Tag Archives: Salinas River

Salinas River – The Upside Down River

As someone who lived most of his life in the megalopolis of Los Angeles, you aren’t knowledgeable about real rivers.  I lived for a time next to the Los Angeles River and it was just a giant concrete slab of an artificial canal that most of the time was/is used for movie and television shoots.  I traveled to the Colorado River many a time for skiing and partying but it was more like a lake than a river.

Salinas River

The Salinas River may appear small most of the time but there lies a big river underneath.

When I moved to Paso Robles, there for the first time was a river – and it ran essentially right through the town along the El Camino Real and 101 freeway.  The California Central Coast river was not a very effusive-looking river, but a river nonetheless.

The mighty Salinas goes up and down?

Nicknamed the ‘Upside Down River’, the Salinas River headwaters are in the Los Padres National Forest just south of the town of Pozo.  Most rivers travel north to south but the Salinas River starts in southeastern San Luis Obispo County. The nearly 200-mile river heads northwest first dumping into Santa Margarita Lake before dispatching itself up to the North County area of San Luis Obispo County.  Bearing north out of Paso Robles, it sets sail through the supple farming areas of the Salinas Valley in Monterey County before ending up in the Monterey Bay and Pacific Ocean.  Note: technically the river has sand dunes that stop it just shy of the bay due to the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake – canals connect the river to the Pacific Ocean.

The oddity of flowing from south to north isn’t exclusive to the shallow running Salinas River but the nickname of Upside Down River isn’t just due to its directional course.  Rivers sometime have what they call subsurface flow and though the Salinas can almost hide itself from view and appear little more than a creek during the drier half of the year, below the surface runs a giant river.  In fact, the Salinas helps create the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, which is the largest natural aquifer west of the Rockies.  So at times you may not be able to see the river above the surface, yet it is huge underground.


Salinas Valley farms

The great novelist John Steinbeck wrote often about the wonderful farming region that the Salinas Valley was … and is.

The Salinas River and region were first made known to the rest of the world with the famous writer John Steinbeck books including Of Mice and Men and many years later East of Eden.  The river has produced a very fertile land that helped create the worlds number one wine region in Paso Robles and shaped what Steinbeck wrote often about: the Salinas Valley.  You might have heard it before but the valley is sometimes referred to as the ‘Salad Bowl of the World’.

The weather is heavily influenced by a strong marine layer from the Monterey Bay.  With this relatively cool to mild temperature range, the roughly 150 mile long and 10 mile wide Salinas Valley is one of the most prolific farming regions on earth and is often called the ‘Salad Capitol of the World.  The valley runs though much of Monterey County from its southern border with San Luis Obispo County in the neighborhood of San Miguel all the way past the city of Salinas into the Monterey Bay near the town of Marina.


As mentioned before, not only does the river help produce abundant food crops in the Salinas Valley, the fertile land in the south is home to the Paso Robles American Viticultural Area, which was recently named the number one wine region in the world.  Well known for its heritage varietal Zinfandel, the balance of temperatures differs drastically in this area with a huge diurnal, but this combination produces incredible wines now known around the world.

The Salinas River is also fed by such tributary Salinas_River_Maprivers like the Estrella and Arroyo Seco along with two lakes, Nacimiento and San Antonio, not to mention many creeks, which makes this river region one of the largest watersheds in California.

Life along the Salinas the last couple years has been quiet but if hit by a set of storms during winter, it can quickly become a raging menace.  Otherwise, it appears as a small looking river, not unlike the artificial one I remember in Los Angeles … but there’s a huge difference as the upside down Salinas River remains a big river underneath.

Sources: San Luis Obispo County, Monterey County

Check our these resources for more information on the river, valley and surrounding area:

The Salinas : Upside Down River

The Salinas Valley: An Illustrated History

Salinas Valley (CA) (Images of America)


Daryle Hier




The Earliest Years Of Paso Robles’ History

Part 1 of 3

Paso Robles, California, is growing in popularity, especially in regards to the wine industry and in fact was just named the top wine region of the world (see related articles below).  Wine has been a part of the history of El Paso de Robles, but the early beginnings of the town had as much or more to do with ranching, farming, orchards and hot springs.


Mission San Miguel Arcangel

Centered roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the town is only a handful of miles from San Miguel, home to Mission San Miguel, which is part of the California Spanish mission trail.  It appears the mission and the area of Paso Robles were created about the same time.  The name of the town comes from Spanish meaning ‘The Pass of the Oaks’ and is situated about 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean in northern San Luis Obispo County at the very southern edge of the Salinas Valley.  The Salinas River runs right through the middle of ‘Paso’, which it what locals call the town.

Wine & Inn

The San Miguel Mission Franciscans planted vines from the outset for sacramental reasons but eventually used some of the production for export.  Paso was little more than a watering hole on the way to or from – along the 600-mile El Camino Real – but it was a watering hole in more ways than one, as the town sat over hot springs.  Bathhouses were created (first by the Franciscan priests) and became somewhat popular throughout the 19th and early 20th Century.  The first El Paso de Robles Hotel (later reincarnated as the Paso Robles Inn) was built in the 1860s.  It should be noted that the Salinan Indians were the first to discover the hot springs and informed the padres about its healing affects.

Current train depot in Paso Robles, California.

As part of a 26,000 acre Spanish land grant, the region was mostly ranchland in the 1800s.  The first post office was established in 1867 and later the town was incorporated in 1889.  James Blackburn and Drury James were the founders of the town, starting a health resort due to the hot springs (sulfur spring baths).  The first trains starting coming through the area in 1886 with the town becoming a stopover for the rich and famous.

The 19th Century was a prepubescent time for Paso Robles during the Wild West and more would be in-store as these earliest of years for Paso would actually offer a glimpse into what the town would become.

Watch for more here very soon, as the story continues …


Daryle W. Hier