Hill northeast of town

Hay drying near town

And the results of baling

The old Shell Oil Company pump house is now a rental cabin

 

Dick's Parkfield Pictures

   
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Parkfield, CA, is the site of a bluegrass festival every Mother's Day weekend. At other times it's the site of trail rides, wild pig hunts, weddings, motorcycle rallies, rodeos and other events, under the name V6 Ranch.

It's also the site of earthquakes. Located on the San Andreas Fault, where the Pacific and North American plates slip and slide and grind together, it's an ideal spot for earthquake study. The US Geological Survey has a building there with quake monitoring instruments, and when there is a significant event, scientists converge on the town to learn more about what's happening. Parkfield is an ideal location for such a study. The tallest building in town is an old wooden water tower, and the only two business buildings are made of heavy logs. Property damage and injuries are unlikely even in a fairly strong quake.

The town motto for the rodeo, bluegrass festival and other events is “Be here when it happens,” which of course refers to “the big one.” There was a “little one” in 2004, which you can read about here.

Whether you approach from State Highway 41/46 to the south, or from US 101 to the north, to get to the town you turn east and cross Cholame Creek, which follows the fault line. You are going from the Pacific Plate to the North American Plate, and hopefully nothing shakes while you’re crossing.

The bridge was re-built about 2001, because the old bridge had been moved out of alignment due to slippage of the fault. The new bridge is already showing a slight change in alignment.

My first knowledge of Parkfield and my first visit there came when my friends, the late Ben and Wilma Briscoe of Avenal, took me there for breakfast at the cafe one time. I was impressed with the surroundings, and a year or two later, when I learned there was a bluegrass festival there, I made plans to attend. Since 2001 I've missed only one.

Parkfield is in the Cholame Valley, directly west of Avenal and south of Coalinga, but access is via Cholame Valley Road off Highway 46 from Cholame, or from San Miguel on US 101 via Vineyard Canyon Road. There is also a road that runs north and south between Parkfield and Coalinga, but it turns to dirt about eight miles out of Parkfield. It's never a good route for RVs, and it's virtually impassable when wet.

I have to confess that, despite warnings, I started up that road after a light rainfall, because it didn't look that bad. However, the dirt there has a composition that instantly turns slick when it gets wet. After just a few feet I realized I needed to turn around. Then I realized I should just back up very slowly back on to the pavement, and even doing this, the truck slid around a bit.

When there are no events going on, it's a quiet, rural spot. The sign at the "city limits" says “Population 18, Elevation 1530.” There are only two businesses in the actual town, the Parkfield Café and the Parkfield Inn. I counted seven houses within the town area, although there are others within a quarter mile. Except for the main road through town (Parkfield-Coalinga Road), all the streets are unpaved. There used to be a couple of gift shops, one located in an old railroad caboose, but both are now closed, and the caboose was removed around 2007. There are two streets to the east off the main street and one to the west, plus assorted driveways, pathways, etc. The two eastbound streets connect to form the only square block fully surrounded by roadways.

Of course, there are a number of farms and ranches out in the country along the various roads, and on a hill above town, the John Varian residence, a large new home that was built in the last few years. The Varian family owns the two businesses in Parkfield as well as 20,000 acres of ranch land, the V6 Ranch.

It is very pretty country. The Cholame Valley varies in width from maybe 100 feet to a mile. The fields and hills are covered with large, ancient valley oak trees, and the principle agricultural activity is cattle and hay. During the festival, the hay in some fields has been cut and is drying on the ground, awaiting the bailer. As you approach the town, the valley narrows down, and there is a flat, lush creek bottom with brown hills rising abruptly about 40 feet from the stream. North of town there are yuccas in bloom in May, and it's a nice drive from the town to the end of the pavement.

The first European settlers arrived in the area in 1854. In addition to agriculture, there was extensive mining, and in 1900 the population was around 900. When the mines gave out, everyone moved away except the ranchers.

I had the pleasure of meeting John and Barbara Varian, who operate the town businesses, at the 2009 bluegrass festival. John's grandfather, Sigurd Varian, along with his brother Russell, invented the Klystron tube, which was critical in the development of radar. They developed the technology into equipment that is still used in the treatment of cancer.

Sig's son, Jack, is the current patriarch of the family. He, and his wife Zee live at the ranch headquarters, and all four children, two sons and two daughters, live in the area. Barbara is a fifth generation member of another ranching family that purchased land in the San Ardo area in 1865. John and Barbara have two daughters and a son, all of whom are involved in ranching and rodeo activities.

