California

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California's history is so romantic and filled with legend that it is fitting that the region was named for a fictional island peopled by pagan Amazons, the setting of a 16th century Spanish book popular when that nation's explorers first came to this part of North America's Pacific Coast. At first, "California" meant the peninsula on the west coast of modern Mexico now known as Baja California or Lower California, and the Spaniards believed that they had discovered an enormous island. Only as they ventured further inland did they find that "California" extended north to join the continent, and they named this extension "Alta California," the region that now forms the 31st state of the United States of America. Even in physical terms that state is a region of extremes. It stretches 825 miles from its northwest corner on the 42nd parallel on the Pacific Ocean to its southeast corner on the 32nd parallel at the junction of the Gila and Colorado Rivers. The winding shoreline contains 1,264 miles of beaches and harbors. And elevations run from 14,495 feet at the peak of Mount Whitney to 282 feet below sea level at Death Valley, with both of these landmarks little more than fifty miles apart in Inyo County. (Excerpts from the US Library of Commerce, American Memory collection}

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