7 June 2013
Vineyard Canyon Road is one of the many great scenic drives that are to be found in Central California.
Backroad drives can be fun even if there is no particular destination at the end because of the sights along the way. This drive, however, arrives at the small town of Parkfield on the San Andreas Fault.
Famous for the earthquake studies that have been taking place there since the 1980's, Parkfield does have a cafe (click here for hours) and a lodge. Do note, however, that there is no gas station. You passed the last one in San Miguel.
Please don't mistake this road with Vineyard Drive which is west of Templeton. That is a lovely road with many available stops along the way for wine tasting. Vineyard Canyon Road isn't "that" road.
Here is the Google map for the trip:
We're starting this trip in San Miguel, but you could just as easily come into Parkfield from the east, via Highway 46 or 41 and Cholame Valley Road.
You cross over the Salinas River, immediately turn left onto Cross Canyons Road and then in just a few feet, another left onto Indian Valley Road.
This takes you past dry farm hay fields on the right and irrigated alfalfa fields on the left.
After a couple miles the junction with Vineyard Canyon Road appears and you'll bear to the right.
You might wonder how this road got its name as there is only one vineyard on this road and that is nearly to Parkfield.
It is derived from the mission days when all this land from the ocean to the San Joaquin Valley belonged to Mission San Miguel. Various agricultural projects were distributed throughout the land grant and just a half mile over the Monterey County line there is a natural free-flowing spring (look for the heavy growth on the right side of the road) which irrigated the mission's vineyards back in the day.
Today, those fields grow alfalfa, but the name remains.
The lush irrigated farmlands soon give way to dryer grazing and fields where dryland farming relies on the winter's rain.
You're likely to encounter wildlife anywhere along this road, but deer and wild pig can frequently be seen helping themselves to the farmer's handiwork.
It's worth noting that care should be taken as the deer and other wildlife can leap out in front of your vehicle without warning. I highly recommend that you read my page on How to Drive Backroads before setting out on this or any other drive off the main highways.
Wild turkeys are commonly seen along here, as are quail. Bobcats are a rarer sight and mountain lions rarer still, but a possibility.
In the way of flora, oaks and digger pines dominate the trees. Central California is also home to chamise which covers much of the hills throughout.
Grazing over the years has changed many of the hills from being covered in chamise to hosting grass.
Wildflowers can be found here in the springtime, but not in the abundance of other places like Shell Creek Road to the south. There are nice displays of bush lupines at the summit and poppies all along the road.
Approximately 14 miles from the county line brings you to the summit of this road.
You've gradually climbed from 700 feet in elevation at the beginning to 2600 feet here.
From this point, you can see all the way to the Santa Lucia range which separates the Salinas Valley from the Big Sur coast. In the opposite direction you can see eastward to the Temblor Range that separates Central California from the San Joaquin Valley.
If you wish to stop and enjoy the view, be careful as there is only one suitable place to safely stop and park. That is a gated drive just on the southern side of the pass on your left. There aren't long sight lines here on the road so be cautious.