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58th Running Of The CQP!
1600 UTC October 7, 2023 to 2200 UTC October 8, 2023
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County Descriptions

California has 58 diverse counties. Some cover huge areas, others are quite small.   Some have large populations, and some are rural and very sparsely populated.   Few are lacking in colorful history.  The county name, and a brief description are given below.  See a table of the county abbreviations used in CQP on the CQP Multipliers web page.

Thanks to contributors W0YK and K6BZ.

In the late 1700s the region's early Spanish explorers came upon a sizable watercourse fringed by a lush riparian woodland.  It reminded them of the Alamedas, the tree-lined roadways of Spain (from alamo, the Spanish word for cottonwood or poplar), so they named it Rio de Alameda--Alameda Creek--from which the county took its name.

Alameda County extends from tidal flats and an alluvial plain facing San Francisco Bay to interior hills and valleys and the higher rugged hills of the Diablo Range along its eastern and southern boundaries.  The Oakland-Berkeley Hills, rising behind the coastal plain often prevent marine fog from advancing inland.   The Caldecott Tunnel on Highway 24 bores through the hills, allowing commuters to experience a dramatic transition, going from gray overcast to bright sunshine or vice versa as they travel through the tunnel.

Running along the base of the western foothills, the Hayward fault zone--and others in various locations--give the county an infelicitous potential for strong earthquakes.  But tremors have not deterred population growth; Alameda County is one of the most densely populat4ed counties in the state.  Oakland, its largest city, has a melting-pot population of over 350,000 residents where 34 different languages are spoken.  Berkeley, home of the University of California, ranks as one of the world's leading intellectual centers.  In recent years, suburban towns like Dublin, Fremont, Pleasanton, and Livermore have added more inhabitants than the central cities have added, at the expense of former agricultural lands.

Aptly named Alpine County bestrides the crest and the eastern slopes of the "California Alps", the Sierra Nevada.  Alpine has the lowest population of any county in the state.  Between 1980 and 1990, net population gain numbered 100 persons, bringing the total to around 1200 residents.  Government-owned land encompasses 93 percent of the county, mostly in national forests.  Tiny Markleeville, the county seat, caters to recreationists and serves as a gateway to Grover hot Springs State Park.  Ski resorts offer downhill and cross-country skiing, as at Bear Valley/Mount Reba.  nearby Tamarack has recorded the state's heaviest month's snowfall (390 inches), the highest seasonal total (884), and the greatest depth on the ground at one time (454 inches)--nearly 38 feet of snow!

The county's name pays tribute to Josef Maria Amador (1794-1883), a local rancher and miner who founded a successful gold-mining camp near the present town of Amador.  Old gold camps stud the county's rolling foothills and mountainous interior.  Deep mine shafts around Jackson, the county seat, produced gold until 1950.  Today, lumbering, stock raising, agriculture, and tourism sustain the economy.  About 10 miles from Jackson, at Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, a large rock shaded by huge oak trees contains almost 1200 mortar holes.  Local Miwok tribes held seasonal gatherings at the site.  The grounds also feature petroglyphs and replica native dwellings, preserved in California's only state park devoted primarily to Indian culture.

Sutter Buttes, which lay within the boundaries of the county at its inception, inspired the county's name.  In 1990 Butte narrowly avoided the nation's first county bankruptcy.   The agriculturally-based economy generated insufficient taxes to fund state-mandated health and welfare programs for the poor, a growing problem n other counties as well.  The main communities include Chico, interior California's largest town north of Sacramento; Paradise, an apple-growing region where orchards are falling to residential development; and Oroville, a famous Gold Rush town.  The 16,000-acre Oroville State Recreation Area showcases Oroville dam, the tallest earthen dam (770 feet) in the united States.  At nearby Feather River Falls, water plummets down a 690-foot granite cliff, the highest falls in California outside of Yosemite.

The county takes its name from a river called Calaveras, "skulls" in Spanish.  Early explorers gave the macabre name to the river because they found many Indian skulls along its banks.  The county experienced feverish activity during Gold Rush days at mining camps like San Andreas and Angels Camp.   Mark Twain immortalized Angels Camp in his short story, "The Celebrated jumping Frog of Calaveras County," in which the favored frog won't jump after a rival feeds it buckshot.  Today, the town's annual Jumping Frog jubilee attracts more than 50,000 spectators and over 1000 entries.  Frog jockeys stomp, blow, and yell to get their entries airborne.  The current world champion, Rosie the Ribiter, jumped over 21 feet in 1986.

Snow Mountain and the adjacent highlands occupy only the northwest part of Colusa County, named after the Colus Indians, who formerly inhabited the area.  Most of the county stretches over the flat, fertile northern Central Valley, where agriculture reigns.  major crops include tomatoes, sugar beets, prunes, almonds, and rice.  Colusa ranks as the leading rice-producing county in the United States.  The heavy, water-retentive soils of the Sacramento River flood basins allowed the region to become a "rice bowl."  The thousands of acres of green rice plants growing in immense diked paddies make an impressive sight.  The flood basins also form part of the Pacific flyway for waterfowl.  Three of the four Sacramento Valley national Wildlife Refuges are located in Colusa County.  Each autumn, thousands of hunters and birders flock to the refuges.  As many as three million migrating ducks and geese visit the refuges yearly, and nearly 200 species of birds have been recorded.

Contra Costa
Contra Costa means "opposite coast" in Spanish, a reference to the county's position opposite San Francisco.  Steep rolling hills and various-sized valleys typify Contra Costa.  large regional parks such as Tilden, Wildcat Canyon, and Briones mantle the hills.  Expanding towns like Concord, Walnut Creek, and Lafayette spread over the valleys.  A 70-mile coastline extends from San Pablo Bay and Suisun Bay to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta.  industrial and shipping ports line the shore, including Richmond, Pittsburg, and Antioch.  Martinez, the county seat, has oil refineries, new residential areas, and the John Muir National Historic Site.  Here, visitors can walk through the Victorian home to ring a third-story rooftop bell, and to see the "Scribble Den" where Muir wrote many of his influential articles and books.

