Carisso Plain along Hwy 58

It’s one of my favorite drives.

It’s long and desolate. There’s rarely any traffic. I mean to say that there’s rarely another car on the road to meet; indeed, make certain that you’re car is in good condition as I’ve rarely even seen another soul on the drive. There are faster routes, and certainly there are busier routes, over to the central coast from the San Joaquin Valley. But for a quiet drive, a drive for when you’re in no hurry, this is the one for me. There are curves a plenty while climbing up into the hills from the valley and descending out onto the Carriso Plains. Then the road is straight and long, built as if for a roller coaster with their rises and drops. In the middle of nowhere, the road makes a very sharp right angle turn. The warning sign says 15 mph and it means it! For a short stretch you drive along past a little country school, then it turns again, just as sharply, and you head off again in your original direction. It’s as if the builders of the road started on opposing sides of the plains with a plan to meet in the middle but all their calculations were off and, instead of fixing the mess, they decided to just build a short road connecting the dots and be done with it. The road takes you back up off the Carisso Plains, into the hills of the California coast and then dumps you quietly into the little town of Santa Margarita to connect with the coast’s Highway 101.

I’ve driven it many times since college days. Every car I’ve owned I’ve taken along this drive, sometimes when I shouldn’t have. I have fond memories of introducing people to the road. Almost every time I travel along this way with someone new I make a point of stopping near this spot in the photo. It’s near the halfway mark across the Carisso Plains. I pull off the asphalt, shut off the engine and get out of the car. It’s deathly quiet, with just the ping of the cooling engine and sometimes the sound of the breeze in the grasses. Every step is a decided *crunch* in the gravel, a step back in time when the world sounded this quiet, when the loudest thing ever heard might be the rumble of thunder or the crash of a wave on the shore. The ears ring with the silence. You’ve heard of ‘deafening silence’? This is it.

The vista is just as staggering. There are hills in the distance and vast grasslands laid out before you. Sometimes there’s a tractor tilling a field, sometimes there are cattle grazing. Off to one side you can see the ancient lake bed. You’re never really certain if you’re seeing water or if it’s just an optical illusion played by the heat waves rising from the floor of the valley. Overall it’s a thing of beauty and, if you’re lucky enough to have a few clouds in the sky, it can be dramatic.

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