The incalculable volume of minerals extracted from California’s mountaintops and riverbeds formed the very infrastructure that fueled California’s unabated growth beginning in 1849—and permanently altered its look. Detritus washed downstream by disastrous hydraulic-mining operations during the Gold Rush was used to build Sacramento, San Francisco, and the levee system in the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Limestone mined by the Monolith Cement Company in what is now Tehachapi built the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The brutality of the landscapes captured in this photo essay is at odds with the popular conception of California landscapes. But, as the photographer discovered through the project, they are in fact quintessentially Californian.

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