California is the 31st state of the Union, the largest by population, the third largest by size and the second most popular with tourists. Okay, that’s the boring facts out of the way! The Golden State has such a diverse array of landscapes, lifestyles and activities, there’s bound to be some choice hidden gems about the state buried in there somewhere… And Eureka! Here they are.
- The highest and lowest points of mainland USA are within 100 miles of each other
The tallest 11 peaks in the States are found in Alaska. But lucky number 12 is in California! Mt Whitney, the highest point of the Sierra Nevada, measures in at 4,421m (14505 ft) and is found on the border between the two counties Inyo and Tulare. Just 84.6 miles away (136.2km), the lowest point of all of the States is located at Bad Water in Death Valley National Park, with an elevation of 86m (282 ft) below sea level. The state certainly has its ups and downs… I’ll get my coat.
- California has the two oldest plant specimens in the world
Up until this year, scientists believed that the oldest living tree in the world was a wizened Great Basin bristlecone pine, answering to the name of Methuselah and coming in at 4845 years old. However, earlier in 2013, another, even wrinklier bristlecone pine was found, also in California, dated at 5062 years! This one is yet unnamed; presumably scientists will keep trying random names until the tree reacts. Though at that age, its hearing must not be what it was!
- The tallest and largest trees in the world are found in California
The tallest tree in the world was discovered in 2006 by naturalists Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor, in deepest, darkest Redwood National Park. They have refused to reveal its exact whereabouts (for fear of it being destroyed by careless tourists) and it is only known by the mysterious alias Hyperion. As well as sounding like a Dr. Who villain, the tree is 115.61m (379.3ft), which is bigger than the Statue of Liberty and Big Ben! The largest tree, however, is General Sherman, discovered back in the 19th century. This behemoth is found in Sequoia National Park and has a trunk volume of 1486.9m3 (52508ft3). That’s a whole lot of wood!
- The Central Valley in California is the richest farming region OF ALL TIME.
California is the number one state for agricultural produce and tops the list for dairy as well. It also has the world’s largest almond processing plant, getting through 12 million pounds of the nutty treats on a good day. As well as having about 5 million cows, which generates more than $1bn annually, the land is also rich in fruit production. In addition to an abundance of strawberries, California produces 300000 grapes every year.
- If it were a country, California would be the 4th biggest producer of wine in the world
Remember all those grapes? Well, from them, 17 million gallons of lovely wine are produced every year. White Zinfandel, a Californian creation, is one of the more popular varieties that come from the 1200 wineries in the state. Californian wine makes up almost 90% of all wine produced in America and its yield is one third larger than all wine produced in the whole of Australia.
- Mistreating a butterfly in Pacific Grove is against the law
Apparently they are big fans of the delicate creatures in Pacific Grove, a coastal city in California. If caught maltreating a butterfly by an officer of the law, you will wind up with a hefty $500 fine! Presumably this does not extend to name-calling. The city is located in the county of Monterey, home of Monterey Jack cheese. The cheese was first made popular and sold commercially by David Jack, a businessman hailing from… Scotland, of all places! Though the cheese itself was originally created in Mexico.
- The Gold Rush sparked the biggest mass migration in the history of the world
When gold was discovered by James W. Marshall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1848, people flocked from all over the world to get their grubby little mitts on the precious shiny substance. In total around 300000 covetous adventurers came from far and wide – including many people who came from abroad. The biggest influx happened in 1849, resulting in the prospectors being termed as ‘49ers’, the name now adopted by the football team of San Francisco. Furthermore, the motto of the state, ‘Eureka’, is a Greek word meaning ‘I have found it!’ and is a reference to the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada.
- Prior to the Gold Rush, California had more Native Americans than all other states put together
The sudden influx of prospectors may have pushed out many of the locals, but even today California retains the largest number of Native Americans in its population. It is also a “minority majority state”; 58% of the population are of an ethnicity other than Caucasian and 26% of its inhabitants were born outside of the USA. It has the largest concentration of urban-dwelling Mexicans outside of Mexico and the highest number of Armenians outside of Armenia. It also has one of the biggest Chinese communities outside of Asia.
- The Golden Gate Bridge has enough wire in its cables to loop round the Earth 3.5 times
The Bridge was started in 1933 and finished 4 years later in May, 1937. Eleven men were killed during its construction, including 10 in one incident near its completion in February 1937 when a section of scaffolding fell through the safety net. The net itself has saved 19 men’s lives however; those who were spared by it are said to have joined the Halfway-to-Hell Club. Contrary to popular belief, the bridge is not painted end-to-end every year but does require constant touch-up work.
- Prisoners actually requested to go to Alcatraz
Largely due to its vilification on the silver screen, Alcatraz has the reputation of being a horrible and tough fortress for only the most hardened criminals. And while it certainly was no holiday camp, it did have some advantages which encouraged inmates to request a transfer there. It had a one-man-one-cell policy, which afforded more privacy and less chance of attack by a cell-mate. The first warden tried to avoid riots by serving a bottomless supply of good food; and good behaviour resulted in movie and library privileges. Another curious fact about Alcatraz: Al Capone, one of its first inmates, played banjo in the inmate band during his stint in the lockup. Alcatraz was closed in 1963 with no recorded instances of successful escape attempts blemishing its legacy.