When I first submitted my cowboy romances to Harlequin—back in the early 1990’s—I was told that my setting of a California ranch wouldn’t work, that California was not known for its cowboys and ranchers.
This was news to me. I’d grown up in Central California and my high school was a school with a strong Ag program. One of my best friends lived on her family’s ranch twenty minutes outside town. Everyone I knew drove a truck of some sort and half the football team had little cans of SKOAL in the back pocket of their Wranglers.
And then there was the family ranch. My grandfather’s ranch.
This last Fall I shared that my Texas grandfather, William M Lyles, once had three cattle ranches in California, his favorite being the Lazy L Ranch in Parkfield, California.
Just where is Parkfield?
It’s in the middle of the Central California, 40 miles east of Paso Robles. The land is beautiful—rolling hills, gold fields and green pastures, ancient oak trees, cattle, wildlife.
My grandfather died in 1965 in a ranching accident on the Parkfield property when I was just a year old.
In fact, the picture of me in a red romper as an 11 month old with my brother Thom on Dixie, was one of the last times I was with him. We were all at the ranch and Grandpa had put his four grandkids on Dixie for the picture, but the saddle slipped and we all went down. There was much crying following the fall, but Grandpa wouldn’t have any of it. He told my mom to put us back on the horse and that’s what she did (to be fair, she doesn’t look very happy in the pic, either) but Grandpa was tough, and we were raised to be tough, too.
After he died, my grandmother sold the other two ranches but kept the Lazy L and continued to run grandpa’s Black Angus cattle until later she leased the grazing rights to a neighbor. We always spent a lot of time on the ranch. Some families would visit Pismo Beach or even exotic Hawaii, but we went to the ranch, visiting every year for the entire Easter week.
Growing up the population of Parkfield was small. Really small. 21 People. Imagine my shock when as an adult I discovered it had shrunk to 18. Not a bustling place, unless you happen to be in Parkfield for its annual Bluegrass Festival or the Memorial Day weekend rodeo.
Today Parkfield’s population might be smaller than when I was growing up in the 70’s, but our neighbors in Cholame Valley, the owners of the big V-6 ranch, have turned Parkfield into a very appealing western destination with activities for the whole family year round. Interested in a stay on a dude ranch? Feel like participating in a cattle drive or attending a rodeo? Check out some of the activites in charming little Parkfield http://www.parkfield.com.
I only knew a couple things about our ranch when I was growing up. The turnoff for our ranch is where James Dean crashed his car and died. At twilight you’d go driving and see deer everywhere. And then there was the little fact that Parkfield is the self-proclaimed “earthquake capital of the world.”
It wasn’t until I read WHERE THE OLD WEST STILL HANGS AROUND last year that I discovered there is a lot more to Parkfield’s history than earthquakes and cattle. Robert Flood grew up in Parkfield and writes of a California few people know. My favorite stories were those set in and around Parkfield, including the influence of the Jack Ranch and the William Hearst families, as well as the outlaws who spent time in Cholame Valley: Jesse James and the Dalton gang.
The only outlaws causing trouble in the rolling hills around Parkfield now are probably my boys when I take them for a long weekend to spend time in our little ranch house. There isn’t a lot to do at the Lazy L but relax, build puzzles, ride horses, go out looking for deer at dusk, and then drive another ten miles to the Parkfield Café for some great beef brisket and BBQ.
Have you spent time on a ranch? Leave a comment for a chance to win a $15 giftcard from Amazon! Contest ends Friday with winner announced on Saturday!
PS There is a funny story about one of the pictures above. Did you see the picture of me sitting on a dark brown horse with my little brother Rob? In the photo, my mom is holding the lead. You see, my mom is a very determined woman. There is nothing she can’t do once she puts her mind to it, and whenever we visited the ranch, she’d chase down the horses, saddle them, help us ride…in general, she was pretty confident that she could handle her kids, and the horses. My mom had so much confidence that one Easter when we reached the ranch, the horses weren’t in the corral by the ranch house, but below the cattle crossing guard in a lower pasture. Mom marched down to the lower pasture and spent considerable time cornering a most unwilling dark brown horse, but she did it. She got a lead on him, then bridled him, and saddled him, too. And then finally, she put my toddler brother and me on “Sunny’s” back. The horse was not happy. He was really unhappy. But my mom wasn’t having it, determined to show us kids how it was done. We had just finished taking the picture you see above when the neighbor came careening up the road in his truck, all upset because that wasn’t Sunny. That wasn’t our horse at all, but a wild horse that wasn’t yet broken. He couldn’t believe Mom had got a bridle and saddle on him. Personally, I wasn’t that surprised. My mom is a woman who knows how to get things done. Thanks, Mom, for teaching me that anything is possible!