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What Makes California California: More Than You Ever Cared to Know About Geomorphology

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This series on what makes California such a unique and special place began with an overview of the state's incredible biodiversity.  Then, a few days ago, we talked about California's climate.  (Actually, we did much more than that: we went through an entire crash course on atmospheric conditions and threw in a few laws of physics just for fun.  If you missed it, catch up here.)

Today's post is broken into four sections that each realistically deserve not only their own article, but their own text book(s)!  Those sections are:

California's Geomorphic ProvincesPlate Tectonics and Geologic ProcessesSoilsThe Rain Shadow Effect
Much like we trekked all the way to the source and recognized the sun, along with Earth's tilt and rotation, as the ultimate driving forces of California's climate, today we'll peel back several more layers of science to take a look not only at California's diverse topography, but the tectonic forces and geologic processes that are th…

What Makes California California: More Than You Ever Cared to Know About Climate

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California is certainly a special place.  A treasure trove of natural wonders and beauty, the state encompasses one of the world's hotspots of biodiversity.  But what makes California so remarkable, so rich in endemic plants and animals found nowhere else in the world?

There have been a couple of key factors at work in this mountainous West Coast state through the ages, shaping it into what it is today: one of those factors is its unique climate, and the other is its diverse topography and underlying geology.

Today, we'll take a look at California's very special climate.



The mild, Mediterranean climate of California is shared by only four other regions in the world: central Chile, the southwestern tip of South Africa, southwestern Australia, and the Mediterranean basin surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.  Mediterranean climates are characterized by hot, dry summers, and cool, wet winters; they experience essentially no extreme freezes.

In contrast to California's Medit…

What Makes California California: Biodiversity

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There are a lot of reasons to love California, particularly as a naturalist.



California is a land of extremes, from submarine canyons to alpine peaks, from high heat and aridity to remarkable snow pack.  It boasts the tallest trees, the most massive trees, and the oldest [non-clonal] trees.  Within its borders, one can stand on the tallest point in the conterminous United States (Mount Whitney, 14,500 feet above sea level) as well as the lowest (Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level).

In addition to the greatest difference in elevation, California also has the greatest range of latitude, the highest soil diversity, the largest range of average annual rainfall and the greatest range of average annual temperature in the continental U.S.  While northwestern California may receive over eight feet of rain in a given year, Death Valley may experience less than two inches.  At the same time, temperatures may be well below freezing in the High Sierra, and in the balmy 70's in the dese…

Urban Birding

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As confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Stanislaus County continue to double every eight days, it has earned the distinction of becoming the county with the third-highest rate of transmission in the state.  Orders to stay home and avoid all unnecessary travel remain firmly in place.  Locals seem to be interpreting this in quite a few different ways, especially those of us accustomed to making regular trips out into the wild lands in search of birds and blooms.  But for the time being, Eric and I choose to err on the side of caution, take ourselves off the roads and away from public restrooms and gas stations, and quite literally stay home and within walking distance of home.

Thus restricted, I'd like to take you along with me on a little evening urban birding walk through the university campus in my town.  (Note the presence of a man-made object in every photo!  ...And that these photos were all taken in the fading light of evening, which doesn't agree with my camera!)


The campus of…