Alpaugh California: Overview
I spent the better part of three months in 2011 (Late July to early October) in Alpaugh, an unincorporated town of (reportedly) ~600 in Tulare County, California. Alpaugh is a one stop sign town. It is also a one gas station town. A one grocery store town, and a two restaurants, one school, one post office, and a not much else town. Perhaps there was more to it than I could see in my explorations, but unfortunately I lacked a native guide and I had few opportunities to meet the locals since my nearest neighbors were either Bureau of Land Management employees (who didn’t hang out in town), farmers, or were the omnipresent California marijuana cultivators (who had no interest in talking to strangers, especially those who worked for the feds).
Adding to my troubles on the meeting people front was the near impossibility of bumping into someone casually. With the exception of the cafe in town, there didn’t seem to be a local hang-out a stranger could justifiably walk into without attracting a lot of negative attention. Moreover, it was a twelve mile drive for gas and a twenty mile drive to the nearest Wifi connection, both of which were located in towns that bustled in a way that Alpaugh never did.
Since it seems like it might be difficult to adequately describe Alpaugh (and it does merit a description) with what was there, perhaps it will be easier to describe it by saying was wasn’t. For instance, there wasn’t potable water, apparently what poured out of the taps was laced with arsenic (and later sulfur). There also wasn’t much shade and for that matter there weren’t really any trees to speak of. The biggest tree around was a non-native Mulberry (I believe), which was carefully marked on a map in the house I lived in, and was lovingly called George by those of us who had grown up accustomed to playing in the shade of a closed canopy. George was a little over two miles away, a trip which could have been made blindfolded due to the utter lack of traffic, or crowds, or bends of any real significance in the roads.
During the day the sun beat down mercilessly and made the place a ghost-town populated mostly by wandering dogs and circling hawks and vultures. When I asked how people managed to survive in the heat, I was told — I hoped jokingly– that it wasn’t really considered “hot” until the mercury tipped past 105 degrees, and that I’d “Get used to it.” Thankfully I did.
On the other hand, nights were pitch black, clear, and dry. With no clouds and no humidity to speak of the stars were fantastic. There were barn owls living in the palm trees by my house and families of both burrowing owls and great horned owls within a few miles. None of them were particularly put off by humans, I imagine they were all living too well on the areas ubiquitous rodents to be bothered by my constant attention.
On yet another hand (I’m at three now, correct?) the mornings in Alpaugh were stunning.There were mountains on the horizons, visible at dawn and dusk and but made invisible during the day by the vile plume of smog seeping eastward from LA. And since I worked on a BLM holding called Atwell Island, an artificial wetland sequestered carefully in a (recently) dry lake-bed in this otherwise inhospitable valley, there were birds everywhere and….
Here I’ll cut myself off before I stray too far into the specifics of my job in Alpaugh. Suffice it to say that while the town has little to recommend it (beyond fantastically inexpensive Mexican food), the work more than made up for the location. As I tell more about the project itself I’ll let you be the judge.