People have been following a dream to California for more than one-hundred-fifty years. Around thirty-six-million people live there now, more than in any other state. I'm Steve Ember.

And I’m Faith Lapidus. Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA, from VOA Special English. This week -- California and its people.

At first, the dream was to find gold. In eighteen-forty-eight, a man named James Marshall was working at a sawmill. It was on the American River, about one hundred kilometers northeast of San Francisco. He found a piece of bright metal where the river flowed through the sawmill. It was gold.

People who rushed to California the following year, eighteen-forty-nine, became known as "forty-niners." A few found gold and became rich. Others found jobs and stayed in California.

In eighteen-fifty California became a state.

As years passed, more and more people came to the Golden State. There was lots of sunshine. The weather was warm most of the year. Ocean beaches and mountains were nearby. Jobs could be found in the cities and on farms. Going to California became a dream of many people in the cold, crowded cities of the East and Middle West.

Some of the newcomers dreamed of Hollywood. They came to find a job in the movie capital of the world. But these young men and women were like the early settlers who searched for gold. Only a few became stars or successful Hollywood movie writers.

The newcomers in California found that nature put some problems in their dream. One of them is earthquakes. In nineteen-oh-six an earthquake destroyed the city of San Francisco. It killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people.

Most recently, a powerful earthquake in Southern California in nineteen-ninety-four killed about sixty people in the Los Angeles area. It caused twenty-thousand million dollars in damage to buildings and roads.

Fires are another problem. In late autumn, dry winds race across the desert into Southern California. Any fire can suddenly become a major wildfire.

In late October, major wildfires burned across areas of San Diego, Ventura and San Bernardino counties. More than three-thousand homes were destroyed. More than twenty people were killed.

California is more than one-thousand kilometers long and four-hundred kilometers wide. Mount Whitney, in the Sequoia National Park, is the highest mountain in the forty-eight connected states. It is more than four-thousand-four-hundred meters high.

California also has the lowest place in the United States. It is in Death Valley National Park, in the eastern desert near the border with Nevada. The place is called Badwater Basin. It is eighty-six meters below sea level. In fact, it is the lowest place anywhere in the Americas.

The coastline of California begins at the border with Mexico. It extends one-thousand-three-hundred-fifty kilometers north, to the state of Oregon. The central and southern California coast has many beautiful, sandy beaches. The big waves of the Pacific make these areas great places to surf.

The first Europeans to see the California coast were explorers from Spain and Portugal almost five centuries ago. The peninsula that extends into Mexico made them think it was an island. In fifty-thirty-nine a member of one sailing party recorded the name as "California." California was the name of an imaginary island in a book, a romance novel, that was popular in Spain.

Spain claimed the new land and later built religious settlements to spread Christianity among the native people. Mexico won its independence from Spain in the eighteen-twenties. But Mexico lost California in a war with the United States about twenty-five years later.

The discovery of gold in California soon followed.

Today, California has the largest economy of all the fifty states. In fact, it has one of the largest economies in the world.

In the area of education, California has more state colleges and universities than any other state. The California State University system has more than twenty colleges and universities. The University of California, another system, has schools in nine cities.

California also has more than one-hundred community colleges. These offer two-year study programs to any student who completes high school.

California is rich in natural resources. It has wide areas of farmland. It has large forests. And it is has oil, natural gas and other valuable minerals.

California gets most of its water from rain and snow that fall in its northern and central mountains. But much of its best farmland is dry. So the state sends water from the mountains through pipelines and canals to farms and also to cities along the coast.

America's largest city is New York. After that is Los Angeles, with about four-million people. San Diego, on the border with Mexico, is the second largest city in California. It has one-million-two-hundred-thousand people. San Jose and San Francisco are the third and fourth largest cities. San Jose is near the so-called Silicon Valley, home to many high technology companies.

The state capital is Sacramento.

In October, voters in California dismissed their state governor, Gray Davis, a Democrat. To take his place, they elected Arnold Schwarzenegger, the movie star and former champion bodybuilder. Mr. Schwarzenegger is a Republican who was born in Austria. He took office last Monday.

Mr. Davis had been elected for a second term last November. But Republicans used a recall law passed almost one-hundred years ago to call for a vote to remove him. Many Californians were angry at Mr. Davis because he raised taxes.

Mr. Davis said the state did not have enough money to pay for important government services. He blamed an economic recession and an energy crisis for a budget deficit of thousands of millions of dollars.

Many people were especially angry at a big increase in the vehicle tax. Governor Schwarzenegger, as his first official act, cancelled that increase.

California lawmakers passed the recall law in nineteen-eleven. The law permits people to recall elected officials even without any charges of wrongdoing. Now, for the first time, the law has been used to remove the governor.

Some other states also have recall laws, but make the process more difficult.

Many famous Americans were born in California. Here are a few of them: President Richard Nixon. Poet Robert Frost. Writers Jack London and John Steinbeck. Guitarist and singer Jerry Garcia. Movie maker George Lucas. Actors Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio. Actress Mariel Hemingway. Astronaut Sally Ride. Tennis players Serena and Venus Williams. And golfer Tiger Woods.

People continue to follow their dreams to California. The State Department of Finance expects the population to grow by nearly six-hundred-thousand this year. About half the population growth is from people who arrive from other countries and states.

The Department of Finance says about seventy percent of these new arrivals come from other countries. The largest number is people from Mexico. Almost eleven-million people of Mexican ancestry live in California.

Asian-Pacific ties are also strong. San Francisco, for example, has one of the largest Chinese populations outside Asia. Chinese immigration to California began in large numbers after the Gold Rush. In the eighteen-sixties, thousands of Chinese worked on the first railroad across the state. But there also were anti-Chinese riots.

Twelve percent of people in the United States live in California.

California's population is expected to reach thirty-six-million-five-hundred-thousand next year. At the current growth rate, California will reach fifty-four-million people in just over twenty years.

With so large a population, some fear what may happen to the California dream.

Our program was written by Frank Beardsley and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember.

And I’m Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for more about life in the United States, on the VOA Special English program THIS IS AMERICA.