I live in Fresno County, which is bigger than Connecticut. http://www.co.fresno.ca.us/CountyPage.aspx?id=19947 I will skip the western part, to which I do not range, so my zone of exploration includes parts of the Central Valley of California and the foothills and mountains of the Sierra Nevada range.
The Central Valley is very hot and dry in summer, mild and damp in winter. It’s agricultural, multicultural, and poverty-stricken.
Agriculture here and all coastal California cities depend on snowmelt from the Sierra mountains and a canal system for their water. There are 206 canal systems in Fresno County. I can locate no map of all the canals–I guess it’s too complicated.
While one might think that the mountains are where the action is here in Central California, I find the foothills and lower reaches of the rivers harbor more deer for carnivores and more food of other kinds and make for easier travel.
The Sierra tops out over 14,000 feet above sea level. So do the Rocky Mountains, but there is a big difference. See the chart below.
How big and bad is it? I lived in Colorado for a spell. The mountain highways and many roads are open most of the winter, except before they are plowed after a big snow. When I moved to California, I was surprised to find that the central Sierra has only one actual highway, I 80, that crosses it completely and it is usually not open all winter. There are a few smaller roads that cross here and there, mostly in the northern part, but they are closed winters. I guess we are lucky we don’t have to use a mule train in summertime.
The mountain terrain is extremely barren, rugged, and unforgiving. The rivers start up high on distant snow capped peaks but quickly enter deep valleys between massive, precipitous granite slopes. You will never feel so small. You will understand why the pioneers did not attempt them. Except a few, like the Donners.
In summer, the three nearby national parks–Yosemite, Sequoia, and King’s Canyon, draw tourists. Too many tourists. If I go up into the Sierra when tourists are around, I go on a weekday and I go to less popular areas. In winter, snow limits travel to the high country. So fall and spring are the best windows for adventure at altitude.
This summer it was so dry in the mountains that I unsurprisingly found little action up high. Around rivers, lakes, and canals, or whatever water there was to be had were more likely spots. Usually there are more flowing canals, creeks, and smaller ponds, but they were sure dried up this year.
We have big trees here. Many kinds grow over 150 feet tall.
Valley oak–largest kind of oak. Has long acorns.
Sequoia redwood–monsters up to 240 feet tall and the trunk 40 feet in diameter.
Gray pine–has foot-long needles.
There are mule deer, bobcats, skunk, mountain lions, zillions of ground squirrels, assorted other rodents, kit foxes, black bear, eagles, many waterfowl and wading birds, woodpeckers, and ravens, as well as the usual kinds of animals.
The deer population has declined seriously in recent years due to predation of fawns. Goodness knows there are plenty of acorns to eat. Eastern Fresno County has a cougar population in excess of 4o, it is estimated. From time to time, one is seen in Fresno city limits.