California Oak Woodlands
California Oak Woodlands – You know you’re in Central California when you begin to see the hillsides covered with oak trees. You can almost tell the annual rainfall by the concentration of trees. For me, nothing says “home” like the oaks and rolling hills.
Hillsides with oaks east of Paso Robles
For me, there is nothing that so typifies and symbolizes Central California as its oak woodlands. It is what I was enamored with as a youngster when traveling through here with my family and what eventually drew me back here to stay.
I think a botanist or dendrologist would classify what’s shown in the photo above as an “oak savanna” which has a lower concentration of trees than a “woodland”. But that’s really not the point. We’re concerned here about the beauty and the symbolism.
The oak was chosen as the symbol of the city of Paso Robles. The name of the town means “pass of the oaks”.
If you travel along Highway 46 both east and west of Paso Robles, you’ll notice that the number of oak trees is higher to the west and thins out to nothing the further east you go.
You can see that in the top photo – if you notice the hills in the middle distance, you can see only one or two oaks. The hills in the far distance, which is south of Shandon, there are no oaks to be found. Check out the previous Photo of the Week featuring Bitterwater Road to see what the eastern border of Central California is like.
That difference isn’t about the “eastsiders” chopping down more trees, but rather the lessening of rainfall the further east one goes. The mountains between Paso Robles and the coast intercept quite a bit of rainfall with a real oak forest resulting there.
California Oak Woodlands in painting
I’m also a fan of some of the early California painters such as Granville Redmond (1871-1935) who painted what they saw here – lots of oaks and poppies.
Some of the difference between Central California before the Spanish and American settlers and now is that there was no cattle grazing prior to the Spanish. What the cattle have done is to graze away much of the chaparral that was original and was replaced with grass land. The oaks remain.
My wife is from Maryland and when we travel to there it is rather jolting in a way to see the thick forests of the east. “So many trees” and many of them so much taller than our oaks here. Sure, California has its sequoias and redwoods, but not in this part.
Travel is a great way to make you see what you have in an entirely different light.