The Real Mr. Science hopes that the quiz piqued your interest in California geography, geology and history. Even more, The Real Mr. Science hopes that the answers will fuel that interest, and that this is just the beginning of your studies about this interesting place. BUT IF YOU HAVE NOT YET TAKEN THE QUIZ, GO TO THE QUIZ PAGE AND GIVE IT A TRY. THAT'S HALF THE FUN.
Question 1: Which of these pairs of California places is farther NORTH?
A. The City of Monterey or Mt. Whitney? Mt. Whitney. 36.6275N latitude. Monterey is at 36.6003N. Hard to believe because most people think of Whitney as being in the southern part of California and Monterey just a little south of San Francisco, but look a California map and make sure that the north/south orientation is straight up and down. Many images of California maps are displayed with the top tilted to the right so that a larger map image can be squeezed into the same sized rectangular frame. People looking at the tilted map often assume that the sides of the rectangle align with true north which makes places on the western side of the map appear to be farther north than they really are. To check the true north orientation of a given map image look at the border between northern California and Nevada. That border runs due north/south.
B. Death Valley National Monument or Mt. Whitney? Death Valley. Death Valley extends far to the north of Whitney, although places like Stove Pipe Wells, Furnace Creek and Badwater, which are well known landmarks, are south of the mountain.
C. The City of Los Angeles or the City of Ventura? The City of Los Angeles. It extends north to include the community of Sylmar, north of the San Fernando Valley. While Ventura is "north" along US 101, the coastal highway, in this area the highway runs almost due east/west. The northern border of the City of Ventura is south of the northern border of the City of Los Angeles at Sylmar.
D. The City of Palo Alto the floor of Yosemite Valley? Yosemite. Yes, that's right. Yosemite Valley itself is at 37.71639N and Palo Alto is at 37.44194N. Even though you drive south from the San Francisco Bay Area where Palo Alto is located to get to Yosemite, Yosemite lies north of Palo Alto. That is because the Sierra river canyons that the highways follow to get up into the mountains tend to run from southwest to northeast. After driving south to Merced or Fresno, you turn north and follow one of these rivers up into the Sierra and to Yosemite. The fact is, Yosemite is almost due east of the San Francisco Bay Area.
E. The City and County of San Francisco or the City of Berkeley? San Francisco. This is a little difficult, but with a Bay Area map that shows city/county boundaries you can figure it out. The early California legislature determined, in its wisdom, to give San Francisco control of a much larger portion of San Francisco Bay than San Francisco's relative land area might seem to merit. So, for example, the eastern border of San Francisco is at the eastern edge of the Bay and includes an acre or two of dry land the tip of the former Alameda Naval Air Station, which is, of course, otherwise in Alameda County. That placed the Island of Yerba Buena in the middle of the Bay and Treasure Island, when it was filled in just to the north of Yerba Buena, well inside the San Francisco borders. Relative to this question is the fact that the San Francisco border also extends far to the north into the area just off the Contra Costa County shoreline. There a sharp point of the City and County of San Francisco reaches the summit of the little hill that makes up Red Rock Island, which is only a couple of hundred yards south of the Richmond/San Rafael Bay Bridge and a few hundred yards off the Richmond shore line. Berkeley is south of Richmond and south of the northernmost point of San Francisco at Red Rock Island.
F. Mono Lake or the City of Oakland? Mono Lake. Mono Lake is at 38.01667N. Oakland is at 37.8044N. Even though Mono is in the great southwestern desert east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains it is still north of Oakland.
Red Rock Island, part of which is in SF
Question 2: Which of these pairs of California places is farther WEST?
A. The City of Fresno or the City of Santa Barbara? Fresno. Fresno is at 119.77139W longitude. Santa Barbara, even though it is on the coast, is at only 119.69722W. Once again, don’t be fooled by the orientation of a California map. The California coast south of Big Sur, a bit south of Monterey, tends sharply to the east. Santa Barbara, well down that coast, lies east of Fresno.
