The California Central Valley
The California Central Valley is a large, flat valley that dominates the central portion of the state of California.
Bounded by the Cascade Range to the north, the Sierra Nevada to the east, the Tehachapi Mountains to the south, and the Coast Range and San Francisco Bay to the west, this valley is a vast agricultural region drained by the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. The northern area (north of the Mokelumne River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta) is called the Sacramento Valley; the southern area is called the San Joaquin Valley.
The Valley is renowned for its extreme flatness, in contrast to the rugged hills that are typical of most of California's terrain. It is thought to have originated as the floor of an inland sea, when sea levels were much higher than they are today.
Major tributaries of these two rivers that flow into the California Central Valley include:
- Sacramento Valley
- San Joaquin Valley
Major cities in the Central Valley include Sacramento (California state capital and the Valley's largest metropolitan area), Stockton, Fresno (largest city proper in the Valley), Redding, and Bakersfield.
Culture and politics
Culturally and politically, the Central Valley is very different than the rest of California. While the huge coastal cities are well-known for their liberal politics, the Valley (and most other rural areas) are quite conservative.
The Central Valley Project was formed in 1935 to redistribute and store water for agricultural and municipal purposes with dams and canals. The Central Valley has become famous around the world as the home of California's giant agriculture industry; the fertile soil is also thought to have originated from the days when the valley was a sea floor. There are also some large cattle and livestock ranches.
Because of its physical remoteness, the Valley is also home to many Department of Corrections institutions.
Since the 1980s, Bakersfield and Fresno have exploded in both size and population, as housing values along the coast reached astronomical values and drove many California residents inland in search of the most important component of the American dream---homeownership.
Unfortunately, both cities (along with Sacramento) have been confronted by big city problems including violent crime, drug trafficking, organized crime, traffic congestion, and air pollution. The San Joaquin Valley now has the worst air quality in California (and the highest asthma rates), and its cities are subject to the most stringent anti-pollution measures in the state. Some people also worry that the rapidly expanding urban sprawl will completely displace agriculture (as happened in the Santa Clara and San Fernando Valleys).