Del Norte
The Spanish phrase Del Norte (locally pronounced "Del NORT"), means "of the north," referring to the county's geographic position.   Mountainous terrain characterized Del Norte, Except for a small coastal plain that extends from the Smith River to Crescent City.  This town, the only large community in the county, fronts a natural harbor used by the lumber and fishing industries.  In the 1930s, hybrid Easter lilies first blossomed near the Smith River.  Today Del Norte growers ship Easter lilies nationwide.  The U.S. Government owns about 74% of the county, mostly in national-forest lands and in state parks.  Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and Del Norte Redwoods State Park protect some of California's finest redwood groves.

El Dorado
El Dorado, "The Gilded One", refers to a mythical South American Indian chief who covered himself with gold powder during religious rites.  The name came to connote a place rich in gold.  Following the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848, miners flocked to sites along the American River and the Consumnes River, which form the county's north and south boundaries, creating an El Dorado of their own.  Ghost towns echo the past in this mostly mountainous region.  One settlement, called Hangtown (for its oak-tree justice) and later Placerville, lives on as a major town and county seat.  here, the only city-owned gold mine in America, the Gold Bug Mine, offers fascinating tours.  Tourism, lumbering, and fruit farming drive the economy.   El Dorado's main population center, South Lake Tahoe, swarms with summer recreationists and winter ski buffs, near the gambling glitz of Stateline, Nevada.

Fresno means "ash tree" in Spanish, a reference to the native ash growing along the county's riverbanks.  Fresno, the largest city in the San Joaquin Valley, is a cultural and marketing center for this agricultural heartland.  Fresno County is the leading farm county in the nation, with annual farm revenues of over $2.5 billion.  The county ranks first in the state for crops as varied as barley, onions, safflower, cantaloupes, boysenberries, nectarines, raisins, and wine grapes.   Recently, smog from the populous Bay Area and the urbanizing Central Valley has reduced yields of sensitive crops like cotton, corn, and tomatoes.  Horticulturists scramble to breed smog-resistant strains, and conservationists strive to implement regional air-quality standards to clear the skies.

Black Butte tops the mountainous west side of Glenn County, while grassy, oak-strewn foothills grade to Sacramento Valley flatlands on the east side.  Hugh J. Glenn (1824-1882), a Missouri dentist, came to California to mine gold and later turned to wheat farming.  he became the state's largest grower, the "Wheat King," and Glenn County was named in his honor.  In 1880 Glenn planted some 45,000 acres of wheat and barley.  The feat required over 100 eight-mule teams and produced over 1 million bags of grain.  Today, rice leads a list of crops that include corn, hay, sugar beets, and clover, as well as wheat.  Orchards grow almonds, oranges, olives, peaches, and plums.  livestock ranching and dairying round out the economy.   Tree-shaded parks in the main towns of Orland and Willows provide a welcome respite from the Sacramento Valley's summer heat.

The county derives its name from Humboldt Bay, christened in 1850 to honor the great German naturalist and explorer Baron Alexander von Humboldt.  mountains separated by narrow valleys cover Humboldt County, except for alluvial lowlands around Arcata Bay and Humboldt Bay.  Below Humboldt Bay, Cape Mendocino projects farther west than any other place in California.  Eureka, the largest city on the North Coast, serves as a governmental, financial, and shipping center.  Livestock ranching, dairying, and tourism generate income, but logging and forest products dominate the economy.  Humboldt County contains most of the state's remaining unprotected old-growth redwood forests.  lumbermen seek to harvest the trees, while conservationists try to save them.  Fortunately, parks preserve some of the finest groves, including one with the tallest known tree in the world.  The remarkable redwood reaches a neck-craning 367.8 feet in the air.

The county takes its name from the Imperial Valley, in turn named for the Imperial Land Company, whose developers began reclaiming desert land at the turn of the century by diverting Colorado River water.  Between 1905 and 1907, the river repeatedly overflowed irrigation canals and poured into the valley, creating the Salton Sea.  now 30 miles long and 8-14 miles wide, with an average depth of 20 feet, the sea is maintained by water drained from irrigated fields.  It is now slightly more salty than the ocean, and the salinity increases yearly, jeopardizing a rich fishery and migratory bird habitat.  Imperial County lies in the hottest part of the United States and ranks as one of the hottest places in the world, with a recorded high temperature of 130 degrees.  Colorado River water has transformed a broad, alluvium-filled desert lowland into one of California's premier agricultural areas.   The predominately Hispanic population (55 percent) resides in the small cities of Brawley, Calexico, and El Centro, the largest city below sea level in all of North and South America.

"Inyo", a word of obscure origin, translates poetically as "dwelling place of the Great Spirit."  The second largest California county boasts not only Mount Whitney's height but also Death Valley's depth: a sink dips to 282 feet below seal level, the lowest place in the Western Hemisphere, and just 80 air miles from Mount Whitney!  Death Valley also holds the country's record high temperature, 134 degrees.  Inyo's small towns (Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine), and large town (Bishop) string along U.S. 395 in Owens Valley, the nation's deepest valley.  Tourism leads the economy, followed by livestock and mining operations.  The county's largest taxpayer, the City of Los Angeles, acquired vast land holdings, secured water rights, and diverted the Owens River into aqueducts, built in 1913 and 1969, to supply the populous city.  As a result, the valley lost much of its greenness and natural beauty.

The county takes its name from the Kern River, named by General John Fremont to honor Edward Kern, a military colleague who nearly drowned in the river in 1845.  The third largest county in California, bordered by mountain ranges, encompasses the south end of the great Central Valley and the west edge of the Mojave Desert.  Although coniferous forests cover a quarter of the county (mostly in Sierra National Forest), the flat, arid San Joaquin Valley dominates the landscape.  Thanks to irrigation, huge farms produce a cornucopia.  Kern ranks first in the state for almonds, pistachios, navel oranges, carrots, and spring potatoes.  Oil fields support the economy in Taft, Maricopa , and Bakersfield, the major city.  Four of the ten largest fields in the United States lie under Kern County.  The nation's biggest borax mine operates in the desert, near Boron.  Also in the desert, a 38-square-mile natural area protects California's state reptile. the Desert Tortoise.  The tortoise hibernates for half a year or more, emerges in early spring to feast upon desert herbs, and then retreats underground to sleep through the summer heat.

