|Elevation||121 ft (37 m)|
|Official name||California's First Drilled Oil Wells|
Petrolia is an unincorporated community in Humboldt County, California, 10 miles (16 km) northeast of Cape Mendocino, at an elevation of 121 feet (37 m) above sea level, within ZIP Code 95558, and area code 707. Petrolia was the site of the first oil well drilled in California.
Petrolia has an estimated population of 300-500 people within a 15-mile radius. It is located in the Mattole Valley, part of the Lost Coast region, one of the largest wilderness areas and the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the continental United States. Petrolia's isolation is due to its position on the rocky, treacherous coastline adjacent to the King Range mountains that isolate this area from mainland California and continue to leave the area almost completely undeveloped.
A travel magazine has called this area "too lovely to be believed, perhaps too beautiful to last." It has been recognized as the top "still wild" place in California. The area is the only significant stretch of California without a shoreline highway, and so far has "thus escaped tourism's aggressive paws."
The 35 miles (56 km) of steep roadways beneath the King Range Mountains include towering Douglas-firs, a few coastal redwoods around the upper reaches of the Mattole River, rocky shorelines, and black sand beaches, as well as a menagerie of fauna, including black bears, black-tailed deer, river otter, California quail, bobcat and porcupine, reptiles such as rattlesnakes, western fence lizards and alligator lizards, various amphibians and bald eagles.
Petrolia has been described as "a river valley town with Norman Rockwell flavor." Petrolia is 5 miles (8.0 km) from the Pacific Ocean at the north end of the 25-mile (40 km) section of beach protected by the King Range National Conservation Area and Sinkyone Wilderness State Park; the Punta Gorda Light location is about 3 miles down the coast from Mattole Beach parking. The Mattole River is home to a variety of California wildlife, including river otters, steelhead trout, more than 250 bird species, and a threatened salmon that was the subject of a book about the community's attempts over two decades to preserve the Mattole salmon. It is one of the few remaining areas with virgin old-growth stands of Douglas-fir.
Geography and climate
Petrolia is located near the Mendocino Triple Junction, where three fault lines meet, and experiences frequent earthquake activity. The last large earthquake to affect the area was a magnitude 7.1 earthquake in 1992, which resulted in a fire that destroyed the Petrolia General Store. The store was rebuilt but lacks the charm of the 100-year-old landmark that it replaced. Two of the remaining landmarks in Petrolia are a small wooden church dating from 1912—St. Patrick's Catholic Church—and the Petrolia Pioneer Cemetery, which has the graves of original residents of Petrolia dating from November 1857.
On the evening of March 9, 2014, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck approximately 50 miles to the west. It was widely felt, yet caused little to no damage, nor did it generate a tsunami. The lack of any significant damage or land deformation was attributed to the shallow strike-slip fault movement in deep (3000m) water. In 2010 two other large quakes had hit the area, a 6.5 on January 9 and a 5.9 on February 3; neither caused any deaths, but the January quake was reported to have caused damage throughout the area.
The weather in Petrolia is temperate. The town is located in a banana belt that is sheltered from the fog that reaches Eureka and some of the northern towns, such as Arcata and McKinleyville. As a result, the summers are dry and sunny, typically around 70 °F (21 °C) with temperatures occasionally reaching as high as 90 °F (32 °C). Winters are rainy from November through April, with temperatures typically around 50 °F (10 °C) and occasionally falling to the high 30s or low 40s (°F) at night. Honeydew, which is located only 14 miles (23 km) south of Petrolia, has a less temperate climate and its summers and winters are more extreme, with one of the highest amounts of winter rainfall in the contiguous 48 states.
There are only two roads that lead into Petrolia, one from the north from Ferndale, California, and one from the south from Honeydew, California, leading through scenic redwood forests that were the site for the filming of Jurassic Park and After Earth. Both roads are winding, steep, and sometimes unpaved, passing large tracts of scenic overlooks and wilderness areas. They are popular routes for visitors, especially mountain bikers and motorcyclists, and have been described as leading to "an almost comically steep drop to the sea". The road from Petrolia to Ferndale follows the ocean and has unbroken vistas of rocky ocean coastline and beach. Petrolia is surrounded by large tracts of original homestead ranches and farms.
The Mattole area, particularly the Lost Coast beaches, which feature tide pools, pristine beaches and relatively deserted hiking trails, is popular with visitors. At certain times of year, migrating gray whales can be seen from shore, as well as colonies of harbor seals and sea lions. Local residents use the Mattole River for swimming, rafting, canoeing, kayaking and catch and release fly fishing. The South Cape Mendocino State Marine Reserve and Sugarloaf Rock are immediately offshore and are closed to public access.
