Over a dozen years, frequent driving trips between Los Angeles and San Francisco cultivated and seasoned the historian's esteem for California's Great Central Valley and ripened her curiosity about how authentic travelers—witnesses of the land—understood the Valley's topographic variety, hydrology, ecosystems, and human cultures as they journeyed and documented what they saw. With quotations from a variety of observations, recollections, and meditations exposing the promise of place, the article points to an under-appreciated past, directing attention to changes wrought by humans, nature, and the passage of time.

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