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Some of the well-known features of California include Death Valley, the Mojave Desert, the San Andreas Fault, the romantic San Francisco Bay area and the majestic Sequoias and Redwoods. Numerous lakes and rivers, such as the American River in which gold was discovered in the mid-1800s, provide scenic beauty and recreational opportunities.

In addition, California boasts more than 200 state parks and recreational areas, including world-class National Parks such as Yosemite National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. Among state-sponsored fun spots are Gray Whale Cove State Beach, McArthur-Burney Falls State Park and Tule Elk State Reserve.

California's Central Valley dominates the central portion of the state. This vast agricultural region, drained by the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, possesses some of the most fertile soil in the country, and is the basis of the state's productive agricultural industry.

The wild-and-woolly early days of the state produced a number of colorful characters. Railroading giants, often referred to as the "Big Four", included the likes of Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker and Collis P. Huntington.