Chuck Pritchard, Bar B6 Ranch. Bitterwater Valley, San Luis Obispo County.
Chuck Pritchard’s family came to the Bitterwater Valley in San Luis Obispo County in the 1860s. Carrying on the family tradition, he has spent much of his life living way the hell out on the Bar B6 ranch—only recently moved into town in the name of grandchildren. He still keeps a hunting cabin on the ranch, and it sits directly on the San Andreas Fault. Says he’s considered installing seatbelts in the couch.
To reach the Bar B6 you leave behind the wine country of the central coast and turn onto a patchy road that cuts through hills the color of brass. The first thing people notice about the Bitterwater Valley is that it’s dry. There’s no significant water source for irrigation, so to ranch or farm here a person must make do with whatever rainfall comes—an average of eight inches a year, but one never knows exactly how much until it falls. And that’s just one of the variables in this tough country. There’s soil type, which changes from one step to the next in this tectonic jumble. Also elevation, and temperature—he remembers one January when it stayed below freezing the entire month.
As Chuck explains it, making a living here requires that you learn to adapt to each new change that nature delivers. It’s something he calls the “art of agriculture,” and it can’t be done by remote. “You learn this stuff by being here and by doing it,” he told me. “My grandfather said, you pay attention and this ranch will tell you what to do. You’re not going to change the weather, you’re not going to change the soil—it’s going to do what it’s going to do. So you’ve got to learn to live with it.”
Barn, Bar B6 Ranch. Bitterwater Valley, San Luis Obispo County.
Hunting cabin, Bar B6 Ranch. Bitterwater Valley, San Luis Obispo County.
Bitterwater Road. San Luis Obispo County.
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