The county's name comes from the Kings River, originally Rio de Los Santos Reyes, "river of the holy kings."  The name refers to the three Biblical wise men.   The San Joaquin Valley floor makes up over three quarters of the county's land area.  Here, agriculture rules supreme--vegetable crops, field crops, fruit and nut orchards, dairying, poultry, and stock raising.  The Kettleman Hills produce oil and natural gas.  population clusters around Hanford, the county seat and center of commerce.  The southwest corner of the county has a potential for strong earthquakes.   The USGS intensively studies a 20-mile segment of the San Andreas Fault near Table Mountain, known for regularly recurring tremblers.  Seismologists have installed more monitoring equipment here than along any other stretch of fault in the world, with an eye toward earthquake prediction.  (Many big quakes have foreshocks that precede the most severe shaking by days, hours, or minutes.)  Researchers hope to catch the longest, most active fault in the Northern Hemisphere in action.

Lying within the North Coast Ranges, Lake County is largely mountainous terrain, higher and more rugged in the north, lower and gently rolling in the south, and creased by numerous small northwest-trending valleys.  Agriculture, livestock ranching and tourism support the economy.  The relatively sparse population has recently grown with an influx of migrants from the Bay Area, 100 miles to the south, attracted by the region's bucolic resorts and lakes.

The county's name stems from an outstanding geographic feature, Clear Lake.  This natural freshwater body, the largest entirely within California, measures almost 20 miles long and up to 8 miles wide.  It has 100 miles of shoreline, 70 square miles of surface, and an average depth of 27 feet.  The shallow water warms to over 70o in the summer, augmenting algae blooms that cloud nearshore waters but do not appear to upset the lake's ecological balance.  Clear Lake teems with black bass, crappie, catfish, and many species of waterfowl.

Danish-born Peter Lassen (1800-1859) pioneered in the region.  A peak, a college, a national forest and a national park also honor his name, although historians dispute his fame, and his trail to California caused unnecessary hardship.  The county's topography includes Cascade Range cinder cones and volcanoes in the west, Modoc Plateau volcanic uplands in the central area, and Basin and Range country in the east.  The Diamond Mountains, west of Honey Lake, mark the northernmost extent of the Sierra Nevada.  The Honey Lake Plain once held a major Ice Age lake.  Today, the plain holds most of Lassen County's small population, centered in Susanville, the largest community in northeastern California.  Lumbering and livestock raising generate income.  Farmsteads and field crops dot the hinterland.

Los Angeles
California's most populous county.  In the late 1700s, 44 Spanish pioneers founded the Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles (town of Out Lady the Queen of the Angels).  Today, the largest and most populated city in the West (465 square miles and over 3,000,000 people) encompasses wall-to-wall communities connected by the most extensive freeway system in the world.  In the last 20 years Los Angeles has become the nation's main "port of entry" for immigrants.  The city thrives on diversified industries: oil, electronics, finance, tourism, and entertainment.  Los Angeles filmmakers produce more than three fourths of all movies made in the United States.

The geographic center of California lies in Madera County, about 35 miles northeast of Madera, the county seat and main town.  Madera means "timber" in Spanish, the town so named when a lumber company built a flume to carry lumber to the settlement's railroad in 1876.  Located in the flat Central Valley, Madera now serves as a processing center for surrounding agribusiness.  Major products include cattle, poultry, grapes, figs, and pistachios.  Recreational activities prevail in the mountainous eastern part of the county, as at Bass Lake and Devils Postpile National Monument.  The monument preserves fascinating basalt lava columns along with Rainbow Falls, where water plunges over a 101-foot high volcanic cliff, creating iridescent mist.

"It stands in Marin County, or rather, it is Marin County; for take away Tamalpais and what is left hardly fills a wheelbarrow."  So wrote a journalist, with a snip of exaggeration.  Although Mt. Tam crowns the county, an extensive maze of headlands, rolling hills, rugged low mountains, and steep canyons characterizes the Marin Peninsula, except along level coastal margins, where embayments scallop the shore.  Marin may be named after a bay abbreviated from the 18th Century Spanish Bahia del Nuestra Senora del Rosario La Marinera, or it may be a corruption of El Marinero (the Mariner), the Christianized name of a local Indian and skilled navigator who ferried Spaniards across San Francisco Bay.  The county's natural beauty and its proximity to San Francisco have long attracted affluent business and professional people to such exclusive residential communities as Fairfax, Ross, and Kentfield.  Marin is the state's richest county in median family income.  Thanks to the indefatigable efforts of Bay Area conservationists, over decades, more than 40% of the county stands protected in federal, state, city, and community parklands.

The Mariposa County takes its name from Mariposa Creek, so named by Spanish explorers because the found butterflies (las mariposas) flitting everywhere along the stream.  The county originally extended from the Coast Ranges to Nevada, covering one fifth of the state.  Later, politicians whittled away at Mariposa to form 10 additional counties.  Today Mariposa takes in a cross section of the Sierra Nevada--foothills to the west, high peaks to the east, and one of the world's most spectacular valleys, Yosemite.  Lumbering, livestock raising, and tourism anchor the economy.  Mountain towns contain most of the small population, led by Coulterville and Mariposa.  mariposa has the state's oldest courthouse, in continuous use since 1854, and also the California State Mineral and Mining Museum.  The museum displays a fortune in precious metals and gems, including diamonds from Butte County, jade for Monterey County, and glimmering nuggets of gold from the Mother Lode.

