Saturday, December 21, 2013

The White Cliffs of Lompoc

"Is that diatomaceous earth?"

"Is that diatomaceous earth?"

"Is that diatomaceous earth?"

"Yes, that is diatomaceous earth.  Can we go now?"

Why we find ourselves driving the backroads of Lompoc again and again is a bit of a mystery, but this area of Southern California holds a kind of perverse fascination to yours truly.  I have a son who told me once, "Lompoc is a place you go to die."  Harsh.   But he hasn't taken the time to see the flower fields in spring or wander the streets to look at the murals, go out to the wild and windy beach, tour the wine ghetto or drive the backroads to look at . . . yes, I'll say it again . . .the white chalky diatomaceous earth.

Diatomaceous earth.  Diatomaceous earth.  Heck, I just like saying those words.  The truth is, Lompoc holds the title for the world's largest and purest deposits of diatomaceous earth.  The snow white soil is made up of the fossil remains of microscopic marine plants called diatoms.  This entire valley used to be under the Pacific Ocean.  When the ocean floor was uplifted by earthquakes and volcanic activity millions of years ago, the layers of diatoms formed the hills seen in the above picture.  The white cliffs of Dover, much more famous (although I don't know why), are made of the same material.
We were able to see the smoke stacks of the Celite mining operation in the distance.  Diatomaceous earth has been mined in Lompoc for more than 100 years.  It is used in thousands of products like toothpaste and paint.  It's also used as filters in the wine industry.  Indeed, because of the rich minerality of the soil, the local wineries produce some of the juiciest pinot noir grapes in the world.  Even my travel buddy started to take an interest.  I've made a mental note to find out if Celite gives tours.  Lompoc--we're not done with you yet!

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