gold, for which California has become renowned above all other countries on the globe, sundry mineral products of much value are found in different parts of the state. Silver, mercury, and lead have been obtained; and indications of copper, tin, iron, and other ores have appeared, as is reported, in several places.* No satisfactory signs, however, of any extensive coal fields have as yet been discovered, although reports of their existence have from time to time been made. Some few small veins of what was at first imagined to be pure coal have been met with; but, on investigation, they have proved to be lignite, bitumen, or other material of tertiary formation. Researches for other minerals than gold have not yet been prosecuted to any great extent; nor is it likely that, during the prevailing attraction towards the more precious metal, the coexistent mineral resources of the state will be fully developed, unless incidentally, and by degrees, or through systematic explorations under authority of the government.
The wealth of the "gold region" is almost, if not entirely, incalculable. This region comprehends the territory occupied by the Sierra Nevada and the contiguous country, including its rivers. Indeed, it is almost solely on account of its capacity to produce gold, that the attention of the world has been directed to this extraordinary country. The universally coveted metal is found in prodigious quantities along the western slopes of the great mountain range, and especially in and around the streams that descend thence into the large valley of California, at the bottom of which flow the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. The gold is obtained in various forms, mostly in small, thin particles; but not unfrequently in lumps, some of which have weighed several pounds. The slate rocks of the mountains enclose numerous veins of granite, in which gold is imbedded ; and it is from these sources, wrought upon as they have been by volcanic action, that the metal finds its way into the ravines and crevices upon the mountain sides, and into the streams below, carried thither by the constant operation of powerful atmospheric agencies. The value of the auriferous product of California can scarcely be computed. The yield of the mines for the year 1851, it is confidently stated, may be estimated at some seventy millions of dollars. This is based on official statements of the amounts procured, carried away by sea and land, stamped by various houses, or manufactured into jewelry, &c., during the first quarter of that year; the aggregate of which, at the mint valuation, exceeded sixteen millions of dollars. New developments of rich deposits are constantly occurring; and notwithstanding the vast additions to the population, which are made daily, the average gains of miners do not seem in any degree to diminish.
* Cinnabar is found, in great quantities, within eight or ten miles of San Jose, the capital of the state. Sulphur is obtained in the vicinity of Sonoma. Salt pond exist in different parts of the state, and limestone is not uncommon. In various spots, during the summer season, a peculiar sort of earth may be gathered from the sites of certain dried-up ponds, which possesses strong alkaline properties, and answers all the uses of ashes in the manufacture of soap.
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