Hike the “earthquake capital of California”
The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Central Coast Field Office oversees the stewardship of scattered federal public lands between Monterey on the coast inland to the San Joaquin Desert in western Fresno County. Yes, we did say “desert,” and not “valley,” for the southern San Joaquin Valley is indeed a true ecological desert, despite the impacts of decades of intense irrigation and agriculture.
Visitors to the San Joaquin Valley’s BLM lands will understand that they’re in a desert when they notice the small sand dunes here and there and that many of the plants growing in the area are also native to the Mojave Desert. They might also see a roadrunner or a horned lizard, further reminders of the Mojave. These BLM lands retain the vast majority of what remains wild in the San Joaquin Valley. For example, species once common in the area, like the San Joaquin kit fox and giant kangaroo rat, now cling to survival in these last vestiges of wild habitat on the BLM lands. Preserving these lands from oil drilling and other development is one of CalWild’s highest priorities.
The nearby San Andreas Fault and other faults in the area have been moving mountains, forming valleys and generally rending the fabric of the Coast Range for eons. A violent reminder of this activity occurred in 1983 when a 6.2-magnitude earthquake caused $10 million in property damage and injured 94 people in Coalinga. Parkfield, just a few miles to the south, is nicknamed the “earthquake capital of California.”
The Central Coast BLM lands in western Fresno County are all open to hiking and horseback riding, but are generally lacking in trails. Instead, most visitors must travel cross-country. The one exception is the Coalinga Mineral Springs National Recreation Trail that explores BLM lands around Coalinga Mineral Springs County Park, roughly 18 miles west of Coalinga.
The hike: The trail starts at the far end of Coalinga Mineral Springs County Park, across a seasonal creek. Look for trail signs and an informational board. The route switchbacks its way for 2.4 miles one-way from the trailhead to the top of 3,491-foot Kreyenhagen Peak, gaining 1,437 feet along the way. It is of moderate difficulty, and is best hiked in the fall, winter or spring. Summer temperatures can be brutal. Spring visitors are greeted with spectacular wildflower displays and abundant bird life.
The trail passes through a transition zone between the shrub-land habitat and low-elevation forest of the Coast Range, to the San Joaquin Desert. Common trees include grey pine, chamise, manzanita, yucca, and many other shrubs and annual wildflowers. One may find the cones of the grey pine to be a formidable sight—it has the second heaviest cone in the world and is fitted with sharp, recurved barbs. The oily pine nuts in these cones are a major source of food for Native Americans and the rugged hull of the nut is used in numerous arts and crafts, especially necklaces.
Views from atop Kreyenhagen Peak are truly breathtaking. To the west is the Coast Range, or, more specifically, the Diablo Range, a subset of the great chain of mountains that separates the Pacific from the San Joaquin Valley. To the north is Clear Creek, an area that is distinctive because of its white soil. This white rock is known as “serpentine soil” and it is so naturally inhospitable to plants that it creates extensive barren areas at Clear Creek. Only plants that evolved to thrive in serpentine, like the Jeffrey pine, can grow there. To the northeast is Joaquin Ridge, with its three 200-foot tall sandstone pinnacles known as Joaquin Rocks. To the east is the town of Coalinga and the vast San Joaquin Valley beyond. On a clear day, visitors can see the Sierra Nevada rise like a wall on the eastern horizon. To the south, one can see as far as the Carrizo Plain National Monument and Los Padres National Forest.
There are many rock outcrops atop Kreyenhagen Peak that offer inviting seats for lunch or to simply reflect on the landscape.
Directions to the trailhead: From Interstate 5, take the US Highway 198 exit and follow Highway 198 west through the town of Coalinga. Continue west for approximately 18 miles and make a right onto Coalinga Mineral Springs Road. Public lands are located across the creek at the far end of Coalinga Mineral Springs County Park. Please note that no water or bathrooms are available at the County Park. Please pack out your trash. As always, wear sunscreen, a hat, and sturdy shoes or boots and bring water. Don’t stick your fingers where you can’t see them (such as in rock crevices) because of the danger of rattlesnakes.
For more information: Please contact the BLM’s Central Coast Field Office at 831-582-2200 or at email@example.com
Special note: CalWild will be offering one or more guided hikes on the Coalinga Mineral Springs National Recreation Trail in 2020! Learn about the BLM lands of western Fresno County. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to be notified of these Fresno County hikes.
* Photo by Dan Baxter, peakbagger.com
Caution: Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.