Interstate 5 through central California has to be one of the most boring drives in the entire state. How the designers managed to build an interstate that doesn't pass through a single town for over 250 miles is beyond me.
On one of my regular trips to the Sacramento River Delta, I decided to try and find something more interesting to look at than the bland I-5 corridor.
My search for an alternative took me to State Highway 33 which parallels the I-5 to the west for most of the central valley. I left the I-5 at the Fresno-Coalinga Road exit and headed west for several miles through rolling hills before turning south.
Highway 33 continues south through the dry hills of California, passing through several small towns along the way. The southernmost section of Highway 33 passes through hundreds of oil wells pumping black gold out of the ground. At one time, dozens of these pumps were painted as whimsical creatures like giraffes, grasshoppers, and burros. Sadly, most of those are gone although a few can still be seen along the road if you keep your eyes peeled.
The town of Maricopa is at the south end of the route from Coalinga. Maricopa is a good size town that has a decent selection of places to eat for the hungry traveler. At the town of Maricopa, I took Highway 166 to the east to rejoin the I-5 shortly before its climb over the Grapevine Pass.
For the explorer, this road is peppered with California history in the form of California State Historical Markers located a short drive of the Highway and a handful of towns that have escaped the mass market forces that have made the stops along the I-5 so generic and bland.
Coalinga in particular has a lot of pride in its history, showcasing an historic oil pump made of wood at the north entrance to town and having several interpretive displays explaining the history of the town.
A few miles north of Maricopa is the site of the largest oil gusher in the United States, the Lakeview Gusher. An oil well at this site blew in 1910 and for 18 months poured out 90,000 gallons of oil a day, eventually forming a 60 acre lake of oil. A century later, there is still evidence of the force of the gusher and layers of hardened oil surrounding the site.
While Highway 33 may not showcase the best scenery that California has to offer, it does provide a slightly more entertaining trip than the mind-numbing drive down Interstate 5. The trip only adds 40 minutes to the overall drive time. For those looking for an alternative to I-5, give State Highway 33 a test drive.