Rocky promontories, sand dunes, and marine terraces give way to a mountainous interior etched by small valleys and drained by countless creeks.  Larger watercourses, such as the Eel and Russian rivers, are subject to periodic flooding.  Forests of redwood and Douglas-fir cloak the coastal mountains.  Oak woodlands and mixed coniferous forests prevail farther inland.  Cape Mendocino, presumably named for a Spanish viceroy called Mendoza, gave Mendocino County its name, although the cape is located north of the present county boundary.  When founded in 1850, the county had a population of 55 people.  Settlers began pouring in when the Gold Rush and a construction boom in San Francisco triggered a "lumber rush" in the county.  By 1900 lumber mills dotted most every river and navigable cove.  Today the lumber and wood-products industry still employs almost a quarter of the county's workforce.  Commercial and sport fishing, the second major industry, centers in Fort Bragg.  Agricultural crops including oats, pears, and wine grapes bolster the economy, as does tourism.  The Coastal villages of Mendocino, Albion, and Point Arena, and towns along U.S. Highway 101 like Ukian, Hopland, and Willits possess historical and scenic appeal.

The county's name derives from the Merced River, El Rio de Nuestra Senora de la Merced (river of our lady of mercy), so called by Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga in 1806.  The county stretches across the San Joaquin Valley, bordered by the Diablo Range on the west and the Sierra Nevada foothills on the east.  Numerous irrigation canals crisscross the area, bringing water from the San Joaquin and other rivers to dairies, livestock ranches, and farms.  Major crops include alfalfa, almonds, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.  Merced, the county's major town, serves as a gateway to Yosemite.  Boaters and fishermen enjoy sizable San Luis Reservoir. Located beside scenic Pacheco Pass.  The reservoir is a key storage facility of the California Water Plan, a giant dam-and-aqueduct system built to carry "surplus" Northern California water to points south.

The word "Modoc" derives from a local Indian tribe who fought in California's largest Indian war.  Ill-treated Modocs entrenched themselves in a lava-rock fortress--now part of Lava Beds National Monument--where 71 warriors stood off an army of about 1000 U.S. soldiers and volunteers for six months.  Basaltic lava flows and cinder cones spread over the western two thirds of the county, the Modoc Plateau.  The plateau comprises the largest volcanic-rock expanse in California.  Livestock ranching, forestry, farming and tourism support the economy.  Fishermen enjoy the many lakes and trout streams.  Hunters set their sights on plentiful mule deer and the largest pronghorn-antelope herd in the state.  The county's extreme northeastern location leads to cultural as well as physical isolation from the rest of California' many residents shop in Lakeview and Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Mono County is in the center of a vast alpine region of breathtaking scenery, fascinating geologic features, and a myriad of recreational opportunities. Located in the Eastern Sierra's heartland, it is a land of high relief and striking contrasts. There are sweeping views of granite crags over 13,000 feet, scenic glacial valleys, clear lakes and streams and plentiful wildlife. At the center of the county is Mono Lake, a vital habitat for millions of migratory and nesting birds. Visitors enjoy a variety of recreational opportunities embraced in three Wilderness Areas, two National Forests and the world class ski resort communities of Mammoth Lakes and June Mountain.

The county takes its name from Monterey Bay, christened in 1602 by Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino for the Conde de Monterey, then viceroy of Mexico, North-south trending mountains fill the west and east parts of the county, separated by the broad, 130-mile-long Salinas Valley.  The valley's rich soil and long growing season produce bountiful harvests.  Monterey leads the nation in growing artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, mushrooms, and strawberries.  The county possesses some f the finest scenery in California, from plunging promontories at Big Sur to cypress-topped coastal bluffs on the Monterey Peninsula.  The famed 17-mile drive between Carmel and Pacific Grove highlights trees massed with millions of migrating black-and-orange monarch butterflies.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row exhibits more than 6500 marine animals and features a 3-story kelp forest display, the tallest aquarium tank in the world.

"Napa," an obscure Indian word, has been variously translated to mean "house," "fish," "grizzly bear," "abundant," and "motherland."  Today "Napa" usually brings to mind another four-letter word, "wine."  Napa Valley, only 30 miles long and 1 to 5 miles wide, forms the heart of the county and stands out as the most acclaimed wine-producing region in the United States.

Dozens of wineries dot the valley, drawn by ideal grape-growing conditions.  Mount Saint Helena to the north and lower ranges to the east and west shelter the valley.  Warm summers, mild winters, and the consequent long growing season combine with varied soils and intervalley microclimates to support many kinds of grapes.  Over two million sightseers a year visit Napa Valley.  The sample the vintners' offerings and enjoy one of the most attractive rural landscapes in the state.  Many local residents strive to protect their "Agricultural Yosemite" from growing commercialization, as evidenced by the controversy of the Wine Train.  The train brings passengers past 27 wineries between the towns of Napa and St. Helena, but the train also brings noise, pollution, traffic disruption, and a carnival atmosphere to the valley.

Mountainous Nevada County stretches from the east edge of the Sacramento Valley to the Nevada state line.  Nevada means "snowy" or "snow-covered," and in winter snow indeed blankets the county.  Boca, a mountain hamlet, has recorded California's coldest temperature, 45o below zero.  The county's growth rate has spiraled as ex0urbanites have migrated to attractive rural communities like Nevada City and Grass Valley.  Tourism and logging mainstay an economy formerly based on gold mining.  Empire Mine State Park in Grass Valley contains the largest, deepest, and richest hardrock gold mine in California.  Active from 1850 to 1957, the mine's tunnels burrow over 360 miles, some to a depth of over a mile beneath the surface.

This smallest of Southern California counties contains just 786 square miles (as compared to San Bernardino's 20,000+ square miles).  Broad sandy beaches, tidal flats, and a gently sloping coastal plain in the north give way to a narrow coastal strip, high terraces, and rolling hills in the south, backed by the Santa Ana Mountains.  Prevalent shell mounds along the coast reveal a long-term Indian presence before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in 1769.  Periods of ranching and agriculture preceded the explosive urbanization of recent decades.  Despite its small area, Orange now ranks as the second most populous county in California, chock-a-block with aerospace, pharmaceutical, and computer industries, shopping centers, and residential suburbs.  Development has drastically reduced the orange groves that inspired the count's name.  Ironically. not a single grove remained in the town of Orange until the city planted an acre of Valencia orange trees in a park.

