California as an island

In some science fiction films there are several visions of the future of California in which this portion of the United States is shown separated from the continent as if it were an island, generally after a great cataclysm in which the San Andreas Fault has much to do with it. However, this hypothetical future has its roots in the past, as California was long thought to be an island.

Map of the island of California, circa 1650.

The island of California, ruled by Queen Calafia, where the fearsome Amazons lived, was an imaginary island that was mentioned in a certain Spanish book published in 1510 under the title of “Las sergas de Esplandián”, as the fifth book of a series that had begun with the famous “Amadís de Gaula”, by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. The fact is that when the Spaniards began to explore what is now the Mexican peninsula of Baja California, it occurred to someone to call that new territory California (probably after having read Rodríguez de Montalvo’s fantastic narrative). It is not known who it could have been, but the “joke” ended up naming those lands after them (on the subject it has been published a lot and it is no place to go any further, because there is no agreement on it).

Map of North America showing the island of California, by Nicolas Sanson, 1650.

The influence of the novel, coupled with a poor understanding of what lies further north on the peninsula, caused California to appear as an island for a long time on maps, even into the 18th century. For this reason, it is considered one of the most outstanding cartographic “errors” in history.