Golden Gate Bridge
Location & Geography

San Francisco Bay – Discovery and early settlement

The first Europeans known to have visited the Bay Area were Britain’s Sir Francis Drake and his crew, who landed safely in what is now Drakes’ Bay on Point Reyes, northwest of San Francisco. The Spaniards soon followed, but also missed the bigger bay to run aground on Pt. Reyes! Two hundred years later, the northernmost tip of the San Francisco Peninsula, south of the strait was occupied by just a small community of Native Americans. They found abundant wildlife for sustenance, but limited fresh water. The area received no rain from April to October, resulting in half a year of hoarding and rationing of precious freshwater. In 1775, the Spaniards finally sailed into the great Bay, and overland expeditions had worked their way up from Mexico at about the same time.

Father Junipero Serra of Mexico built his 6th mission, named after San Francisco de Assisi, in Alta California in 1776 at the edge of a saltwater marsh, and near the only freshwater spring he could find. Spanish soldiers built their Presidio in the highlands overlooking the opening of the Bay to the sea in the same year. A small village named Yerba Buena sprang up near the current downtown, near the best place for sailing ships to drop anchor and send their passengers ashore.

Unusual Geography

Much of California’s interior is a shallow basin surrounded by mountains, and but for a single gap, would be a huge inland sea. Inland rivers, starting in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, drain 40% of California’s area, between the Sierras and the Coastal Ranges, from Mt Shasta in the north to King’s Canyon in the south. The rivers converge about 30 miles northeast of San Francisco in the Delta Region near Sacramento. At peak flow, they push a volume of freshwater 7 times that of the Mississippi into the last stop on the way to the ocean, the Bay of San Francisco, the largest and only significant inlet on North America’s west coast between Baja California in Mexico and Puegot Sound in Washington.

San Francisco Bay is 60 miles long and up to 10 miles wide and averages 14 feet deep, and there is only one place for all of this water to escape to the sea, and that is through the Strait between the San Francisco Peninsula on the south and the Marin Peninsula to the north, Fremont’s Golden Gate, a gap of just over a mile and with a channel up to 335 feet deep. The Earth, Sun and Moon collaborate according to Newton’s Laws of Gravitation, and create 2 tidal cycles each day. In just under six hours, the ocean drops from high tide to low as much as 9 feet (3 meters), and then takes almost 6 hours to rise back to the maximum. As high tide approaches, the salt water rushing in crashes into the fresh water flowing out, and the bay fills up until low tide allows the bay to drain like a bathtub. Weather patterns make for consistent westerly winds, sometimes rising to gale strength in the worst winter storms. Although, thankfully, rarely of a cyclonic nature - if ever. All of this makes for a place of roaring surf, and very strong currents and winds, one hellacious place to dive down 100 feet and place underwater dynamite charges or stand out on the catwalk 700 feet in the air, wrestling with steel girders and long cables just to build a bridge!

Naming the Narrows

The narrow gap between the two pinching fingers of land was dubbed Chrysophylae, or “The Golden Gate” by US Army Captain John C. Fremont in 1846. He was on a map-making expedition in the potentially hostile Mexican Terrirory at the time. He noted that it reminded him of the Chrysoceras, or Golden Horn, at Istanbul.

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