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209: The 11th Largest Farm ‘State’ Where Trees Are Taller Than Buildings
The tallest living thing in the 209 is the Columbia Tree in the Mariposa Grove of Giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park at 286.1 feet. It is the 25th tallest tree in the world.

The 209. Some say we live in it. Most of us — especially those with prehistoric devices referred to as landlines — know it as our area code.

The 209 area code did not come into existence until Oct. 26, 1957 when Ma Bell — the great granny of AT&T — created it due to growth in the 415. The 415 was one of three original area codes for California when the Bell System launched the area code system in 1947. The 415 was Central California while 916 was Northern California and the 213 was Southern California.

Today those three area codes have shrunk in territory. The 916 is Sacramento, the 415 is one of two area codes in San Francisco and the 213 — while primarily central Los Angeles — is one of three area codes in that city.

The current 209 configuration did not come into being until Merced and Mariposa counties were split from the 559.

Area codes are referenced to describe areas throughout the country but not to the degrees they are in some parts of California. The reason may not be that difficult to figure out in a state just shy of 40 million people we have 36 area codes. Los Angeles County alone has nine area codes. Referencing area codes as where you live is a way to signal to others the geographic region you reside in when there are millions or others in the same county.

The 209 is perhaps unique in that it weds a distinct California sub-region that have mutual history going back to 1849 — the Northern San Joaquin Valley consisting of San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced counties — as well as the Southern Mines of the Gold County that includes Calaveras, Tuolumne, and Mariposa counties.

The 209 also includes slivers of three other counties — Sacramento County (primarily Galt), the western tip of Alpine County that has 1,129 residents making it less populated than Del Webb at Woodbridge in Manteca and the least populated county in California, as well as the larger populated communities of western Amador County (the entire county has less than 40,000 residents).


In terms of population,

the 209 would be the

39th largest state in US

Speaking of population if the 209 were a state, with 1.8 million residents we’d be the 39th largest tucked between Nebraska at 1.93 million and Idaho with 1.78 million.

Almost 40 percent of the 209 reside in the five largest cities — Stockton with 312,697 people; Modesto with 218,758; Tracy with 94,808; Manteca with 86,064; and Merced with 83,464.

Size wise, with 9,600 square miles the 209 would be the 49th largest state between Connecticut with 14,357 square miles and Delaware with 6,446 square miles.

The largest county in the 209 is Tuolumne with 2,235 square miles followed by Merced with 1,979 square miles, Stanislaus with 1,495 square miles, and San Joaquin with 1,426 square miles. Fifth is Mariposa County with 1,463 square miles. If Yosemite National Park were a county unto itself it would be the sixth largest with 1,160 square miles followed by Calaveras with 1,037 square miles.

You could plop two land areas the size of the 209 in Southern California’s San Bernardino County with 20,105 square miles making it the largest county in the 48 Lower States and still have room to toss in San Joaquin County.

When it comes to farm production, the 209 blows the barn doors off most states. The 209 as a stand-alone state would rank 11th in agricultural production as the fields and orchards in just San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties generated $10.3 billion in crops in 2019. The 209 was barely edged by farm state Indiana at $10.5 billion in 10th and was well ahead of Missouri in 12th with $9.3 billion in crop production.

The three counties in the 209 accounted for one-fifth of California’s $50.1 billion in farm crops underscoring how agriculture continues to dominate the 209 even with the surge in distribution centers and continued residential growth.


Tree is taller than

tallest building in 209

Things are big in the 209. The tallest living thing in the 209 is the Columbia Tree in the Mariposa Grove of Giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park at 286.1 feet. It is the 25th tallest tree in the world. By comparison, manmade objects can’t hold a candle. The tallest building in the 209 is the San Joaquin County courthouse in downtown Stockton with 13 floors at 243 feet. Coming in second is the Doubletree Hotel and office tower in downtown Modesto with 16 floors at 195 feet.

You will also find the biggest living thing and the oldest living thing in the 209 within the Mariposa Grove. The Washington Tree consists of 35,950 cubic feet. The Grizzly Giant is between 1,900 and 2,400 years of age.

Yosemite is also where you will find the only remaining giant sequoia that had a “tunnel” cut through it. Located in the Tuolumne Grove near Crane Flat it is actually dead. You can walk through it or — if it’s winter and you are on wilderness or cross-country skis you can try to ski through it but given how icy it is prepare for a highly probable unceremonious landing.

Yosemite National Park, which happens to be the most popular tourist destination in the 209 with between 4 million and 5 million people annually, is also home to the world’s second largest monolith rock using height as a factor as the single piece of granite. El Capitan stretches nearly 3,600 feet skyward.

