Sunday, May 26, 2013

Highway 25 Revisited

...after driving several hours through Central California in a geographic swoon, the vista became more and more desert-like, and the heat of mid-day penetrated through the car windows, baking us slowly. We turned of Highway 25 onto 33 and our world began to change. Ruth fell into a snooze and slowly, like the emergence of Joshua Trees across the landscape growing more common by the minute, were oil field pump jacks soon spreading as far as the eye could see. Connecting these strange creatures that look like the classic science department demonstration of the bird dipping its beak into water on steroids, were pipelines, valves, and hardware of every sort. Traveling down 101 south and Interstate 5 you get a taste of this huge oilfield called the Midway-Sunset, but Highway 25 bisects it eerily.

As beings on the crust of the earth we often forget what's below our feet and the geologic history that made it so. This whole area of South Central California has been under the influence of the San Andreas fault for millions of years with land being subducted and pulled north creating huge changes in the look of the continent. The entire San Joaquin Valley is such a rich agricultural region because it was a sediment-filled depression left over from a huge inland sea 65 million years ago. Holy cow, wrap your head around that time line! The base of this rich depression saw huge land shifts and what was once a sea. Over time the land pushed up and away, creating the mountain chains surrounding Los Angeles, most popularly, the San Gabriels, and the rich, hot, verdant worlds of the Mesozoic and Tertiary periods became subducted deep into the earth creating huge oil fields...not created by dead dinosaurs as my students often say! These oil fields that Ruth and I now cross over are the largest in America and to visualize the extraction of the ancient history of organic life to our daily use is to fall into an Alice in Wonderland time travel adventure.

Most traffic in this area consists of company pickup trucks, tankers, and heavy equipment. We pulled into the small town of McKittrick -- an oil company town, needless to say, and purchased our ice cooler refill at the McKittrick store. Waiting in the car for Ruth's emergence with ice, I saw the McKittrick Hotel, and property being sold with the same name. A couple of old guys crossed the barren street to purchase cigarettes looking drained of life and filled with alcohol. We pressed on to the Town of Taft.

The town of Taft is built directly over the oil fields. What do the people of Taft dream of a night with the subtle rumbles of earth's movement and the slow but steady suck of her ancient organic fluid from her womb? This town is frozen in time. Its stores and businesses are mostly shuttered. We spy two young girls cruising the street near the once-grand movie theater, lonely, seeking entertainment. An occasional hot muscle car passes by and I get the feeling of the 50s being played back in slow motion. I walk out and take a picture of the elaborate neon of the Fox Theater, mentally unstable as the curtain of time shifts me forward and back...the force of the blues is strong here...

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