The Mattole were slaughtered by the Western settlers, mainly oil prospectors and ranching homesteaders. The last remaining descendants of the Mattole live today in Bear River on the Rohnerville Rancheria, but there are no remaining native speakers of the Mattole language. There are estimated to be more than 80 archeological sites of significance in the Lost Coast area.
Although it's often stated that Petrolia was first named "New Jerusalem," that area is 4–5 miles upstream; however, many people like the holy connotations of being called something like paradise. Petrolia was the site of the first oil well drilled in California. The oil lay in small, fractured underground pools and ultimately, attempts to extract it dried up; the site is now registered as California Historical Landmark #543.
Local businesses include a bed and breakfast, an organic vineyard and winery, and an organic pick-it-yourself blueberry farm.
Petrolia has an abundance of marijuana growers. Marijuana has long since replaced the ranching and logging that sustained the original residents for generations.
Petrolia has a small general store that sells groceries and has one gas pump.
State and federal
It has a post office and a volunteer fire department. The original bell cast in 1871 for the Mattole School is still located at the school.
There are two community centers, the Mattole Valley Community Center (originally the school house from 1907 and moved across the street) that hosts community cabaret and gatherings, and the Mattole Grange, an indoor and outdoor gathering area approximately five miles south of Petrolia that hosts a monthly pancake breakfast and farmers' market. There are community gardens, and various community clubs. A few miles outside town at the former Walker ranch is a 400 feet (120 m) by 20 feet (6.1 m) underground steel and concrete vault, built by the Scientology organization called Church of Spiritual Technology to hold "the wisdom of the ages." The Church owns over 3,600 acres (1,500 ha; 5.6 sq mi) of land and the facility also includes a large caretaker's house and a guard house. The vault is one of several across the U.S. and is similar to Trementina Base. Prior to construction of this vault, on June 12, 1986, one of the oldest houses in the Petrolia area was deliberately burned by the Church of Spiritual Technology to clear the way for their construction, and symbols were cut in the ground above the vault to mark its location.
A number of writers and artists have made their home in Petrolia, including Alexander Cockburn, a left-wing journalist and founder of CounterPunch, Dale Maharidge, a journalist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Freeman House, an environmental author, Peter Hannaford, an author and political public relations specialist, Jim Danisch, a potter and sculptor, Jenny Scheinman, renowned violinist, Lisa Jo Jones, renowned actor, and Matteo Giglioli, Italian-American political scientist and author.
Petrolia has a large population of environmental activists and hosts two environmental organizations, the Mattole Salmon Group  and the Mattole Restoration Council, both dedicated to preserving the local wildlife and environment.
The Mattole Valley Historical Society holds occasional public meetings in Petrolia and conducts community walking tours, slideshows and talks about the history of the area and its founders.
Community events including all-ages sporting events, town-wide talent shows, pancake breakfasts, and community meet-ups. In July of each year, the area hosts a music festival called "Roll on the Mattole", at the Mattole Grange, sponsored by the Honeydew Volunteer Fire Company. Twice a year, barbecues at the Mattole Grange attract families from all over the area; the July 4th and Labor Day weekend annual barbecues features an enormous barbecue pit of local beef and baked beans cooked in a vintage pot so large that they must be stirred with a canoe paddle. There are horse races in September, cycling tours in May–September, including a cycling/hiking tour of the Redwoods  and the Tour of the Unknown Coast, a one-hundred mile bike race beginning and ending in Ferndale. A race called the "Rye and Tide" combines bicycling and running from downtown Petrolia along Lighthouse Road 7 miles (11 km) to the ocean. Besides the general store, the Sunday farmers' market and cafe at the Community Center, and a new food cart downtown, the closest amenities are located in Ferndale, approximately 33 miles (53 km), a trip of over an hour by car.
Because of its isolation, the Mattole Valley has cultivated a reputation for independence and self-sustenance, including a network of local resources—the maintenance of its own emergency help line (augmenting 9-1-1).
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...comprising more than 67,500 acres (273 km2) of untouched wilderness...
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The assessed valuation of the 23 parcels owned by the church is $1.19 million, with improvements valued at $510,533., according to county records. Records also showed that the church's tax bill for 1990-01 is $18,488.
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- Mattole Salmon Group
- Mattole Restoration Council
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- Mattole Grange, website
- cycling tours
- cycling/hiking tour of the Redwoods
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- Lost Coast Wilderness Area
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