Bakersfield to Santa Cruz via the San Andreas Fault

By Paul Gipe

And why not? The San Andreas Fault is one of California’s defining features and it was on the way, so why not drive a winding portion of it in our sporty Chevy Bolt EV.

We have friends in Santa Cruz and have driven there several times from Bakersfield in our Bolt. This is a 550-mile round trip through some of California’s most scenic country. See Bakersfield to Santa Cruz and Return in a Chevy Bolt for a report on first run in the summer of 2018.

As noted in that trip report we had to take the most pedestrian route to Santa Cruz because of the paucity of functioning DCFC stations on our preferred route. Since then the charging situation has improved greatly for non-Tesla EVs.

In the meantime we’ve experimented with different routes and different charging stops, including one trip with an overnight in the historic town of San Juan Bautista directly on the San Andreas Fault. You can literally take the stairs down the fault’s escarpment from the Mission. That night we stayed in Posada De San Juan and charged on an ancient Blink Level 2 at Abbe Park across the street. Surprisingly, the little-used station worked. (EVs have given us an excuse to stop in places we would never visit otherwise.)

With Electrify America’s opening of their Paso Robles station, we can now use Hwy 101 to Santa Cruz without spending the night along the way. We make the run from Bakersfield over the Temblors, across the San Andreas Fault, then down into Paso Robles for a charging stop. From there we can drive the length of the Salinas Valley and around Monterey Bay to Santa Cruz.

In Santa Cruz we would stay at the Holiday Inn Express where we would charge overnight on the hotel’s Tesla Destination Chargers using our JDapter Stub from QC Charge (formerly Quick Charge Power). This worked fine, but staying at the hotel on the weekends in the summer gets expensive. So we wanted to try something different.

On our most recent trip, we decided to charge at Recargo’s Prunedale station at the north end of the Salinas Valley. (It’s Recargo’s only DCFC station. The state pulled funding for the remainder of Recargo’s contract.) Then we’d drive on to Santa Cruz, stay at a cheaper hotel, and charge as opportunities presented themselves.

We wanted to check out the Prunedale station because its six–yes count em–charging kiosks have earned high marks from drivers. The station lived up to expectations. It’s behind a small strip mall so there’s little chance of it being iced. The kiosks themselves are beautifully designed with long cables. The screens are easy to read and the dispenser was the easiest to use of any I’ve tried. We’ll be back.

PlugShare users have tipped that there’s a Chinese-American-Italian (only in California) restaurant a short distance away. It’s not fine dining, but the staff were welcoming (I think they’re getting a steady stream of EVers), the food was served quickly, and it was satisfactory.

Well, if you’re going a little out of your way to stop in Prunedale, you might as well go a little further and come from Hollister instead of Salinas. This allows you to take the lightly-used Hwy 25, following the trace of the San Andreas Fault. All the geology guide books to California mention this route as it passes by the ancient volcanoes of Pinnacles National Park and displays characteristic geomorphology along the fault. If you’re into rocks, this is the way to go. So we did.

I used A Better Routeplanner to make sure we had sufficient charge to reach Prunedale once we left Paso Robles. That’s a long, desolate stretch of highway between King City and Hollister. You wouldn’t want to be caught short.

We had ample charge pulling into Prunedale, topped up to 80% and then drove on to Santa Cruz.

The next day we dropped the car off at ChargePoint’s Level 2 station in front of the biology building at UC Santa Cruz’s Marine Science Center. Our friends conveniently live next door. We left the car charging for four hours, gaining 24 kWh at a cost of $4. That was enough to get us back to Paso Robles.

We planned to drive directly from Santa Cruz back to Paso Robles. However, I wanted to check out the unusual ChargePoint station at Camp Roberts Southbound rest area.

Eric Way and others have reported on this station. It uses one CP Express 62.5 kW kiosk. What’s unusual is that the station is part of CalTran’s 30-30 program and it’s solar powered. It uses four cantilevered arrays with built-in battery storage. Because of this, the station is throttled to deliver only 30 kW and if you get there late in the day the batteries may be exhausted and you’ll have to drive on to Paso Robles to charge.

The station’s array is marketed as EV ARC for Electric Vehicle Autonomous Renewable Charger by Envision Solar. Since this installation, Electrify America has announced that they plan to use EV ARCs in rural areas of California.

We were ready for a break, the sun was shining, it was before noon, and the station was delivering its full 30 kW. So we decided to charge at the rest area instead of driving into downtown “Paso.” This would save us a few minutes driving and it allowed us to walk around the rest area to get some much-needed exercise. (We’ve been driving non-Tesla EVs for six years now so a 30 kW charge still seems fast to us.)

The charge at Camp Roberts is free, because federal highway funds prohibit CalTrans from charging for any commercial services. Apparently, vending machines are excepted.

We drove the remaining 127 miles and arrived home with 10% charge, about what I expected from ABRP.

As an aside, if I’d used the new version of Chevy’s Energy Assist instead of ABRP, we’d arrived home with only 5% charge and I would have been sweating bullets. This result again confirmed that ABRP is a more reliable trip planning tool than Chevy’s app.

We’re now comfortable enough with the Bolt, ABRP as a planning tool, and the DCFC network in California that we’re willing to take routes off the beaten path. California’s a big state with a lot to see and non-Tesla EVs are now good enough to do almost anything you’d use a gasser for.