In 2009, noting a number of changes that had taken place, I realized I should photograph everything of any possible interest, before any more changes occur. Small and quiet does not mean unchanging. Just since the 2010 festival there is a new roof on the Community Center, a cover over a row of mailboxes on the main road, a new building on one of the ranch sites in town, and a swimming pool behind the lodge. An old building a block off the main street burned down. In the 1890's this was the original Parkfield Hotel, and it was memorialized in a drawing by Sally Vedder that graces the cover of the 2011 festival program.

--Dick Estel, May 2009; updated May 2011 and May 2014

Click photo for a larger view (pictures open in a new window)
The old water tower The coolest home in Parkfield The John Varian home
The old water tower The coolest-looking home in Parkfield The John & Barbara Varian home
   
The muddy road The V6 Ranch Gate Barn on Parkfield-Coalinga Road
The muddy road, with my tire tracks at the right The V6 Ranch gate Barn on Parkfield-Coalinga Road, north of town
   
Hay field just outside of town Hay drying near town Close-up hay
Hay field just outside of town Hay drying near town Close-up
   
Ranch near Parkfield Cholame Creek north of town Oaks and field west of town
Ranch near Parkfield Cholame Creek north of town Oaks & field west of town
   
Entering the Pacific Plate Entering the North American plate City Limits
Entering the Pacific Plate Entering the North American plate The "city" limits
   
Intersection, north side of town Looking north on the Parkfield-Coalinga Road Mailboxes on Parkfield-Coalinga Road near Park Street
Intersection, north side of town

Looking north on the Parkfield-Coalinga Road

Mailboxes on Parkfield-Coalinga Road near Park Street
   
Guarding Park Street Looking north from center of town South from the same area
Guarding Park Street Looking north from center of town South from the same area
   
Center of town Looking west on Oak Street Permanently parked
Center of town Looking west on Oak Street Permanently parked
   
Parkfield Cafe The new wing, added 2008-09 Parkfield Inn
Parkfield Cafe The new wing, added 2008-09 Parkfield Inn
   
Parkfield School Library in a can Where they measure the shaking
Parkfield School Library in a can Where they measure the shaking
   
State State Division of Forestry complex CDF building Why Verizon is the only cell service that works in Parkfield
State State Division of Forestry complex CDF building Why Verizon is the only cell service that works in Parkfield
   
Dining al fresco More food choices when the bluegrass festival is on Concession booths on Oak Street
Dining al fresco More food choices when the bluegrass festival is on Concession booths on Oak Street
   
Tent camping at the festival Between Oak and Park streets RV camping behind the restaurant
Tent camping at the festival Between Oak and Park streets RV camping behind the restaurant
   
RVs by the Community Center Camping in the "back 40," near the rodeo grounds Camping in front of the Community Center
RVs by the Community Center Camping in the "back 40," near the rodeo grounds Camping in front of the Community Center
   
Plenty of shade under the plentiful valley oak trees Heading into town from the south Old farm equipment displayed near the restaurant
Plenty of shade under the plentiful valley oak trees Heading into town from the south One of several pieces of old farm equipment on display
   
The long-gone caboose in 2001 The fountain when no one's in town One of two fountains in the town
The long-gone caboose in 2001 One of two fountains in the town Kids & water always go together
   
The cafe as it was before remodeling Branding irons hanging from ceiling of cafe Cafe & stage area a month before the festival
The cafe as it was before remodeling Branding irons hanging from ceiling of cafe Cafe & stage area a month before the festival
     
Oaks along Cholame Road, south of Parkfield On the road between Parkfield and San Miguel Windmill along the road to San Miguel
Oaks along Cholame Road, south of Parkfield On the road between Parkfield and San Miguel Windmill along the road to San Miguel
   
Flowers on hill above town A month later, only a few flowers remain Hill northeast of town
Flowers on hill above town, April 2010 A month later, only a few flowers remain Hill northeast of town
   
Free range chicken The Parkfield dog Horses near the rodeo grounds
Free range chicken The Parkfield dog Horses near the rodeo grounds
   
Rodeo grounds An ancient profession, still needed Varian Family
Rodeo grounds An ancient profession, still needed Varian Family
   
The main "downtown" intersection Looking west on Oak Street Entry to festival area
The main "downtown" intersection Looking west on Oak Street Entry to festival area
   
The Community Center Old house, now used for storage Fountain in audience area
The Community Center Old house, now used for storage (burned down in 2011) Fountain in audience area
   
Looking toward cafe from main bluegrass camp area Picking in boondocks camping area Not a statue, but a real kid with good climbing skills
Looking toward cafe from main bluegrass camp area Picking in boondocks camping area Not a statue, but a real kid with good climbing skills
  
The new swimming pool The Community Center got a new roof in 2010 New building on a ranch property in town
The new swimming pool The Community Center got a new roof in 2010