B. Lake Tahoe or the City of Santa Barbara? Lake Tahoe. Tahoe is at 120.03333W. Santa Barbara is still at 119.69722W. I’m sure you noticed that Tahoe is west of Fresno. The reason is the same. The California Central Valley more or less parallels the coast in trending south east. Fresno, being “down the Valley,” is east of Tahoe.
C. The City of Coloma (Eldorado County) or San Simeon (Hearst Castle). San Simeon. I had to have one coastal town that was actually west of the mountain places. San Simeon is the location of William Randolph Hearst’s fabulous castle-vacation home designed by America’s first woman architect, Julia Morgan. Movie fans will remember the castle from Orson Welles’ classic film “Citizen Kane.” The castle lies at 121.18972W. Coloma in El Dorado County was the site of John Sutter’s saw mill and the place where the California gold rush began. (See the story about Sutter also on this web site.) Coloma is at 120.88917W.
D. The City of Long Beach or the floor of Yosemite Valley? Once again it is Yosemite. Yosemite Valley is at 119.66417W and Long Beach is at 118.18833W.
E. The City of San Diego or the City of San Bernardino? It is very close, but San Berdoo wins. The City of San Bernardino is at 117.28889W. San Diego is at 117.15636W. Once again, the southeast slant of the coast makes coastal cities further east of their more northerly counterparts.
Question 3: Which of these pairs of California places is LARGER in area?
A. County of San Bernardino or State of Maryland? San Bernardino County is huge. It has about 20,000 square miles. Maryland is only about 10,000. San Bernardino is the largest county in the lower 48 states and larger in area than many independent nations. Some have suggested, tongue in cheek, that San Berdoo ought to have representation in the U.N.
B. County of Los Angeles or State of Rhode Island? Los Angeles County is about 4,083 square miles and Rhode Island is 1,214. The City of Los Angeles all by itself comes close to Rhode Island. It has almost 1,000 square miles of territory. Some have suggested, tongue in cheek, that Los Angeles County deserves its own US Senator.
C. The California Central Valley or State of West Virginia? The great California Central Valley was formed by a combination of geologic processes. The great Sierran batholiths with their granite plutons pushed up the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The plutons were melted rock which was part of the Pacific tectonic plate. The Pacific plate shoved its way under the North American plate, was pushed deep down and melted. The melted rock, being more buoyant than solid rock, forced its way upward and--voila!-- the Sierra Nevada. The Valley is about 60 miles wide and 450 miles long or about 27,000 square miles. West Virginia is about 24,000.
D. County of Riverside or State of Vermont? If you guessed Riverside, you guessed wrong. Big as Riverside County is, Vermont is a bit bigger. Riverside County was formed in 1893 by taking a large piece of the then truly huge San Bernardino County and some territory from San Diego County to form the new Riverside.
E. County of Imperial or State of New Hampshire? This one is a ringer also. New Hampshire is larger than Imperial County.
Question 4: Which of these is classified as an ACTIVE VOLCANO?
A. Long Valley Caldera near Mammoth Mountain. YES B. Medicine Lake Caldera. YES C. Sutter Buttes in the Northern Central Valley. NO D. Mt. Lassen. YES E. Mt. Ritter. NO F. Mt. Shasta. YES G. Mono Lake. YES H. Lava Peak. NO I. Lake Tahoe. NO
California is a hotbed of volcanic activity. The collision of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates causes volcanoes along with many other geologic phenomena.
The Long Valley Caldera is geologically active and associated with an endless stream of medium-sized earthquakes and significant geothermal activity. Its last major eruption 760,000 years ago covered large parts of the western US with ash and dust.
Medicine Lake Caldera is an active volcano that last erupted about 900 years ago. It is a slow eruption type with small outflows from multiple small magma chambers. Almost all active volcanoes have just one or perhaps two large magma chambers. Medicine Lake is associated with Mt. Shasta and lies just 30 miles northeast.
