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 Mountains of California

The interior presents a surface of lofty mountains, deep valleys and broad plains. The first rise in grand serrated lines with majestic peaks towering above the region of eternal snows, and in gently rounded hills, while the valleys and plains enclosed by them are marked with the distinction of unsurpassed fertility of soil, of perfect loveliness of climate, or arid and sandy deserts.

In the vast area extending through ten degrees of latitude, and from three to four of longitude, are numerous ranges of mountains, appearing to the casual observer as only two systems, the Sierra Nevada on the east and the Coast Range on the west; but the State Geological Survey has established the fact that what appears as but two is composed of many. The ridge dividing the waters of the Pacific and those flowing easterly into the great basin, is usually denominated the Sierra Nevada throughout its whole course in the State, but south of the thirty-fifth parallel this becomes the Coast Range, and is generally low and broken. There is here apparently but a single chain, but on the eastern side are numerous detached and precipitous ranges irregularly filling the region thence to the Colorado. This broad section constitutes one of the most desolate portions of our country. Rocky and tempest-beaten as are its hills, and burning and sand-driven as are its valleys, it cannot be utterly condemned as valueless from its forbidding appearance. Minerals in great abundance have been found in different localities and thorough exploration may redeem the character of the whole. In the northern portion of this desert region are the Armagosa, Slate Range, Panamint, Telescope, Inyo and White Mountain Ranges, in all of which mines of value have been discovered, and some have developed enormous wealth.

The most southern snow-capped peak is Mount San Jacinto, near 8,000 feet high, standing on the dividing line between the coast and the waters flowing to the desert of the Colorado. This peak sends off a range to the south, having the burning desert of the Coahuilla, the bed of an ancient lake, on the east, and the pleasant valley of San Jacinto on the west. Thirty miles north is Mount San Bernardino, 8,750 feet high, the most elevated land of Southern California, giving the name to this part of the range, and connecting with the San Gabriel Mountains, which, running westerly, connect the chain with the wilderness of mountains running through the counties of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey, the different coast ranges terminating on the ocean at the Golden Gate, or at Mount Diablo. At Los Angeles, the single high and precipitous mountain of San Gabriel, 6,500 feet high, sixty miles in length and twenty-five in breadth, stands between the fertile plains of the coast and the sterile region of the eastern basin. The principal ranges south, not before named, are the Santa Anna, Temescal and Cuyamaca. North are the Sierra Santa Monica, commencing at Los Angeles and running northwest thirty-six miles to the high headland of Point Mogo, on the Pacific. The San Fernando, San Francisco, Santa Susanna, Santa Inez, San Rafael, Santa Lucia, the Palo Scrito Hills, the Gabilan, Santa Cruz, Contra Costa and Mount Diablo Ranges constitute the principal Coast Mountains between Los Angeles and the Bay of San Francisco, and between the ocean and the southern half of the great valley of California. The most elevated peaks are Mount Hamilton, 4,440 feet; San Carlos, 4,977; and Mount Diablo, 3,876 foot above the sea. Among these mountains and hill ranges are a great number of valleys, some of hundreds of square miles in extent, as the San Fernando, Santa Clara, Santa Maria and Salina, and thousands of others of various sizes, from broad plains to little nooks in the mountain fastnesses, all, when irrigable, of great fertility and perfect loveliness, and affording pleasant sites for a vast number of quiet, happy and prosperous homes. Many of these were selected by the early missionaries for their extensive establishments, and in their days of prosperity exhibited a wealth of resource since but rarely reached throughout the section.

