What if California Was An Island?


Fun historical fact: Back before we had satellites, the best way to know what the world looked like was with maps! And the best way to get maps was to sail around the world, and sometimes, those ships wouldn’t sail all the way – and some liberties may have been taken sometimes, to fill in those gaps. Like…oh. Well, that’s not right. Back in the 16th century, the Spanish were off exploring the coast. Back then there was a popular romance novel called In the novel there was a mythical island populated by a race of of black women. This island’s name California. That’s right Californians, your name is based on that. The Spanish couldn’t explore the coast too easily considering the current went south. Expeditions often failed. So the Spanish kinda just…filled in the blanks and assumed it was the start to an island. And the misconception kinda stuck. Now today we’re left with boring, attached to America California, but what if in an alternate timeline the Spanish had gotten it right? What if California really was just a vast island, broken off from the rest of the continent? Well, here’s one alternate scenario. Since this is a thought experiment – really for fun – I won’t detail every single fact that would change with scientific precision. “But cody,” You say, “what about the fault lines???” Uhh, there. You happy? This video is mostly for fun, to show how things would be if the map was actually right. How this would happen isn’t really the important part ’cause, look at it, it’s so ridiculous, I love it. So, going by the warped perspective of this map, this island goes from the tip of Baha, California, up to around central Oregon. (If we’re going by its relation to the great lakes.) The island of California is obviously very large. It would certainly be the 2nd largest island in the world. Surprisingly, Greenland is actually bigger. In this alternate scenario, it would be far more difficult for the native people to ever migrate into California. But not for the reason you might expect. They could have easily sailed there – they did that already in the Caribbean. The issue is elevation. If California was an island like the Spanish originally thought, this strait of water, let’s call it ‘the Strait of Cortez’, wouldn’t have much of that beach front property you’d imagine. The elevation for the central US is unsurprisingly, high. So going from land to sea level is steep. Very steep. The coast would appear like canyon cliffs. At minimum, their height would scale roughly 3962m, along the entire coastline. Think less ‘Cliffs of Dover’ – not even the Grand Canyon. For comparison, the Grand Canyon is only 1828m. So these are steep and vast unrealistic cliffs. The ramifications of them scientifically is too much to discuss, I just wanna focus on the human element. They constrain migration. There are really only a few regions suitable for port cities: the coast of Oregon, the coast of California, and the lowland bays of Sonora. Fast forward a few thousand years, and colonisation really doesn’t change at all, so we don’t need to worry about that. The Spanish explore the coast and accurately map the island perfectly. Good job guys. It’s now the 19th century. When Mexico declares independence, and brings the low populated territory of Spanish California along with it. Sadly for Mexico, Texas wanted independence too. After 10 years of Texan nationhood, we have the Mexican-American war. With a few tweaks. America would have won the war, no matter what. Sorry Mexico. So what changes is the demands the Manifest crazy Americans wish to see come true. 1st, the Strait of Cortez makes American migration to California on foot impossible. With these cliffs, you could only go to a few areas to sail to the island, and this would make the American population in Mexican California far too small for any “California Republic” rebellion. 2nd, California is not nearly as important. The true prize, is the Mexican state of Sonora. The low elevation of Sonora would make it one of the few beach front properties in the west. 3rd, America might still want the island, because Manifest Destiny, but without a California republic, the American military really just invades California anyway: first by seizing Sonora, then using its beaches to sail across to the island. with few military forces, it’s likely the island falls to the US. Mexico concedes, Texas, New Mexico California and Sonora go to the US. California’s immediate problem is geography. Simply put, they’re really isolated. with those 4km high cliffs, nobody is crossing into the state anywhere except in these areas. If California truly did look like this, the transportation system in the US would be (more of) a nightmare. There would need to be two steps whenever the island is involved. Be it simply driving or transporting actual goods. The interstate system would be two systems: one for California, and one for everyone else. Say in this alternate world, you and your family took a road trip to California. 1st, you wouldn’t drive right to it. You would drive all the way to Sonora, then take a ferry to reach the island. This might seem small, but it changes California’s entire destiny. California’s long coast and land connection to the US is what made it the 6th largest global economy. Trade is everything. Los Angeles, San Fransisco and San Diego Boomed because of their naval ports. But when California shares no land with the continent, it can’t ship goods from its ports to the rest of the country. So why would California boom from trade in this alternate world? Long story short, it wouldn’t. The only need for Californian ports is for goods going to California. The actual trade to the United States instead goes to the states of Sonora and Washington. Regions on the coast actually connected to the country. The city of Guaymas sits on one of the few low coastal areas. In this alternate world, it is one of the largest American port cities. Sonora’s main profits are from its geographic location, between the west coast and California. And yes, California wouldn’t be the west coast. The west coast is the vast cliffsides overlooking the sea. It’d be made up of deserts and great plains. This region is far less populated. Not many cities are built in the desert along a path that leads to the edge of the world: the cliffs of Nevada. I’d imagine poor pioneers dragging along the desert, only to come across a steep cliff, and no way to cross. So what is actually the point of this video? Geography is significant in the destiny of a region. If California actually had looked like the Spanish thought it did It wouldn’t nearly have the influence and economy in this alternate world. But this is simply one scenario out of the countless that could happen. We’ll never truly know what would happen if California was an island. But it’s interesting how significantly geography can play a role in how our lives are shaped. What do you think would happen? This is Cody, of Alternate History Hub.

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