Placer County's topography ranges from the flat Sacramento Valley upward through rolling foothills and steepening mountains to the 9006-foot summit of Granite Chief.  Placer means "shoal" in Spanish, a mining term for sand and gravel washed (typically from a riverside shoal) to extract particles of gold.  Auburn, the county seat, sits at a transportation crossroads and served as a gateway to the northern mining camps.  It contains an Old Town with buildings from the 1850s, and a county museum displaying Gold Rush memorabilia.  Hinterland farms specialize in cattle, fruits, nuts, and grain crops.  Tourism stokes the economy in the mountainous part of the county.  Many urbanites who visited Placer County's attractive Sierra foothills and Lake Tahoe locales decided to stay.  Between 1980 and 1990 the county's population jumped by 46 percent, among the fastest growth rates in the state.

A Spanish explorer observed brightly plumed waterfowl along a river and called it El Rio de Las Plumas, "River of the Feathers."  The county took the name, appropriately, since the river's headwaters and three major forks course through the mountainous region.  The Feather River is the largest river in the Sierra Nevada.  Several wild stretches remain, but dams and power plants harness most of the flow.  The county's economy relies mainly on lumbering and tourism.  Quincy, the largest town, hosts a celebrated county fair and displays pioneer relics in a distinguished county museum.  East of Quncy lies the historic mining town of Johnsville.  Plumas Eureka State Park completely surrounds Johnsville.  The 6769-acre park, called the most picturesque in the state-park system, contains glacier-carved mountains, clear-water lakes, and many babbling creeks.

The county's name traces back to the City of Riverside, so-named for its proximity to the Santa Ana River.  The county stretches 184 miles across Southern California, from the Colorado River to within 10 miles of the Pacific Ocean.  The San Jacinto Range separates the thinly populated eastern. desert side of the county from the bustling western hills and valleys.  During the 1980s Riverside grew by 76 percent, the fastest growing county in California.  The well-balanced economy includes construction, retail, and service sectors, as well as manufacturing and agriculture.  Riverside played an early role in California's multimillion-dollar citrus industry.  In 1873 a resident planted two mutant "navel" oranges sent from Brazil.  The trees flourished and bud cuttings from the trees expanded to a 20,000-acre orchard by 1895.  One of the original trees, protected by a high fence and surrounded by commercial buildings. still produces oranges.

Sacramento County takes its name from the Sacramento River.  In 1808 explorer Gabriel Moraga named a tributary Sacramento, Spanish for "Holy Sacrament," and in time the main stream took the name.  The state's largest river carries one third of California's annual runoff.  The water course begins as a small lake outlet near Mount Eddy (Trinity County's highpoint), flows to a confluence with the American River at Sacramento, and later empties into San Francisco Bay, a 400-mile-long course.  The river provides a great port; it allowed Sacramento to burgeon as a trade an supply center for gold miners and later for agriculture.  Sacramento became a terminus for the Pony Express, a depot for the state's first railroad, and a site for the state capital.  Modeled after the nation's capitol, the neoclassic state capitol building shows off Roman Corinthian columns, a 210-foot-high dome, and a gilded cupola.  nearby, the California State Indians Museum chronicles native American culture, Sutter's Fort displays the first non-native settlement in Sacramento, and the California State Railroad Museum warehouses 21 locomotives and cars. the largest museum of its kind in the world.

San Bentio
Mountainous terrain punctuated by isolated valleys characterizes San Benito's topography.  Fremont Peak State Park typifies the uplands, clothed in chaparral, grass, and oak.  Pinnacles National Monument features ancient volcanic spires and crags.  Agriculture and population cluster around Hollister, the county's one sizeable flatland, an extension of the Santa Clara Valley.  Hollister serves as a fruit and vegetable packing center and a supply point for the surrounding ranches.  Several active fault lines cross the community, known as "the earthquake capital of California."  In the Hollister Hills, 9 miles south, the San Andreas Geophysical Observatory utilizes some of the world's most sophisticated equipment to monitor the temblors.

San Bernardino
San Bernardino County spreads over 20,000 square miles, making it by far the largest county in California and also the largest county in the contiguous 48 states.  A valley basin in the southwest corner of the county contains most of the population.  The imposing San Bernardino Mountains form a backdrop to the valley, and in the rain shadow north and east of the mountains lies the vast Mojave Desert.  Desert ranges, basins, washes, dry lakes, lava flows, and sand dunes cover four fifths of the county.

In 1810 priests dedicated a branch mission on the feast day of Saint Bernardino, linking the saint's name to the area.  The city os San Bernardino began in 1851 as a Mormon settlement modeled after Salt Lake City.  Today, the city serves as a hub of the booming "Inland Empire" of western San Bernardino and western Riverside counties, one of the fastest growing regions in the nation.  Proximity to business centers in Los Angeles and comparatively low land prices spurred the conversion of rural land to subdivisions in towns like Montclair, Rialto, and Rancho Cucamonga.  Surrounding agricultural lands still support thriving citrus. poultry, and diary industries.

San Diego
Spanish explorers named the area after Saint Didacus of Alcala, Spain.  The county sprawls across 4255 square miles, including 76 miles of coastline and half a million acres of desert.  In the spring, it's possible to splash in the ocean, throw snowballs in the mountains, and see wild flowers in the desert all on the same day.  Such amenities and a mild climate have spurred spectacular population growth.  During the last 40 years the sicty of San Diego jumped from the 31st to the 6th largest city in the nation.  Of course, the expanding population adversely impacts the environment.  Habitat dest4ructions, combined with the great diversity of climate, topography, and geology, give the county a somber distinction:  Sand Diego has the highest incidences of rare and endangered plants of any county in the continental United States.

