Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ranching and Agriculture on the Carrizo Plain

I've been spending an inordinate amount of time on the Carrizo lately. It's a fascinating place full of fascinating things. Chumash pictographs and bedrock mortars. Bird hunting or watching (depending on persuasion). Endless photographic opportunities. Geological oddities such as the San Andres Fault and Soda Lake. And a rich agricultural and cattle ranching history. 

Some people look up to astronauts or scientists or athletes. With me its cowboys. I've got a garage full of cowboy history and westerns in paperback to prove it. I've read every Luke Short and Elmer Kelton book ever printed. I own paperback versions of every Louis L'Amour ever published by Bantam. I admire the toughness, courage and fortitude in the face of a million dangers that cowboys represent. Those guys were real men, some good, some not, but they lived and worked in the most adverse conditions imaginable with just a horse, a saddle, a gun and knife, a good rope, a coffee pot and a skillet. We just have no concept what it must have been like to night ride a herd through a Wyoming snowstorm, keeping cattle moving lest they freeze. Just an unbelievably tough class of individual.

This little discussion leads me to the old ranch sites on the Carrizo and the history that still stands out there on the plain. I'm not going to write a book here so I'll just dictate from the BLM's blurb on local agriculture and ranching. And enjoy the pictures.

Selby Ranch

After California earned statehood in 1850, land speculators and pioneers began acquiring parcels and settling on this arid plain. Sheep and cattle were the mainstays of these early settlers.

The turn of the 20th century marked the rise of dryland farming (no irrigation) on the Carrizo Plain. In years when rainfall was sufficient, crops such as barley, wheat, and oats grew well in the fertile soil of this arid climate. However, transportation to markets in the San Joaquin Valley and the Central Coast was a challenge. A road to McKittrick, built in the 1890s by local laborers solved this problem, and the intoduction of mechanized farm machinery in 1912 further boosted the region's grain industry.

In the 1930s, large-scale farm mechanization, combined with Great Depression troubles, ushered in a new era. As smaller farms failed, they were consolidated into larger operations owned by absentee landlords. 

Water tanks on the Plain.
Selby Ranch

Painted rock has numerous old monograms chiseled in among the pictographs.

Entry to KCL campsite. An old workshop is all that remains of the ranch.

One of the KCL Ranch brands.

Traver Ranch.

Grain Harvester.
Ranch buildings. A generator building and behind it a bunkhouse.

Traver Ranch.
Traver Ranch.

Old barn on the plain.

In 1987, many of the big farms and ranches began to be transfered to the Bureau of Land Management, The Nature Conservancy, and the California Department of Fish & Game. This was part of an effort to preserve some of California's ranching history and provide habitat for rare and endangered San Joaquin Valley wildlife.

Old farm equipment is scattered all over the Plain.

An old bunkhouse kitchen.

The interior of an old barn. 

An old ranch house on the Carrizo.


  1. another great post. history, humanity and nature. I feel stuffed. Thanks.

  2. Thank you for this! I'm a Selby girl, miss the ranch & lifestyle often. I climbed Caliente when I was 13. I got in alot of trouble for that & it was SO worth it!
    Again, thank you David!

  3. MS Juliana, oh the stories you could tell...
    Thanks for the note. Made my day. -DS

  4. Nice work ! Living on the Selby Ranch was one of my greatest joys. Love your photos.