The Sutter Buttes are no longer active. They are a striking feature of the northern Central Valley, rising abruptly from the flat valley floor to a relatively flat top.
Mt. Lassen boasts the most recent eruption of a California volcano. In the period 1914 to 1917 it erupted multiple times, including a huge and devastating explosion on May 15, 1915. Lassen is the southernmost of the volcanoes of the Cascade Range that stretches from east of Seattle to Lassen. The active volcanoes of the Cascades are driven, like the Long Valley Caldera, by the subduction of the Pacific Plate under the North American Plate.
Mt. Ritter is just a Sierran peak, a tall one, but not a volcano.
Mt. Shasta, on the other hand, is an active volcano, the one just to the north of Mt. Lassen. Shasta’s huge cinder cone rises 10,000 feet above the surrounding landscape. It is composed of four cinder cones, the largest of which after the main cone itself is named, predictably, Shastina. Shasta last erupted about 200 years ago, and may have been seen by Mexican explorers. During the last 5,000 years it has erupted every 600 years on average.
Mono Lake was formed when the Long Valley Caldera erupted about 760,000 years ago and has been geologically active every since. It is the northernmost of a chain of volcanic craters called the Mono-Inyo Crater volcanic chain. The last eruption was about 350 years ago at Paoha Island in the lake.
Lava Peak and Lake Tahoe are ringers and show no recent volcanic activity.
Long Valley Caldera
Paoha Island in Mono Lake
Question 5: Which has the steepest incline? A. The Town of Lone Pine to Mount Whitney B. The Pacific to King Peak C. The Chalfont Valley to White Mountain Peak D. The Town of Mt. Shasta to Mount Shasta itself E. Badwater to Telescope Peak
The answer is Chalfont Valley to White Mountain Peak. Horizontally, the Valley and the Peak are just about 6 miles apart, but the elevation differential is close to 10,000 feet. That’s a 31% grade. A fairly close second is the Pacific Ocean to King Peak. The crest of King Peak is only 4087 feet, but the horizontal distance from the shore is only 3 miles. That’s a 26% grade.
Mt. Whitney as seen from Lone Pine
King Peak as seen from the Pacific shore
Telescope Peak in the Panamint Mountains as seen from Badwater Death Valley
Question 6: Where the heck is Cucamonga?
It’s about 50 miles east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County. Cucamonga was made famous by the Jack Benny Show of the 1950s and 60s. Mel Blanc did the voice of a mythical railroad station announcer and sometime during each show announced that the “Train leaving on track 5 [was] for Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga,” with the “Cucamonga continually being stretched out longer and longer as the season wore on. In return for this free commercial, the town of Cucamonga erected a statue of Benny. Cucamonga had its origins as did so many southern California towns as a Mexican land grant called Cucamonga—a place name in the local Native American Indian dialect. Eventually part of the Los Angeles Metroplex, it grew large enough to merge with two nearby towns and form the City of Rancho Cucamonga, back a full 360 degrees to the name of the Mexican land grant.
Stature of Jack Benny in Cucamonga City Center
Question 7. There is a place in California where you can stand and, on a clear day, see 20,000 square miles of the Golden State. Where is that spot?
The answer is the peak of Mount Diablo. Although the peak is just 3850 feet above sea level, it stands alone on the eastern edge of the coastal hills of the San Francisco Bay Area. Eastward lies the huge California Central Valley flat for almost 100 miles and then sloping upward to the Sierra crest. North and south the Valley stretches as far as the eye can see. Josiah Whitney, California’s first state geologist and the person for whom Mount Whitney is named, saw the view and estimated that you could see 40,000 square miles from Diablo. Even more extravagant claims were made by early developers, one of whom claimed you could see 100,000 square miles. In 1991 an engineer who loved hiking on the mountain did a scientific assessment of what could be seen and concluded that about 21,700 square miles could be seen. He did similar studies for other tall, isolated peaks and concluded that the largest “view shed” was that of Denali (Mt. McKinley) in Alaska with a scope of over 60,000 square miles.
