California Overview: Geography
Ranking third among the U.S. states in area, California has a diverse topography and climate. A series of low mountains known as the Coast Ranges extends along the 1,200-mi (1,930-km) coast. The region from Point Arena, N of San Francisco, to the southern part of the state is subject to tremors and sometimes to severe earthquakes caused by tectonic stress along the San Andreas fault . The Coast Ranges receive heavy rainfall in the north, where the giant cathedrallike redwood forests prevail, but the climate of these mountains is considerably drier in S California, and S of the Golden Gate no major rivers reach the ocean. Behind the coastal ranges in central California lies the great Central Valley , a long alluvial valley drained by the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. In the southeast lie vast wastelands, notably the Mojave Desert , site of Joshua Tree National Park.
Rising as an almost impenetrable granite barrier E of the Central Valley is the Sierra Nevada range, which includes Mt. Whitney , Kings Canyon National Park , Sequoia National Park , and Yosemite National Park . The Cascade Range , the northern continuation of the Sierra Nevada, includes Lassen Volcanic National Park . Lying E of the S Sierra Nevada is Death Valley National Park. The drier portions of the state especially are subject periodically to large, wind-driven fires; in certain hilly areas sometimes devastating mudslides occur, particularly in the rainy season after large fires.
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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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