San Francisco
Uniquely situated on a narrow peninsula, surrounded on three sides by ocean and bay waters, this smallest and most densely populated California county has a varied landscape on its 46 square miles.  The name derives from the Mission San Francisco de Assisi.  The county's hills consist of Francisco Formation cherts, sandstones, and shales, while the lowlands contain poorly consolidated sand, gravel, and mudfill.  Structures built upon these unstable sediments suffer the most damage when earthquakes hit, inevitable occurrences because the San Andreas Rift is close by.

The maritime influence moderates temperatures and gives the city one of the most moderate climates in the country, with an average seasonal range of just 12 degrees.  Brisk ocean breezes "air condition" the city and disperse pollutants to produce the cleanest skies of any metropolis in the state.  The count's boundary also extends out into San Francisco Bay, incorporating Alcatraz, Yerba Buena, and Treasure islands.  The bay ranks as one of the best natural harbors in the world.  Its waters reach to ta depth of 216 feet, but 70% of the bay is less than 12 feet deep.  Since the mid-1880s, river sediments and fill projects have reduced its volume by one third.

San Joaquin
Spanish explorers named the San Joaquin River after Saint Joachim, Biblical father of the Virgin Mary, and the county derived its name from the river.  The San Joaquin flows through the heart of the county's fertile flatland, bounded on the west by the Diablwo Range and on the east by the Sierra foothills.  The San Joaquin joins the Sacramento and Mokelumne rivers to create myriad waterways in the Delta, a magnet for houseboaters and anglers.  A deep-water channel meanders from San Francisco Bay to Stockton, the county seat, creating a major "seaport" almost 80 miles from the ocean.  Giant freighters ply the channel and carry California agricultural products worldwide.  Major San Joaquin County  crops include corn, tomatoes, asparagus, dry beans. sweet cherries, apricots, walnuts, table grapes, and wine grapes,  Lodi, known for it s Tokay vineyards, holds an annual nationally acclaimed Grape Festival and Wine Show. 

San Luis Obispo
The Mission San Luis Obispo bequeathed the county's name honoring Saint Louis, the Bishop of Toulouse.  Mountains pervade the landscape, with the Santa Lucia Range in the west, the Machesna Mountain Wilderness and the Temblor and Caliente ranges in the east.  Population clusters in coastal plains and valleys (Morro Bay, Arroy Grande, and San Luis Obispo) and along the upper Salinas River Valley (Paso Robles and Atascadero).  Picturesque hamlets perch between sheer ocean cliffs and mountainous uplands at Cambria and San Simeon.  Opulent Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument and scenic Montana De Oro and Morrow Bay stat parks draw thousands of visitors yearly.  Famous Morro Rock once stood as an island at high tide.  Over 1 million tons of rock quarried between 1880 and 1963 dramatically altered its shape.  the 581-foot-high landmark now stands as a wildlife sanctuary (climbing prohibited) to protect endangered peregrine-falcon nests high on the rock.

San Mateo
Saint Mateo, Spanish for the apostle Saint Matthew, first appeared as a regional place name in 1776,.  The Santa Cruz Mountains rise between the ocean and the bay sides of the county.  The cool and often foggy ocean side contains rocky headlands and beach terraces interspersed with truck farms and small communities.  The warmer and milder bay side consists of foothills and a broad alluvial plain with a swelling population.  Nurseries, retail stores, and electronics plants, among myriad other businesses, spur the economy.  Early logging enterprises echo in county names like Redwood City, Page Mill Road, and Woodside.  San Mateo boast many elegant residential communities, including Burlingame, Hillsborough, and Atherton.

Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara derives its name from the mission and commemorates Saint Barbara, a Roman virgin beheaded by her pagan father for accepting Christianity.  Santa Barbara has a 109-mile coastline--the longest of any county in California.  The coastal plain quickly gives way to rolling foothills, interior valleys, shopping centers, and residences.  In the Santa Ynez Valley to the north, more than 30 wineries cover the hillsides with vineyards, while in Lompoc, flower growers blanket thousands of acres with poppies, marigolds, and other blossoms to supply a sizable part of the world's horticultural sees.  the county's boundaries incorporate several Channel Islands.  On the largest island, Santa Cruz, Devil's Peak rises 2450+ feet above sea level, the highest offshore summit in California!

Santa Clara
The county's name comes from the Mission Santa Clara, honoring Saint Clare of Assisi, Italy, who founded the first Franciscan order of nuns, called the Poor Clares.  The broad Santa Clara Valley forms the heart of the county, sided by the Santa Cruz Mountains on the west and the Diablo Range on the east.  The Valley's mild climate and rich alluvial soils favored orchard and vergetable farming.  In the 1950s and 1960s, the local electronics industry, stimulated by research at Stanford University, experienced phenomenal growth.  Computer chips replaced cheery orchards as "Silicon Valley" became the world leader in the microchip business, and San Jose surpassed San Francisco as the third most populous city in the state, behind only Los Angels and San Diego.  The surrounding uplands retain some of their natural beauty thanks to the creation of numerous parklands.  The largest by far, nearly 80,000-acres Henry W., Coe State Park, preserves ranchland and wildlands little changed form a century ago.

Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, named after a mission established in 1791, translates as "Holy Cross."  From northern Monterey Bay, a coastal plain is backed by terraces and foothills that extend to the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains.  A noted University of California campus ensconced the the foothills sports an unusual school mascot, the banana slug.  Many Silicon Valley workers choose to live in the mountain or beach areas of Santa Cruz County and commute as much as an hour over the ridge into technology-rich Santa Clara County.  Santa Cruz leads all California counties in apple productions, centered around Watsonville, the second largest town.  Other important crops include mushrooms, raspberries, and brussel sprouts.  Santa Cruz mountain grapes are coveted by vintners throughout Northern California and local residents appear to be recently transplanted from the Mid West.  Capitola, known as the Begonia Capital of the World, cultivates many kinds of flowers.  Tourists support the economy as the explore the county's redwoods parks and play at the seaside resort town of Santa Cruz.  The coastal beaches abound with great sailing, surfing and other beach activities.  There is a protected area for the migrating Monarch butterfly providing refuge for millions of these fascinating insects.  A famous beach boardwalk in Santa Cruz has a Giant Dipper rollercoaster, which has carried over 25 million screaming riders since 1924.

