/ California's Great San Joaquin Valley - Description of the San Joaquin Valley

Beyond the river stretches the interminable prairie, where the fields of harvested wheat lie wrapped in slumber; . . . . The light stealing upon the broad shadows, first touches the tops of the prairie wagons. . . . Then, making more and more progress, it shines. . . and at last, in full glory of splendor, brings out the yellow of the cultivated fields and the course brown of the sandy soil.

~ Picturesque America, 1872

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Description of the San Joaquin Valley

“The grandest and most telling of California landscapes is outspread before you. At your feet lies the great Central Valley glowing in the sunshine, extending north and south farther than the eye can reach, one smooth, flowery, lake-like bed of fertile soil.”  John Muir

California’s central San Joaquin Valley is one of the seven most fertile valleys in the world - fifteen million acres of land some 450 miles in length and typically 40 to 60 miles wide. Fresno County is located in the heart of this valley and is the most productive agricultural county in the nation.

The story of the San Joaquin Valley is the story of the land - how the land has shaped its inhabitants and its inhabitants have shaped the land. All who have made this valley their home have left their mark on it, including Native Americans who have inhabited the region for centuries, once over three-hundred triblets strong.

The Valley is a huge expanse of plain that, at first sight, few expected - the Spaniards beginning in the 1700s, the Mexicans, Americans, Asians and Europeans beginning in the 1800s. This vast interior valley was created over one hundred million years ago when huge masses of granite rose above the surface of the earth in California to form the core of the Sierra Nevada, and glaciers moved over the land, carving out channels in the mountains that became rivers----rivers that over time brought sediment to the valley. Early explorers and trappers described miles of native grasses, huge expanses of wetlands, bourgeoning rivers, and the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi, Tulare Lake.

Surrounded by mountains, the Sierra Nevada to the east, the Coastal range to the west, the Cascades to the north and the Tehachapis to the south, “there are few regions of the same size that nature has endowed with greater diversity of surface, altitude, humidity, soil, and vegetation than this one” (Kroeber, Alfred, Handbook of Indians of California).

A visit to the Valley today reveals a land that has undergone more transformation over the past 150 years than it experienced over the previous many centuries. It has seen people - cultural communities - from around the world converge on it. It has seen settlements immerge along railroad lines, silos and packing houses rise up, stretches of highway create corridors, and beautifully engineered rows of crops, acres of orchard and miles of irrigation canal create a new kind architecture - a thoroughly man-made one.

Some say the San Joaquin Valley is California’s last frontier or the “other California.” Call it what you like, it is where all of California’s most pressing challenges - immigration, water and land issues - will be played out in this century.

Last Updated Tuesday, January 28, 2020 - 10:08 AM.