The sign on the small bridge approaching Parkfield reads: “Now entering North American Plate.” And the sign approaching the same bridge from the opposite direction reads: “Now Entering Pacific Plate.”
Welcome to the San Andreas Fault, the crack in the earth’s crust that lies beneath this bridge and separates two major tectonic plates. When these plates shift suddenly, we call it an earthquake.
Which is how tiny Parkfield in southern Monterey County came to be known as the Earthquake Capital of the World. What other village of 18 people has its very own United States Geological Survey station?
Parkfield may seem a long way from Sonoma County — unless you happen to know that the same San Andreas Fault runs the length of the Sonoma County coast and caused the worst natural disaster in the history of Santa Rosa. At 5:12 a.m. last Tuesday, we marked the 111th anniversary of the 1906 Earthquake.
Scientists for the U.S. Geological Survey and cooperating agencies hope what they learn in Parkfield will help them understand earthquake probabilities in other places — places like the street where you live.
We came here by accident on a road trip that reminded us again that when it comes to a diversity of landscape, people and out-of-the-way discoveries, there is no place like California.
In a few hours, we saw the farmlands of the Central Valley, the oil fields of Taft and a spectacular display of wildflowers in an obscure corner of California called the Carrizo Plain. We rambled through the cowboy country east of Paso Robles, passed the remote intersection where the movie actor James Dean was killed and arrived in Parkfield, where the town slogan is: “Be here when it happens!”
The idea for this trip began three years ago when I asked readers to suggest places to visit for our One Lap of California. The Carrizo Plain, said one reader.
We had never heard of it. It didn’t fit into our itinerary then, but we didn’t forget. Then, the news of recent days brought reports of an explosion of wildflowers — the so-called “super bloom” — at locations in Southern California.
One of those places was the Carrizo Plain.
You won’t be stumbling onto the Carrizo Plain. To get there, we drove south and west on Highway 166 in Kern County and then turned northwest on to Soda Lake Road. Between here and Highway 58, 37 miles to the north, there is as much washboard and dirt road as there is pavement. (You can also get there from the north via Highway 58.)
Along the way, we saw mountainsides that look like a passing giant painted with stripes of yellow and blue chalk, and we saw fields of yellow that look like something Judy Garland might have passed on her way to see the Wizard of Oz.
After we reached Highway 58, we turned on to Bitterwater Road. Through a landscape of spring grass and wildflowers, the road rises and falls along — what else? — the Temblor Range. We found out later that others have marveled at the scenery along this rural road, but at the time, we just went down the road because we could.