San Miguel to Valyermo, Part 2 November 10, 2011
So we left San Miguel, initially on the same road that we had entered the town on, but then taking a different road toward Parkfield. The road ascended up a canyon that looked like the one we had descended, came over the ridge, descended into the fault valley, and turned toward Parkfield. As we approached Parkfield, we crossed a bridge that crossed both the creek and the fault line at the same time, and is very slightly bent because of it. [In the section from Hollister to Cuyama, the fault is very loose compared to in the sections to the north and south of this stretch, and there are many small earthquakes rather than the dreaded Big Ones of 1857 and 1906.] About all there is to Parkfield is an inn with, I think, six rooms [it could be eight] and across the road a popular restaurant. They are under the same ownership under the name of both the Parkfield Inn and the V Ranch Resort. And if we had come in the next night, there was a rodeo and there would not have been room. The rooms at the inn, instead of numbers, have brands. And the brand is on your keychain. The rooms are comfortable and have lofts in case several people want to share rooms. The food for lunch and dinner is quite good, although rather heavy on the beef – a good selection of wines for a ‘cowboy’ restaurant.
The tourist should be warned, however, that other on Sunday morning, there is no breakfast except little packages of granola and purple yogurt. So the tourist should either (a) bring an ice chest with skim milk, cereal, cold cuts, smoked salmon, or whatever kind of meat you like, or (b) plan to drive 17 miles, one half hour, down to Jack’s Ranch Café on Highway 46 for brunch. We did not do either. It’s a good place for reading, or getting away, but if you plan to write you had better download every source you might possibly need before you go there, because there is no Internet, no wi-fi, and no cell phone service. [I have not checked out Jack’s Ranch Café in regard to wi-fi and cell phone service.]
Not knowing about Jack’s Ranch Café, we set out in the morning down a widening valley getting ever more barren of trees, and arrived at Highway 46 near the point where, at the junction of 41 and 46, James Dean was killed in 1955. We took several suitable pictures. It was 95 degrees, but I pulled on my black leather jacket for the occasion. We then, being ignorant of Jack’s Ranch Café, turned right on 46 and then immediately left on Davis Road. I would recommend that the tourist following this route, assuming he is going north-south as I did, not turn on Davis, but go past Jack’s Ranch Café to Bitterwater Road and turn left there. The reason for this is, as I found out later, the actual memorial to James Dean, built by a Japanese fan, is not at the crash site itself, but at Jack’s Ranch Café. Ultimately, heading south, we converged with Bitterwater Road, so we were not lost, but we missed an important detail. [If the tourist is coming from the south, he will find it easier to follow Bitterwater Road anyway, so no worries.]
After going over some hills we descended into the Carrizo Plain, which some call the Serengeti of California, which drains into no ocean and has a lake called Soda Lake which is probably alkaline. Rainfall is less than ten inches and so it was the first of the three deserts we went through, although there is no creosote or cactus – just short grass and short brush. There was even a small flower, we don’t know its name, that was actually blooming even though it was very late in the dry season. The flower smelled, oddly enough, rather like turpentine.
Here we left paved road for a period – the only place on the route where you have to do so. The southern two thirds of the plain is the Carrizo Plain National Monument, one of those established by President Clinton just before he left office in 2001. Here, in the middle of nowhere, we were able to do homage to Art. For in the middle of this wilderness, a half mile from the parking area, there is Painted Rock, a large rock formation with a cove in it in which the Chumash people from the south and the Miwok people from the San Joaquin Valley and the Sierra Foothills had met to trade, and do rock paintings. The walk over to the rock and around it was just barely tolerable in the 100F sun, but fortunately the rock paintings are in a shady area.
About a half hour south, we hit paved road again at Highway 33/166 a little east of Cuyama Valley and uphill from Maricopa. A slight jog right and left took us to Cerro Noroeste Road, on which we began to ascend into higher mountains than we had seen on this trip. I had been on this road in early May many years before, then the wildflowers were absolutely fantastic. Now there were none, but as we ascended it became clear that this is one of the most scenic roads in California, and very little known. On the one side, spectacular view over eroded canyon landscapes in the direction of Bakersfield; on the other, views over juniper country [usually a mark of foothills at the desert’s edge] toward the back side of the mountains like that behind Ventura and Ojai. At the junction with Mil Potrero Road, we thought to head to the right, still on Cerro Noroeste, at least to the point where we could get a spectacular view back over the country we had traveled across that day. And lo, there was a line of cars. What obnoxious Forest Service bureaucrat has decided to make us wait? Is Cerro Noroeste overcrowded on a Tuesday in September? Finally one of us dared to ask what was going on. It was a queue of mothers lining up in front of an elementary school, waiting for their kids to get out! We did not need to wait in the line at all!
We drove past the waiting mothers to a viewpoint which looked back over the Cuyama and the Carrizo deserts, then headed back on the fault road through Frazier Park, where we had lunch. Here you have to join I-5 for a moment to get over the top of Tejon Pass, often known as the Grapevine. [We did detour a little bit at that point to drive through Lebec, named after a Hudson’s Bay adventurer in the region which gives Canada a tendentious claim to the area. We did this mainly because one of our number was Canadian, and another had been for a while.] On the other side of the pass, the true fault geek will get off at Gorman and follow the surface Gorman Post Road down to Route 138 instead of taking the freeway to 138. We then headed up Old Ridge Route, Highway N2, to Sandberg Hill, but found that the hill where the Sandberg weather station is is all fenced off now and not all that interesting. And the next stage of Highway N2, Pine Canyon Road, was windy and tedious. I would recommend to the reader that he should proceed on Route 138 several more miles onto the flatlands and then turn right on Three Points Road, which returns to the fault line and Route N2. From that point on N2 is straighter, and heads past a chain of lakes – actually sag ponds, called Lake Hughes, Munz Lake, and Elizabeth Lake, with small, unprestigious resort settlements nearby. [p.s., In the month of April, the famous poppy fields lie on the other side of the ridge from this area, and can be accessed by Munz Ranch Road. It was, however, manifestly not April.]
Eventually the road took us into the densest urban area we had encountered since leaving the Bay Area behind, the city of Palmdale. We took a brief detour on the 14 Freeway south one exit, to see the famous roadcut where the fault can be seen, and back to 138. East of Palmdale we turned right on 96th Street to catch Fort Tejon Road. I would advise the traveler on this route to turn right off of 138 at 87th Street, which is the first place you can catch Fort Tejon Road. Better yet, I would try taking Avenue S, the exit on 14 south of the roadcut, heading east a couple miles to 25th Street East, and heading south. This becomes Barrel Springs Road and ultimately at the end of that turn right on Cheseboro, left on Mount Emma, and then right on Fort Tejon.
This will enable the reader to see more fault country with less urban traffic. After a straight shot down Fort Tejon Road through interesting country, we arrived at the gate of St. Andrew’s Abbey where we stopped for two nights. Since this is mainly a spiritual retreat place, I will not describe it at length, except to note that its name derives ultimately from its mother house, Sint Andries, Belgium, and when the monks, refugees from Mao’s China, came to find a Southern California site in the 1950s, they had no idea that the San Andreas Fault ran through the back end of the property! So the name is just a coincidence.