Shasta County, named after Mount Shasta, encompasses the upper Sacramento Valley and an arc of mountains to the north, east, and west.  Wood products, livestock, fruit and nut orchards, and nursery crops contribute to commerce and as a gateway to the surrounding recreation areas.  Campers, boaters, and fishermen converge on Shasta Lake, the largest man-made lake in the state.  The lake has 365 miles of shoreline, one third more than San Francisco Bay.  The reservoir stores water from the Sacramento, Pit, and McCloud rivers for flood control, irrigation, hydroelectric power generation, and other purposes.  Colossal Shasta Dam stands 602 feet high and has the world's highest overflow spillway, three times higher than Niagara Falls.

The Spanish Sierra translates to "mountain range", and also as "saw."  Sierra Nevada means "snowy mountain range" or " snow saw," a poetic reference to the snowy, serrated skyline.  Sierra County takes its name from the Sierra Nevada, which straddles the county, and/or from Sierra Buttes, a cluster of jagged granite peaks situated in the heart of the county.  The county's mountains contain 45 mile-high lakes, abundant trout streams, and the main ranching basin in the Sierra Nevada, Sierra Valley.  This 5000-foot-high valley has a short growing season, limiting crops to summer hay and grains.  Livestock, lumber, tourism, and government jobs bring income to the lightly populated county.  Little Downieville, the county seat, parades 19th Century buildings with overhanging balconies that harken back to Gold Rush days.  Nearby Sierra City gained fame in 1869 with the discovery of a "Monumental Nugget" weighing 141 pounds!

The word "Siskiyou" has a dim origin.  It may stem from "Six Callieux" (six stones), the early French fur-trapper's name for an Umpqua River crossing.  Many rivers drain the well-watered county, including Klamath, the Salmon, the Scott, and headwater tributaries of the Sacramento.  Mountain ranges interspersed with hills and valleys characterize the topography.  Forest products, beef cattle, and field crops lead the economy.  The county ranks first in the estate in growing oats and fall potatoes.  Yreka, the largest town and county seat, began as a Gold Rush camp in 1851.  Mining-era buildings front the business zone, and Victorian homes beautify an nationally registered historic district.  California's first successful fish hatchery, a century-old site in Mount Shasta City, has spawned rainbow trout by ty millions for planting as far away as New Zealand.

In 1835 General Mariano Vallejo befriended a local Indian Chief who led his tribe to protect a mission and settlers' properties from attacks by other Indians.  In gratitude, Vallejo later asked that the county be named, in the chief's honor, "Solano," his baptized name, after the Mission San Francisco Solano at Sonoma.  The Sacramento River floodplain covers the southern and eastern two thirds of the county, an important agricultural area.  Farms specialize in fruits, tree nuts, and beef cattle.  Food processing and natural-gas fields also aid the economy.  South Solano edges the Delta lands, a labyrinth of waterways, islands, and mudflats embracing some 1000 miles of navigable channels.  Grizzly Island State Wildlife Area, south of Fairfield, contains the nation's most expansive estuarine march, a home to waterfowl, river otter, and tule elk.

Renowned horiculturist Luther Burbank considered Sonoma County "the chosen spot of all earth as far as nature is concerned."  Sea cliffs and coves etch a long Pacific shoreline.  Rivers and creeks meander through forested coastal mountains.  Orchards and vineyards accent rolling hills and valleys.  The name "Sonoma" comes from an Indian word translated by some to mean "valley of the moon" and by others to indicate "land of chief nose," perhaps referring to a tribal leader's prominent facial feature.

In 1775 the first non-Indian to explore the area, a Spaniard named Francisco de la Bodega, dropped anchor in the bay now bearing his name.  The first white settlers, a party of Russians, hunted sea otters and planted wheat on bluffs overlooking the bay in 1809.  Farther north, they later built Fort Rossiya (Little Russia), complete with a governor's residence, a domed chapel, and many other structures.  The settlers planned to grow crops to supply their Alaskan colonies, and even establish a Russian state.  Concerned Mexican and American leaders sought to check their expansion, but th Russians left peacefully of their own accord in 1841.  Overhunting, crop failures, and additional hardships led to their departure.  Other immigrants took their place, and growth has continues to the present day.  Santa Rosa, the county seat, is the largest city in Northern California north of San Francisco and west of Sacramento.  Here, as well as in Petaluma, Sonoma, and smaller towns, residents work to preserve the region's physical charms in the face of relentless urbanization.

The word "Stanislaus" traces back to a mission-educated Indian chief baptized "Estanislao," after a Polish saint.  Estanislao ran away and led other Indians in an 1829 battle with Mexican troops beside a river, subsequently named for the chief.  The county took its name from the river.  The Diablo Range rises along the west edge of the county, and the Sierra foothills border on the east.  Three major rivers course through the county: the Stanislaus, the Tuolumne and the San Joaquin.  The rivers and the state's largest groundwater basin irrigate bountiful floodplain farmlands.  Peaches, melons, apricots, and walnuts head a long list of county crops.  Poultry and livestock ranching also boost the economy.  Modesto, the county seat, prospers, with food-processing plants, dairies , and other industries, including a huge Gallo winery.  The winery produces one fourth of all wine consumed each year in the United States.

The Buttes and the county take their name from John A. Sutter (1803-1880), an influential Northern California pioneer and the first white man to lay claim to the Buttes.  Precious yellow metal discovered at Sutter's sawmill near Sacramento triggered the Gold Rush.  Apart from the Buttes, Sutter County encompasses a broad plain between the Sacramento and Feather rivers.  Floods long plagued the lowlands, but the resulting rich alluvial soils allow farmers to grow a cornucopia of crops, including beans, rice, walnuts, peaches, and prunes.  Sutter National Wildlife Refuge harbors migratory waterfowl.  Farmers lobbied for the refuge on the premise that birds would flock to the sanctuary for food, rather than feast on their corps.  Today land speculators pose a more pressing threat.  Between 1988 and 1992 speculation drove the value of farmland in south Sutter Co7nty from $2,500 to $16,000 an acre.  As farmers sell out, rice fields become subdivisions.  This process is gobbling up irreplaceable fertile acreage in farming areas throughout California.

