Sometimes referred to as the "Gateway to the Sequoias," it lies within miles of the tallest mountain range in the contiguous United States, the Sierra Nevada (U.S.) (see Mount Whitney, which is located in Tulare and Inyo counties), and is the closest major city to Sequoia National Park, home to the some of the largest living things on Earth, the Giant Sequoia trees. Even still, the park, its surrounding forest, and the mountain range are nearly invisible to the metro area, due to the poor air-quality in the region during the summer time. The geography of the Visalia area remains a mix of heavily irrigated green farmland and scrubby Sierra Nevada foothills just to the east of the city.

The Spanish were reluctant to settle in this area of California because of climate and the danger from the local Native American population. An influx of European trappers, traders, explorers, miners and settlers affected the lifestyle of the native Yokuts since the Europeans brought a non hunter-gatherer culture as well as diseases the Yokuts had no resistance to. This decimated the population of the Yokuts and their way of life was virtually destroyed.

The first building was a log stockade called Fort Visalia. It was built in 1852 in fear of attack by Native Americans.

Early Visalia history indicates that a school and a Methodist church were established the same year and the following year a grist mill and a general store were built.

In 1853 Visalia became the county seat of Tulare County, then an extensive County encompassing parts or all of Madera, Fresno, Kings and Kern Counties.

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