California Bill\’s Travel \’n Other Stuff

Travels and occassional rantings of an old guy.

Where in the World is Parkfield?

Parkfield, California.  PopulatiCity Limitson 18; Elev. 1,580 feet.  The Earthquake Capital of the World. 

Says so right here on the combination newspaper/menu at the Parkfield Café.  There have been four editions of this newspaper/menu since 1989.  Things don’t change much in Parkfield.

A few miles west of  I-5, at the junction of State Routes 41 and 46, there is a little road that goes off straight to the north.  “Parkfield, 15 miles,” says the sign.  Another sign warns of roaming cattle.  The first thing you see is a cattle guard crossing the singlWatch for Cattlee lane road.

(This junction, of course, is famous.  Or infamous, more appropriately.  It was here in 1955 that James Dean met his tragic death in an auto accident that has never been fully explained.  There is a sign nearby:  “James Dean Memorial Junction.”  I’m kind of sorry he got a junction named after him.  I mean it could have been a highway or bridge or something more significant.)

The road goes straight north for about 8 miles through absolutely flat grazing land.  According to the map in the Parkfield Café Newspaper/Menu, you are driving exactly on top of the San Andreas Fault, the most famous fault line of all, I suppose.  This fault line is traced from down Mexico way all the way up past San Francisco, and of course is the fault that produced the famous San Francisco earthquake of 100 years ago April, and more recently, Loma Prieta, in 1989.  As you drive the road, you realize that on your left is the Pacific Plate, advancing inexorably north ever so slowly.  On your right is the North American Plate.  Off a short Peaceful Faultdistance on both sides are low hills, still tinted green from a very wet spring, and covered with majestic Live Oak trees.

This little valley, The Cholame Valley, was settled in 1854 by settlers from nearby coastal towns who shared the unfenced valley with a myriad of wildlife, including grizzly bear, so says the newspaper/menu.  The cattle ranches established then are pretty much unchanged 150 years later.  In the summer, the hills turn brown and the daytime temperatures are stifling, many days over 100.  Jackrabbits carry canteens, say the locals.  But now, in the afterglow of spring, it is beautiful.  If you were to sell your ranch, you need to dGoing Ino it in the springtime.

The road actually has a center line for a while after it crosses intoMonterey County, but soon reverts back to single lane as it winds its way into low but rugged hills.  The Oak trees are very thick.  It is peaceful and beautiful. At a bridge, with Parkfield ½ mile away, a sign announces that you will be leaving the Pacific Plate and entering the North American Plate.  Watch your step, please. The little stream, with a trickle of water in it, looks tranquil enough.  And then you are in Parkfield.                                                                         

The Parkfield Café, as you might guess, serves up a variety of burgers, steaks, and ribs, all with great helpings of beans and fries.  Apple pie ala-mode is their house specialty.  A sign hanging from the ceiling says, “If a quake starts to shake, get under a table and finish your steak.”  In addition to the café, there’s a 4 room Parkfield Inn, a 1 room Parkfield School, not much left of the Parkfield General Store, and a well-maintained Rodeo Grounds, around which most of the campers stayed, including me.  I was here for the

9th Annual Mothers Day Weekend Bluegrass Festival.

There were scores of campers, RV’s, tents and other assorted vehicles centered around the rodeo grounds.  There was a rodeo two weeks ago, and the aromas left by various forms of wandering livestock lingered in the air and in the grounds.  Watch where you step, Luther, I heard one mother admonish.  But there were flush toilets, an unexpected luxury, and incredibly, a free public shower, not necessarily hot.  Nailed uLost Highwayp on a beautiful Valley Oak was a hand-painted sign that said, “Park under a tree at your own risk.  Limbs do fall.”

Bands played hourly on stage from about 10 am to 10pm daily from Thursday thru Sunday.  (I was only there Friday and Saturday.)  But the real reason one goes to one of these things is the jamming that goes on most of the day and night in the campgrounds and parking lots.  Yes I watched a few bands, especially Lost Highway, my current favorite group (well, except for Alison, of course).  And of course I slept and ate.  But there was jammin’ until well after midnight and into Saturday morning.

What is jamming, bluegrass festival style?  These campgrounds are inhabited by hundreds of really good musicians (and not so good ones, like me) playing acoustical instruments such as guitars, banjos, dobros, mandolins, fiddles, stand up bass and a few other weird looking things. Please, nothing electric.  They congregate in scattered little groups around a trailer, tent or lantern and just play.  You can walk around, guitar in hand, wander up to a group and start playing along.  It goes on for hours.  You might hear a few first names as people acknowledge your presence with a nod, but its just play, play, play. Not much is said between tunes (A tune is a song without words).  Somebody starts pickin’ and everyone just picks it up and joins in.  If you know words to songs, you are encouraged to sing out, which I do. Conversation goes something like this:  “Gravel Yard. G.”  “In C?”   “No, G”  “Got it. D.”   “No, G!”  or  “You came in a little early on that A minor.”  “Well, at least I came in.”

About 2 am I lay down in my SUV.  The still night air carried the far off sound of banjos and guitars playing sometimes recognizable tunes.  Every so often, in the way-off distance, a cow in the adjacent field bawled out loudly.  The light from a full moon filtered through the Oak trees, casting a shadowy blue lunar glow to the surroundings. The faint odor of the rodeo grounds worked its way into the van.  I smiled myself into a peaceful sleep, only vaguely conscious of the distant music.

About 9 am, after a pre-dawn walk featuring a conversation with a couple of horses, and a post dawn nap, I finished off two really thick peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a beer from my cooler, ran into the fiddle player from last night and struck up a tune. Soon we had drawn other sleepy eyed but eager-to-play jammers.  Life is good!

Click on http://www.flickr.com/photos/calbillstravnstuff/sets/72157594213179590/ to view pictures of my Parkfield trip.  The jammin’ pictures are from some Saturday night jam sessions I go to accassionally. Didn’t seem right to try a flash photo at our late night Parkfield sessions. Thanks for viewing.

June 21, 2006 Posted by | Travel | Leave a comment