An Indian tribe named Tehama may have inhabited the region.  Other interpretations suggest that Tehama comes from an Indian word for lowland, or from the Arabic tehama, which means "hot lowlands."  The latter term fits Red Bluff to a tee.  This main town and county seat roasts in summertime with some of the hottest temperatures in the nation.  The all-time high registered 121o in 1981.  Red Bluff centers in the northern Sacramento Valley.  The county boundaries extend to the Coast Ranges on the west and to the Cascade Range and the Sierra Nevada foothills on the east.  Tehama ranks high in olive production.  The Sevillano variety, grown for eating rather than for olive oil, flourishes in orchards around Corning, south of Rd Bluff.  Other important crops include hay, wheat, sugar beets, and rice.  Lumbering and livestock also add to the economy.

Trinity county takes its name from the Trinity River, named by Major Pearson Reading in 1845, who mistakenly thought the river emptied into Trinidad Ba6y (Trinity is the English equivalent of Trinidad).  In 1775 Spanish explorers named Trinidad Head, a promontory above Trinidad Bay in Humboldt County, for Trinity Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost).  Mountains blanket Trinity county.  The Klamath Ranges cover the northern two thirds of the county, and the Coast Ranges extend over the southern third.  Pine and fir forests dominate the vegetation and underpin an economy based on lumbering and wood products.  Livestock ranching and tourism also play a role.  Recreation centers around the magnificent, glaciated Trinity Alps.  Weaverville, the only town of consequence, had more residents during Gold Rush than it has today.  The entire county population numbers only about 15,000--too few to require traffic lights or parking meters.

"Tulare" comes from Los Tules, Spanish for "The Rushes," alluding to former widespread marshlands around Tulare Lake.  County elevations range from 260 feet on the San Joaquin Valley floor to over 14,000 feet in the High Sierra.  Level alluvial soils suited to agriculture cover the western third of the county.  Tulare holds first place in the state for sorghum grain, kiwi fruit, olives, pomegranates, table grapes, and Valencia oranges.  Such crops, as well as livestock, poultry, and dairy production give Tulare the second highest agricultural income of any county in the nation.  Forested slopes, deep canyons, and high peaks suited to recreation comprise the eastern two-thirds of the county.  Over 40 developed campground sot the back country.  Domeland Wilderness and golden Trout Wilderness invite exploration.  Sequoia National Park protects the world's largest Giant Sequoia: the General Sherman tree stands 275 feet high and about 33 feet in diameter.

The melodic Indian word Tuolumne has been given various possible meanings, including "people who dwell in stone houses" and "straight up steep."  The entirely mountainous county extends from Sierra foothills to high peaks on the crest of the range.  A small population clusters in old mining towns like China Camp and Sonora, the county seat.  County commerce revolves around lumbering, cattle and poultry raising, and tourism, centered in Yosemite.  Interestingly, Park visitation has increased by about a th8ird since 1975, to around 3.5 million people per year, while backcountry use has dropped by half.  The reduction reflects the impact of the wilderness-permit system as well as a demographic shift in the population, as aging baby boomers trade backpacks and trail camps for suitcases and country inns.

Junipero Serra founded Mission San Buenaventura in 1782.  The name commemorates a 13th Century Italian cleric.  The local Chumash Indians surprised the Spaniards with their technical skills; the Indians built partitioned rooms in their homes, created beautiful pottery and basketry, and used asphalt to caulk canoes.  The presence of asphalt, a crude form of oil, indicated deposits of petroleum, later to form a mainstay of the county's economy.  Agriculture flourishes in the deltalike coastal lowland called the Oxnard lain.  Major crops include lemons, lima beans, lettuce, and cut flowers.  Urbanization now competes with agriculture for land.  Population clusters in the large towns of Ventura and Oxnard on the coastal plain, and in smaller towns like Ojai and Santa Paula, tucked in interior valleys.  Forty-six percent of the county's land area lies within Los Padres National Forest. 

The word "yolo" most likely comes from a native Indian term Yoloy, meaning "a place abounding with rushes."  Rush-filled marshlands once prevailed in low-lying eastern Yolo County.  Flooding from the Sacramento River and from Cache, Putah, and Willow creeks created rich alluvial soils.  Today, a flood of suburban housing threatens the fertile farmland.  Major crops include alfalfa, barley, safflower, and sugar beets, as well as tomatoes, almonds, peaches, and honeydew melons.  Woodland, the largest town and the county seat, supplies the area's farmers and has food-possessing plants.  The city of Davis, south of Woodland, has received awards for progressive energy-conservation programs.  The town contains miles of bikeways, and hosts a University of California campus, considered one of the top 20 research universities in the country.

The Yuba River gave the county its name.  The rivers's name may derive from a local Indian tribe called variously "Yubu," "Yupu." and "Jubu," or from a Spanish word for grape, "uba," a reference to wild grapes growing in profusion along the stream banks.  Western Yuba County spreads over the Sacramento Valley where rice, peaches, prunes, and other crops thrive in the fertile soil.  Eastern Yuba County extends into the Sierra foothills and mountain slopes, culminating at Sugar Pine Peak.  Marysville, the county seat, lies at the confluence of the Feather and Yuba rivers and serves as a ajor supply center for farmers in the lowlands and recreationists in the mountains.  The sport of competitive skiing may have originated in the gold-mining camps along La Porte Road.  Miners fashioned Scandinavian-inspired wooden runners to get about in the snow, and friendly rivalries developed among the fastest skiers.  A ski club formed to organize downhill races for cash purses, which often included miners' golden nuggets.

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