"The Central Valley" Other California Sights Tip by WulfstanTraveller

Other California Sights, California: 71 reviews and 320 photos

California's Central Valley, the "Great Valley" or "the Big Valley" (as in the television western, set in the valley city of Stockton) is one of the great defining geographic and climatic features of the state, long a major factor in the states development and economy.

It is both an extremely important agricultural region and, particularly in the past, was critical to commerce, transport, and settlement of the state due not only to the agricultural wealth but also due to the two great navigable rivers allowing shipping and transport from the ocean far inland, deep into the interior south and especially north.

The ability to sail directly from the ocean up the Sacramento and San Joquin Rivers was a major factor in early growth and California's economic development. It is the whole basis for the existence of cities like Sacramento, Stockton, Marysville, and Red Bluff, which grew as shipping points first for the goldfields and then for the rich agricultural land that surrounds them.

The valley also is still one of the most important agricultural regions in the country, in fact the most important. California is the number one agricultural producer in the US, being the leading producer, or sole producer of many agricultural products, and much of this is due to the Central Valley. For a long time, the biggest centre of this industry, which apparently employs about 20% of valley's population (in farming, transport, and processing), has been the Central Valley county of Fresno, which for many years has been the number one agricultural producing county in the entire US. Fresno alone produces about 350 different agricultural products, some of which are comemrcially produced in the US only in or around the county.

Despite modern problems of recent decline of many towns, with suburban sprawl and endemic poverty and unemplopyment in certain regions, the area thus retains great economic importance and a lot of California history. Many towns, from large cities like Sacramento, Stockton, and Fresno, to smaller ones like Merced, Visalia, Woodland, and Red Bluff, have many historic old buildings. Certain towns, such as Sacramento and Chico, in particular have a lot to offer.

The two branches of the valley are somewhat different, though. The two branches tend to grow slightly different crops and differ in cities, weather, and geography.

The southern portion of the valley, the San Joaquin Valley, is more densely populated with more large towns, it tends to be foggier in the winter-spring, it stays at a lower elevation for farther up the river, it gets less rainfall, it has sandier soil. Its largest city is Fresno, the largest city in the valley and second largest metro area in the valley. Its oldest and most historic city is Stockton, early on one of the largest and most important cities in the state. The very southern end is semi-desert steppe land.

The northern part, the Sacramento Valley, gets more rainfall, has heavier soil with more clay, rises faster in elevation, and has fewer large towns, even though Sacramento in this area is by far the largest metro area in the Valley. By contrast to the San Joaquin Valley, which gets less rain to the south, the Sacramento Valley tends to get slightly more precipitation in the more northerly, upper reaches.

In either portion, though, the weather is somewhat similar. Winters tend to be fairly mild, chilly and rainy. Normally there is no snow in the valley itself (but many counties in the valley include mountain areas that get snow) except occasionally in the higher-elevation areas such as the upper Sacramento River. Winter often brings fog, especially in the San Joaquin Valley. Summers tend to be hot, dry, and sunny. Typically, summers are fairly still but thunderstorms may periodically arise and cooling breezes, often called the Delta Breeze, may blow through the region near the delta of the two rivers, roughly between Sacramento in the north and Stockton in the south. The latter can cause the delta area to get windy, even very windy, in the summer, as low pressures eventually arise from the hot interior and bring in cool, wet wind from the ocean (the same thing that causes the cool weather and common fog on the coast), cooling off this central portion of the valley, even while the rest continues to bake in the heat.

Much of the region also still has great scenery with extensive farmland and even still some important plan or wetland habitats, often with the surrounding mountains within view.

Directions: Between the Coastal Ranges and the Sierra Nevada.

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  • Written Jul 16, 2009
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