Even so, Diablo has an impressive view. On a crystal clear day Mt. Lassen in the southern Cascades, Half Dome above Yosemite Valley and the peaks of the southern Sierra are all visible. That view was the reason that Prof. George Davidson of U.C. Berkeley led a party of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic survey to the peak. Davidson, both a surveyor and an astronomer, understood that if you can see a place from Diablo, Diablo can be seen from that place. So Diablo could serve as a fixed and easily usable reference point for determining land boundaries. As a result much of California and Nevada are legally described by reference to the Mt. Diablo Base Line and Meridian. To give ground zero a firmly fixed location, there is an “X” engraved on a brass marker positioned in a lighthouse-like building right on the summit
Some of Mt. Diablo's Viewshed
Question 8. Where was gold first discovered by Europeans in what is now the territory of California?
A good case can be made for each of the choices. Everyone knows about the discovery in 1848 at Sutter’s Mill leading to the California Gold Rush, but even though it was many, many times larger and more significant than the others, it was also only the most recent of the finds. It is not likely to be accurate, but when Sir Francis Drake beached the Golden Hind for repairs somewhere near the San Francisco Bay Area, his navigator reported in his log book that the local Native Americans had ample amounts of gold and claimed it could be found almost anywhere nearby. Not likely. The other finds are likely to have actually occurred, but the older the find, the less detail is available and the less reliable is the reporting. Reasonable evidence exists for finds at Potholes near the Colorado River in Imperial County in 1775, at San Ysidro in 1828, at San Francisquito Canyon in 1835, and at Placerita Canyon in 1842, 6 years before Sutter.
Question 9. In 1941 significant numbers of residents of several Northern California counties sought to secede from California and form a new state together with some counties in Oregon. What California city was the proposed capital of the new state?
The answer is Yreka, California. The northern counties of California and the southern counties of Oregon are relatively remote, rugged places, but have significant natural resources of timber, minerals and potential electricity in the form of dam-able rivers. Getting those things out to places where they would be used was a problem. The counties were relatively poor, sparsely populated and lacking in political power in Sacramento and Salem, their respective state capitals. So roads were not built and scant attention was paid to them.
In the fall of 1941, local political and business leaders in 12 northern California and7 southern Oregon counties conceived the idea of petitioning to break off from their states and forming a new state. Apparently relying on Thomas Jefferson’s famous statement, “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing,” they named their proposed state Jefferson. They proposed the City of Yreka, then county seat of Siskiyou County, California for the honor. Yreka was the site of the area’s brief late 19th century gold rush. Yreka is the local Native American Indian name for Mt. Shasta, clearly visible to the east.
The movement attracted some attention. The San Francisco Chronicle newspaper sent reporter Stanton Delaplane to the area, and he write a series of stories that won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1942. They also got their message out by stopping every car entering “the state” and giving them a handbill explaining their crusade. For many years the occasional barn could be seen with the name “Jefferson” painted on the roof or wall.
Locals elected Judge John C. Childs of Oregon as the first governor on December 4, 1941, and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor three days later. Loyal Americans to a man, the Jeffersonians laid aside their petition and joined the war against Fascism. “Jefferson” still exists in the tough, self reliant spirit of the residents of would have been the 49th state. The post-war boom and the interstate highway system made it relatively easy to visit this bit of Californian. It is a beautiful place. Maybe a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.
State of Jefferson Barn
State of Jefferson "Police" Road Block
Question 10. Which of the following were NEVER the capital of California?
The Real Mr.Science must admit to having played a little trick on you. At one time or another ALL the listed cities were the capital of California. Monterey was the capital during California’s pre-statehood period, both as a possession of Mexico and as a territory of the U.S. San Jose was the capital from November 1849 until May 1851; Vallejo from January 1852 to February 1853; Benicia from February 1853 to February 1854; and Sacramento from February 1854 to the present, except for the period January to May 1862 when the legislature moved temporarily to San Francisco because Sacramento was flooded.
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