Saturday, October 12, 2013

Southern San Joaquin Valley

We drove southwest from Bakersfield today, and our first stop was at the Tule Elk State Park.
Two years ago when we visited this park we did not see any elk.  Today there were four male hanging out near the visitor's viewing area, and a larger number of the female.  There are three different subspecies of elk in the United States, the elk in this preserve are the smallest of them.  The Tule elk once dominated the deer and pronghorn population in the San Joaquin Valley.  Before and after the Gold Rush years they were hunted to almost extinction until a cattle rancher set aside 600 acres of open range for the elk (today's preserve).  A 1895 count showed 28 surviving tule elk.  Whenever the herd here exceeds 30-35 they are relocated to other open spaces.
After leaving the preserve we drove by large fields of cotton.  Fortunately the crop was being harvested today.  We watched as a green cotton picker moved slowly down the aisles of cotton and pulled the cotton off the plants.  Once the bins on those machines were filled, the picked cotton was dumped into the red container pictured above, and packed down.  Large bound bales of  cotton stood nearby ready to be trucked out and sent to market.  Our drive next took us to large oil fields.
Kern County is home to some of the richest oilfields in the world.  We stopped to see the historic site of the Lakeview Gusher.  Over 18 months between 1910 and 1911 it flowed uncapped and untamed at 18,000 barrels a day.  Now all that remains of that gusher is an oil-stained crater in the earth.
Our last stop of the day was at the Wind Wolves Preserve, at 95,000 acres it is the west coast's largest non-profit preserve.  In this park five mountain ranges converge, it has elevations from 640 to 6,005 feet. Tule elk herd here has grown to 200.  Currently the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is placing stillborn calves of the elk on the preserve for the California Condor, which can be seen in the higher elevations.  We took a short hike into the preserve, along our way we found an historical marker which noted that the road pictured above was once El Camino Viejo- or "The Old Road", the original inland route to San Francisco Bay from El Pueblo de Los Angeles.  Our hike took us through the San Joaquin valley floor, a veritable sea of grasslands surrounded us.  A creek runs through the park and provides riparian wetlands.

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