Yosemite National Park is where you will find the highest point in the 209. It is Mt. Lyell at 13,114 feet. While Mt. Lyell takes a two-day trek to conquer from the trailhead and requires some mountaineering skills, you can easily hike Mt. Dana, some 51 feet shorter. It is the second highest point in the 209 and is a seven-mile “walk up” from Highway 120 when Tioga Pass is open. It is by the far the easiest to access 13,000-plus peak in the state.


Three highest highways

in California are in 209

The three highest paved state highways are all found in the 209 and are high Sierra passes now closed for the winter due to snow. They are Ebbetts Pass at 8,736 feet on Highway 4, Sonora Pass at 9,624 on Highway 108, and Tioga Pass at 9,943 feet on Highway 120.

The lowest point in the 209 is 20 feet in the Delta portion of San Joaquin County.

While the Delta is in five different counties the largest chunk is in the 209 as part of San Joaquin County. There are 1,100 square miles containing 770 miles of waterways and more than 50 reclaimed islands.

The Delta in the 209 is also for the birds — literally. More than half of all the birds that move along the Pacific Flyway touch down at some point in the Delta that happens to be the only river delta on the Pacific Coast of the Americas.

The 209 has two robust wildlife refuges teeming with birds and other life. There’s the Merced National Wildlife Refuge east of Los Banos and the San Joaquin River Wildlife Refuge west of Modesto and south of Manteca.

When it comes to water, the 209 — particular San Joaquin County — is ground zero in the perennial California water wars. More than 70 percent of the water used by Californians passes through the Delta.

Vernalis — the name given the area where the San Joaquin River joins up with the Stanislaus River — is where a number of critical water measurements are taken that play a pivotal role in fish release and salinity issues.

The biggest single body of water in the 209 is New Melones Reservoir. As the state’s fourth largest reservoir designed to hold, 2.4 million acre feet of water it has more than 1,000 feet of shoreline and a surface area, when at capacity, covers 12,500 acres.

Six rivers flow through the 209. They are the Stanislaus, Merced, Tuolumne, San Joaquin, Calaveras and the Mokelumne.

The 209 is home to the newest University of California campus, UC Merced that opened as the system’s 10th campus in September of 2005.

The oldest chartered school of higher learning in California— the University of the Pacific founded in 1851 — can be found in Stockton.

The 209 is home to a federal penitentiary in Atwater just north of Merced. The 209 currently has four state prisons — Deuel Vocational Institution west of Tracy closing at the end of 2021, Sierra Conservation Corps in Tuolumne County, California Health Care Facility in Stockton, and Mule Creek State Prison in Ione.


209 is the King when it

comes to winegrapes

The 209 is the largest grape growing region in the United States by tonnage with San Joaquin County by itself squeezing out Napa, Monterey, and Sonoma counties on 1-on-1 match ups. There are two major wine growing regions that have heavy tourism components — Lodi and Calaveras.

The 209 is home to the world’s largest winery — E&J Gallo in Modesto. The third and fourth largest wine producers have wineries here – The Wine Group in Ripon and Bronco Wines in Ceres. Also on the top 10 is Delicato Vineyards in Manteca.

The 209 also has a seaport in Stockton. A deep sea channel from San Francisco Bay makes it California’s eastern most seaport nudging out Sacramento for that honor.

When it comes to show biz, the highest 209 movie tie-in is “American Graffiti” created by Modesto native George Lucas that immortalized his hometown cruise.

San Joaquin County gets the nod for TV for two series — one where they rode horses and the other where they rode hogs. The Barkley ranch clan ruled eastern San Joaquin County in the “Big Valley” western from the mid-1960s. The next claim to fame is the “Sons of Anarchy” series about an outlaw motorcycle gang in the mythical San Joaquin County town of Charming.

The biggest writer to spend time in the 209 is Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain who rocketed to fame on the yarn he wrote about the “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

The 209 almost got a chance to “steal” a young John Steinbeck from Monterey County but after a week working one summer at the Spreckels Sugar refinery in Manteca bagging 50-pound sacks of sugar in 100-degree heat, he fled back to the coast.

There are also two zoos — Applegate Park Zoo in Merced and Micke Grove Park Zoo between Lodi and Stockton.

And, as a final note, when it opens in 2021 the 209 will boast the largest hotel in the Great Central Valley stretching 450 miles from Redding to Bakersfield. The hotel is the 500-room Great Wolf Resort and indoor water park in Manteca.