Apparently, the San Gabriel Range is the continuation of the Sierra Nevada, extending the great chain south to the peninsula of California; but south of 35° 30' that mountain falls away to Tehichipa Valley, or trends westerly to the Tejon Pass, and making a more intimate junction with the Coast Ranges. From the thirty-fifth parallel the Sierra rises, a grand and mighty range, extending to the northern limit of the State, where, spreading in high plateaus circling to the west and to the ocean, or continuing through Oregon and to the north, it maintains an almost uninterrupted elevation of 6,000 to 8,000 feet, with several peaks rising to the sublime height of 14,000 and 15,000 feet above the sea, their summits far above the limit of vegetation, and forever buried in the accumulated ice and snows of preceding ages. Chief among those towering peaks are Mounts Whitney, 15,000; Brewer, 13,885; Williamson, 14,900; Kaweah, 14,000; King, 14,000; Tyndall, 14,386; and fifty or sixty others in the southern portion of the state over 15,000 feet high; with Lassen's Peak 10,577, and Mount Shasta 14,442 feet high, in the north. This grand range pursues its rigid course for 600 miles through the State, parallel with the coast, giving rise to many streams, which unite and form the great rivers San Joaquin and Sacramento that break through the Coast Mountains to the sea by the Bay of San Francisco. From the western base to the summit is about seventy miles. With different altitudes are different climates, soils and productions. The lower foot-hills possess a thin, red soil, usually requiring enriching and irrigation to make it fertile, and that it produces abundantly of fruits, vines and cereals. At a greater elevation the soil is more fertile, but the climate limits the range of plants. The distinguishing features of this noblest of mountain ranges are its mines of gold and its forests of pine, with its precipitous chasms, its grand scenery, and the mammoth sequoia gigantea, the largest trees of the earth. The gold production of the western slope of this mountain from 1848 to 1865 was estimated at $900,000,000, and since that date the product has averaged about $28,000,000 annually, making an aggregate of $1,250,000,000 of that precious metal which stands as the basis of the currency of the world. Nor is the mineral wealth of the chain confined to gold alone. Copper, lead, silver, iron, coal, petroleum, granite, marble, lime and various other metals and substances are produced. Still the resources of the great Sierras are hardly known. Gold having been chiefly sought and its production attended with great excitement and extravagance, other sources of wealth were overlooked.

The Sierra Nevada, branching or curving westward, between the parallels of 40° and 41°, connects with the northern system of Coast ranges which enclose the Valley of the Sacramento. North of the fortieth parallel, these are gold-bearing, are lofty and rugged, with forests of pine, spruce and redwood, and of similar geological formation to the great mountain of the eastern portion of the State. Southward are a number of distinct ranges, so disposed as to enclose many valleys of greater or less extent, such as Clear Lake, Berreyesa, Napa, Ukiah, Russian River, Hoopa, Sonoma, etc., all of exceeding beauty and fertility.

Scott Mountain, in the northwestern part of the State, is the loftiest and most extensive range, branching off from the great peak of Mount Shasta, and running southwesterly toward the ocean. The principal peaks of this system of mountains west of the Sacramento are Yallobally, 8,000 feet; Mount Baldy, 6,357; Mount St. Johns, 4,500; Mount Ripley, 4,000; Mount Cobb, 3,800; Mount St. Helena, 4,343; Sulphur Peak, 3,471; and Mount Tamalpais, 2,600 feet high, overlooking the Golden Gate.

Recent discoveries of quicksilver-bearing rock in this region have given it increased importance. Minos of undoubted wealth have been opened in various parts of Lake, Sonoma and Napa Counties, and a valuable vein of gold-bearing quartz is found on Mount St. Helena. Hot and medicinal springs are numerous, and in one of the gorges of the western slope of Sulphur Peak are the singular boiling and spouting fountains known as The Geysers. Those, with the romantic and beautiful scenery of the country, offer great attractions to health and pleasure-seeking tourists.

This system of mountains is indefinitely called the Coast Range, and it occupies the entire northwestern portion of the State, from the Golden Gate and Bay of San Francisco on the south, the Sacramento Valley on the coast, to the Pacific Ocean on the west. Near the Ocean the mountains are clothed with a dense forest of redwood, which is a very valuable timber and easily worked, and is produced in large quantities. In this section too is found the laurel, one of the most beautiful ornamental woods known to the cabinetmaker.

Mount San Bernardino in the southern district and Mount Diablo in the northern are established as the initial points for the base and meridian lines of the United States system of land surveys.

California Gazetteer | AHGP California

Source: Pacific Coast Business Directory for 1876-78, Compiled by Henry G. Langley, San Francisco, 1875

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