Dos Palos, formerly known as Colony Center, is a city in Merced County, California, United States. It is located 23 miles south-southwest of Merced and has a population of just under five thousand.
In one of his expeditions of the 1820s along the westside of the San Joaquin Valley, explorer Gabriel Moraga reported the location of two large isolated poplar trees, which he called “Dos Palos.” In 1891, former school superintendent Bernhard Marks convinced cattle ranch king Henry Miller to develop a small town nearby. They gave it the name “Dos Palos Colony.” Marks brought forty pioneer families west from Iowa and Nebraska to establish the community. In 1892, unable to find good water, many of the settlers left. Marks convinced Miller to establish another town two miles away on land unsuitable for farming and ranching due to swamps and unsettling soils. Some of the settlers relocated. This new town was named Colony Center. Then, in 1906, Dos Palos Colony was renamed South Dos Palos and Colony Center was renamed, Dos Palos. The city was incorporated in 1935 and about a dozen of the colony’s original families still reside locally.
Merced County is located in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley (also known as the Central Valley) of California. In addition to Dos Palos, it includes the cities of Atwater, Livingston, Los Banos, and Gustine.
County and city municipalities are a major source of employment along with agricultural related industries, retailing, manufacturing, food processing, and tourism. Merced County has an excellent school system including a modern community college, Merced College and the University of California’s tenth campus, University of California, Merced, which is the first research university built in the U.S. in the 21st century.
Residents enjoy warm summer temperatures with highs in the 90s, and winter highs averaging in the 50s. With an exceptional central location in the state, coupled with train, bus, and air services, county residents are only two hours from San Francisco, Monterey, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park. Residents and visitors alike enjoy a variety of recreational activities including the historic Castle Air Museum as well as lakes, reservoirs, and wildlife wetlands.
The San Joaquin Valley began to form about 66 million years ago. Broad fluctuations in the sea level caused various areas of the valley to be flooded with ocean water for 60 million years. About 5 million years ago, the marine outlets began to close due to an uplift of the coastal ranges and the deposition of sediment in the valley.
The San Joaquin Valley produces a significant share of the United States’ agricultural production; it has been called “the food basket of the world.” Grapes are perhaps the valley’s highest-profile product, but equally (if not more) important are cotton, nuts (almonds, pistachios, and walnuts), citrus, and vegetables. In addition, peaches, garlic, tangerines, tomatoes, kiwis, hay, alfalfa, and numerous other crops have been harvested with great success.
Cattle and sheep ranching are also vitally important to the valley’s economy. During recent years, dairy farming has greatly expanded in importance.
In spite of its agricultural productivity, the San Joaquin Valley has the state’s highest rate of food insecurity. The United States Census Bureau issued a report showing San Joaquin Valley as having a high percentage of residents living below the federal poverty line. In most Valley cities crime rates such as burglary, theft, and assault tends to be significantly higher than the national averages.
The isolation and vastness of the San Joaquin Valley, as well as its poverty and need for jobs, have led the state to build numerous prisons in the area. The most notable of these is Corcoran, whose inmates include Charles Manson and Juan Corona. Other correctional facilities in the valley are at Avenal, Chowchilla, Tracy, Delano, Coalinga, and Wasco.
Poverty and Drugs
It is well known that limited socioeconomic opportunity leads to vulnerability to drug addiction; this has shown up with the increasing rates of meth addiction, particularly in rural communities.
For at least the last decade, methamphetamine has been the most widely abused illegal drug across both California and Merced County, according to the state’s Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. Locally, more people enter treatment programs for help kicking meth than any other drug, including alcohol. Dos Palos is not immune. At least as addictive as heroin and even harder to permanently quit, meth is an epidemic here.
Fortunately, there is hope for those who find themselves addicted and searching for a way out. There are state-funded programs provided for those living in poverty or with lower incomes who do not have health insurance adequate to cover the cost of treatment. These detox clinics and drug rehab centers are funded by the state, and those in need can take advantage of the services offered, free of charge.