Parkfield Magic

Updated: Mar 6


Most of us think of magic as the kind you see in Las Vegas where card tricks leave you saying “that’s not possible” and disappearing acts that defy any logical explanation are very popular. Well I want to tell you all about a different kind of magic one that refreshes the body and soul of a person. You need to know a little history of Parkfield.

Let me take you all back in time to 1854 and to the town of Santa Cruz, California where three brothers with the last name of Imus. Like many back then I’m sure their youth and need for adventure was what set them on a hike to a new life that would lead them over the Pacheco Pass down into the Great San Joaquin Valley where they turned south and to walked till they came to a creek that carried the Spanish name of Los Gatos. For whatever reason they decided to follow it by turning west to about the present day town of Coalinga 180 miles from Santa Cruz. With their adventures spirit still alive they turned south again and decided to see what was on the other side of the Diablo Range of Mountains. It was a long day’s hike to the summit but once on top they knew that their future lay in front of them as they gazed down upon the Cholame Valley that beckoned to them with all its inviting beauty. I’m sure one must have said “this is the place for us.”

The boys clambered down to the Valley floor for about five miles and walked right through what would later become known as the town of Parkfield. It was presently inhabited by the Tachi tribe that came to the Valley each spring to hunt for deer. In the Fall, they would gather acorns, which they used to make an acorn meal that was one of their staples, from the thousands upon thousands of Valley Oak trees. Parkfield was also an escape from the jaws of the San Joaquin Valley mosquitoes that were legendary in size and ferocity. When they had made enough acorn meal they would return to the San Joaquin Valley in the late Autumn when the mosquitoes would be gone, but millions of ducks and geese from Canada would replace them through the winter months as a favorite food.

The three Imus boys, not wanting to intrude, moved five miles to the northwest and made their last and final stop and called it Imusdale. In those days you could lay claim to whatever land you felt was enough and your presence was your title. That worked well until the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862 and the arrival of the land surveyors followed close behind by the homesteaders. The homesteaders would find it a very hard scrabble way to make a living, as 160 acres just didn’t have enough fertile land to support a family so only the hardy stayed. Sometime in the 1870’s two of the Imus boys began feeling cooped up so they gathered up their cows and headed to Kingman, Arizona where a man could still spread his wings. The other Imus brother lived out his life in Parkfield.

If you drew a straight line between the town of Taft in south western Kern County and Coalinga about a 100 miles to the north, both oil rich towns, Parkfield would show itself approximately in the middle. So in the 1880’s Parkfield had an influx of oil prospectors because of several oil seeps scattered over the valley floor and its central location between Taft and Coalinga guaranteed there was oil to be found. But by 1899 only little teasers were found. This was to be Parkfield’s zenith year with our town boasting that as the editor of the Parkfield Sand Script newspaper said “we have two grocery stores, two blacksmith shops, two hotels, two bars and I hope two good people.” There was a population of 900 people at this time.

Parkfield was to have two more flings at fame and fortune when to the North at the top of a mountain at 2,700 feet coal was discovered and a railroad was built in 1907 in neighboring Indian Valley to haul the coal to McKay station. But then the coal mine flooded with more water than could possibly be pumped out so 200 potential jobs were lost and a lot of investors were left with empty pockets. Parkfield’s last hurrah was the discovery of Quicksilver (Mercury) just before the start of WWI. Around 1914 it was discovered about three miles north of Parkfield by a Mr. Patriquin. The mine was quite productive till the early 1920’s when it played out. So began Parkfield’s long hibernation with its only industries that of cattle ranching and dry farming. The most tenacious cattlemen in the Cholame watershed encompassing 123,000 acres continued to buy out their neighbors making their ranching and grain farming operations ever bigger and our population ever smaller.

1988 was the year my son John who had just graduated from Cal Poly and I decided that Parkfield needed a new cafe as the old original cafe we called the Bamboo Room had recently burned down. Also in 1988 Zee and I had been married for 30 years, of loving, of tumult, of family and history, and the V6 was in need of a new set of priorities and direction. As I saw it, it was time for Parkfield population 18, capital of the Cholame Valley to awaken from its 68 years of slumber and for John and I to dust off this “diamond in the rough” that we call the Cholame Valley. Cholame in the Yokut Tachi native language meant "the beautiful one.”

The first thing that had to be done was to buy up all the town lots that we could that usually sold for two or three hundred dollars per lot. Much to our benefit nobody else could see the value in scrubbing the dirt off this Diamond. Everyday as the Parkfield Cafe began its revival I also took note as California’s welcome mat of nice weather changed the state’s population in 1940 when I was five years old from 6,900,000 to today’s population of 40,000,000. I think most people that are living in our cities today are like the Imus brothers of the 1870’s, we just have to “get out of Dodge” even if it’s only for a day. The more crowded the living conditions get the evermore stressed any animal will get, that includes us.

Well, what are we the people going to do about it? I think for starters we need to give more importance to the value of open rangeland as places for people to recreate. Provided by ranchers on a voluntary basis who genuinely like people and can provide added income. It works really well with a livestock operation and is a wonderful adjunct to relieve some of the pressures on our, over-crowded, State and National Parks.

So let’s start by recognizing the recreational value of our private lands. These magnificent lands, these tranquil lands, need to be protected from man’s heavy hand and that “highest and best use” doesn’t have to always mean more subdivision and freeways to move all the traffic and it’s consequences of stress and anxious feelings. Maybe, if only the tax collector could see that tranquility and beauty in some places should be the highest and best use. I’m a realist so to think that beauty and tranquility could win out over taxes might be a stretch but it certainly has to be part of all our futures someday. So what about right now? How can Parkfield and its surroundings survive and prosper? Agritourism, that’s how. A favorite saying of any realtor worth his salt will utter these three words “location, location, location” and Parkfield is only one to four hours driving time from 30,000,000 million people. That’s pretty scary as you’ve got all the facilities on the one side that can provide a day or a week of Parkfield Magic, and on the other side all the unintended consequences when too many people discover Camelot right in the center of their universe. Which begs the question “how do we keep from rising to our level of incompetence?”

For those that have been to Parkfield how do we keep this magical place magical?

See Ya,

Jack


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