The Mural “Isle of California” (1972) When It Was Newly Painted
Near the West Los Angeles Post Office is the Village Recording Studio at 1616 Butler Avenue. On its back wall is a mural entitled “Isle of California” showing what remains when most of California has fallen into the ocean. It was painted in 1972 by the L.A. Fine Arts Squad consisting of Victor Henderson, Terry Schoonhoven, and Jim Frazin.
Of course, Southern California will not just fall into the ocean after “the Big One.” What is west of the San Andreas Fault will be displaced northwards, separating itself horizontally from the area east of the fault.
I saw today a fascinating quote from J. B. Priestley in Carey McWilliams’s Southern California Country: An Island on the Land:
There is something disturbing about this corner of America, a sinister suggestion of transience. There is a quality, hostile to men in the very earth and air here. As if we were not meant to make our homes in this oddly enervating sunshine…. California will be a silent desert again. It is all as impermanent and brittle as a roll of film.
Oddly, that’s what I felt shortly after I moved here. The feeling was reinforced by the Sylmar Earthquake of 1971 and the Northridge Earthquake of 1994.
The Same Mural Today: Badly Faded With Earthquake Reinforcing Bolts
Well, Southern California is still here. And I’m still here. The place still feels a bit unreal to me, but I have fallen in love with it. So if the whole place should happen to fall in the ocean after all, I’m a goner.
The San Andreas Fault Cutting Through the Carrizo Plain
Yesterday, as we were motoring along the Soda Lake Road through the heart of the Carrizo Plain, Bill Korn said something that made me sit up. “Those mountains on the right have nothing to do with the ones on the left.” The truth of that remark hit me between the eyes. The Plain was a boundary between two tectonic plates—the North American Plate on the right, which was moving ever so slowly to the southwest, and the Pacific Plate, containing most of the population of California, was as slowly heading northwest in the direction of Alaska. And Bill was right, the two mountain chains, separated from each other by only a few miles, had no resemblance.
The movement amounts to an average of only a few millimeters a year, but there have been times that the motion has been more catastrophic. In 1857, the Fort Tejon Earthquake created the strange Chinese scenery of the Devil’s Punchbowl on the north slope of the San Gabriels. Then there was the 1906 temblor and fire that leveled San Francisco and the 1989 Loma Prieto quake. There will be more, a lot more, but hopefully spread over many years. I have lived through the 1971 Sylmar Quake and the 1994 Northridge Quake, both of which had me gelid with fear.
A Map of the San Andreas Fault
Perhaps I dwell too much in my blog posts about volcanoes, earthquakes, hundred year floods, and other disasters. That is because I realize how fragile our lives are. Most people would rather not think about such things, even if they are inevitable. So they build unreinforced brick houses on fault lines or live on the banks of rivers that frequently overflow their banks. Then there are those Guatemalan peasants who live on the slopes of volcanoes because the earth there is so conducive to growing coffee beans and other crops.
My friend Bill Korn and I have been talking about seeing the wildflower blooms at the Carrizo Plain for several years now. As long as I worked doing taxes, however, I was never able to go before April 15; and by that time, the show was all over. Now, being retired, I jumped at the chance. Bill and I met at a Western Bagel in Valencia—he started his trip in far-off Altadena—and we set out in his Prius.
On the way, we passed through Frazier Park and the high country around Mount Pinos before descending some four thousand feet to the level of the Carrizo Plain.
The AT&T Cable Runs Through the Park
The Carrizo Plain National Monument is different from most national parks I have visited. There is no one to collect admission fees at the entrances, and no park rangers were in evidence (though I suspect they exist). Though it was a Monday, there were a lot of cars, particular in the northern part of the park. Most of the action is along the main route called Soda Lake Road that runs the length of the park, paved for approximately half its length, and oiled dirt and gravel for the other half. There were numerous dirt roads that led to subsistence ranches and places that were inaccessible because of deep mud lingering from the heavy rains earlier in the year.
One interesting feature of the park is that Soda Lake Road runs side by side with the San Andreas Fault. I plan to write about this tomorrow if I have the time.
Wildflowers in Great Abundance
This park is probably the largest single section of California grassland that is more or less intact. I didn’t get the feeling that the few ranches we passed made much of a negative impact on the wildness of the place.
Wildflowers Close Up
I will not soon forget the beauty of the Carrizo Plain. I hope I can return some day after another spectacular peak wildflower bloom.
In a post I wrote a few days ago, I remember saying that tulips and California poppies are my favorite flowers. This rainy season has been unusually good, with the result that the wildflower bloom this month is utterly spectacular.
That was also the case in March 2003, when Martine and I visited the California Poppy Preserve with its gentle hillsides blooming with millions of orange flowers.
On Monday, my friend Bill Korn and I hope to visit the Carrizo Plain National Monument in rural Santa Barbara County, where there is another spectacular set of blooms. We had hoped to do it in previous years, but so long as I was racing to prepare tax returns in time for the April 15 deadline, that was a virtual impossibility. For the last twenty-odd years of my accounting career, I typically worked seven days a week in March and the beginning of April.
Never having been to the Carrizo Plain, all I know about it is that it is in a remote area and does not even have paved roads throughout. Several of the roads in the park are currently closed due to mud. Its best known physical feature is that the San Andreas earthquake fault runs right through the middle of it.