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.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.