New building on a ranch property in town

   
The mail boxes are now protected from the weather Treehouse near the cafe Bridge where Cholame, Vineyard Canyon and Parkfield-Coalinga Roads meet
The mail boxes are now protected from the weather Tree house near the cafe Bridge where Cholame, Vineyard Canyon and Parkfield-Coalinga Roads meet
   
Road sign near the bridge Even in a very dry year, there's a bit of water by the bridge Field above creek
Road sign near the bridge Even in a very dry year, there's a bit of water by the bridge Field above creek
   
Looking east across the bridge Field, vineyard and hills west of Vineyard Canyon Road A dry year means a small hay crop for 2013
Looking east across the bridge Field, vineyard and hills west of Vineyard Canyon Road A dry year means a small hay crop for 2013
    
V6 Ranch Stock pond on the ranch Hills above the ranch
V6 Ranch Stock pond on the ranch Hills above the ranch
   
Cholame Creek, north of Parkfield Cliff by Parkfield-Coalinga Road Remnant of old fence near road
Cholame Creek, north of Parkfield Cliff by Parkfield-Coalinga Road Remnant of old fence near road
   
New this year around the platform - a circle of lanterns Rugged but practical lawn furniture The old Shell Oil Company pump house is now a rental cabin
New in 2014 around the platform - a circle of lanterns Rugged but practical lawn furniture for sale The old Shell Oil Company pump house is now a rental cabin
   
The hay is short and the grass on the hills is brown The view east of town Another eastern view
The hay is short and the grass on the hills is brown in 2014 The view east of town Another eastern view
   
The bridge near the southern approach to Parkfield This is just about the last house left on east Park Street Big spool back of the cafe
The bridge near the southern approach to Parkfield This is just about the last house left on east Park Street Big spool back of the cafe
   
This mill is pulled through the log instead of the usual method where the log moves into the saw The bridge north of town on the Parkfield-Coalinga Road A closer look
This mill is pulled through the log instead of the usual method where the log moves into the saw The bridge north of town on the Parkfield-Coalinga Road A closer look
  
Windmill near the bridge Cholame Creek and hills beyond from the bridge Old fence in the bed of the creek
Windmill near the bridge Cholame Creek and hills beyond from the bridge Old fence in the bed of the creek
These quail keep watch on a ranch fence next to the bridge There were tanks on the hills The Lone PickerA lone picker at the 2014 bluegrass festival
These quail keep watch on a ranch fence next to the bridge There were tanks on the hills

A lone picker at the 2014 bluegrass festival

   
One of Parkfield's many horses Wagon wheel gate north of town Hay in the field next to Parkfield
One of Parkfield's many horses Wagon wheel gate north of town Hay in the field next to Parkfield
  
The view looking east and north from the edge of town
Panoramic view looking east and north from the edge of town
   
Round bales, seen for the first time in May 2016
Round bales, seen for the first time in May 2016
  
Population used to be 37 - where did they all go? Witches left over from Halloween Beautiful valley oaks north of town

Population used to be 37 - where did they all go?

Witches left over from Halloween Beautiful valley oaks north of town
   
Hills north of town Ranch along the Parkfield-Coalinga road Bridge north of town on Parkfield-Coalinga Road
Hills north of town

Ranch along the Parkfield-Coalinga road

Bridge north of town on Parkfield-Coalinga Road
   
Windmill near the bridge Hay baling machine And the results of baling
Windmill near the bridge Hay baling machine And the results of baling
  
Some bales are round in 2016 Rabbit, not afraid of the photographer He spent long moments munching on a juicy weed by the road
Some bales are round in 2016 Rabbit, not afraid of the photographer He spent long moments munching on a juicy weed by the road
  
A pirate ship in Parkfield
A pirate ship in Parkfield
  
Related Links
Parkfield Events Parkfield Bluegrass festival San Andreas Fault
US Geological Survey Parkfield Quake of 2004 V6 Ranch Conservation Project
More V6 & Parkfield Info Klystron Tube Klystron Invention
San Ardo San Miguel Coalinga
Bluegrass 2003 Bluegrass 2004 Bluegrass 2005
Bluegrass 2006 Bluegrass 2008 Bluegrass 2009
Bluegrass 2010 Bluegrass 2011 Bluegrass 2012
Bluegrass 2013 Cholame Valley Road Bluegrass 2014
Parkfield Slide Show Jack Varian's Blog   
Not a statue, but a real kid with good climbing skills

The coolest home in Parkfield

One of Parkfield's many horses

Windmill near the bridge

 

All photos copyright © 2002-2016 by Dick Estel. Permission granted for personal use only; commercial use prohibited.

    

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Updated September 26, 2016