I woke up early which I do every day. I was in the truck stop at Lost Hills along I5, an hour west of Bakersfield, pretty much out in the wide open with no nearby towns. I had intended to go to the coast. Hopper Mountain NWR, along the way, is closed to the public, but this is where the condor recovery program is located, and there was a slim chance one could see condors in the area. I would then have gone down the coast through Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, checked out Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes NWR, navigated through LA down to San Diego to the Tijuana Slough and Sweetwater Marsh NWRs; however, I changed my mind, and decided to move east instead. While researching Guadalupe, I read that it is only accessible by a hike from the beach:
Road access to the Refuge is not available. Visitor access is only permitted from the beach, and requires a rigorous 4.0-mile or 4.5 -mile round trip hike through soft sand to reach the Refuge boundaries. Access hikes also require crossing at least one stream.Then there was the traffic issue, and while I loved the names of the San Diego refuges, this was not enough for me to endure the insane spaghetti mix of freeways in LA, although I would have if the chance of seeing a wild California condor was greater than 50%. I had dipped on condors at the Grand Canyon a few springs ago, so was tempted but the odds just weren't compelling enough.
Since the sun would not rise for hours, I first went into the Love's store (slightly grubby), and then across the street to the Pilot truck stop store which was actually impressive, starting with beautiful (relative, I know) clean, modern and completely functional bathrooms, as far as locks and doors and flushability and faucets and countertops (notes from my course in Public Bathrooms).
I started the day with coffee and a warm frosted Cinnabon. The young girl who waited on me was above-average pleasant, asked questions to which answers she actually listened and wished me well. In fact, all the staff were that agreeable, much more so than usual but not obsequious. Most were non-Caucasians. The whole store was several grades above Love's. I could have Christmas-shopped in the gift section and almost bought a small glass rooster for someone (Livy maybe?) and die-cast metal trucks for Joey. The place was bustling with male truckers, although there were a few women, who may or may not also have been drivers. Some girlfriends / wives do accompany their men I know. And there were the travelers like me, getting gas and munchies, even this early. I sat and drank coffee at the attached Wendy's and watched the activity and people. To me, the Christmas music was the surprise here. Many of the selections were the old traditional sacred songs. I could have been at a church Christmas program or back in my childhood home where we listened to this music on vinyl records for a month before the holidays. There were the occasional interruptions: "Traveler #4, your #7 shower is ready; traveler #4, shower #7 is ready..." or "Professional truckers, there is currently no wait for showers; get out of your truck and come in for a nice hot shower..." and then the music would resume. It was a mix with some of the more popular secular songs but not the horrid obnoxious ones. And there was very little evidence of merchandise (books, magazines, clothing, toys, videos) catering to violence or sex.
After this truck-stop concert, I went next door to McDonalds (I needed protein) which featured young families traveling for Thanksgiving, stopping for breakfast, with a couple of small sleepy kids in pajamas, carrying stuffed animals. "We're almost halfway there honey; we'll be there soon...." "Mommy and Lizzie went to the bathroom so it's just us boys now...." and the adorable little kid looked seriously at his dad, repeating, "It's just us boys, right..."
Trash littered the edges of the parking area and a few feral cats were roaming about, but it was early morning, the sun was shining and far enough above the horizon so I could drive east without being blinded.
I passed vineyards with white plastic covers stretched tautly over the tops of the vines. I learned these were to protect the grapes from rain which seemed hopelessly optimistic here...as well as expensive. The life of a farmer is sometimes just a roll of the dice. As always happens, as soon as I googled this, I could have followed threads to an abundance of new information. While driving by the covered grapes, I had thought it was to protect them from heat, never thinking about protection from water, which is ironic.
The skies around Bakersfield were bright and hazy with dust, oppressively so. I followed the Kern River east through the southern Sierra Nevadas, mountains of rock and dirt with no greenery at all on the western flanks. The river was low, flowing between massive boulders like Rocky Mountain rivers but with much less water and very little flora. The road was narrow and winding and my van was close to scraping giant slabs and cliffs of rock on the right.
Lake Isabella, a reservoir created when the Kern was dammed, was also low with only a few lonely RVs at out on the sand this time of year.
|Lake Isabella - CA|
Driving on, I flew past a sign for the Audubon California Kern River Preserve so turned around. It was a place that immediately made me think of Deborah. It was her kind of spot - idyllic, very peaceful, birds active at a couple of feeders and the sun shining through giant golden Fremont cottonwoods. But the signs warned visitors about all the dangers on the trails, including one that a mountain lion and cubs were in the area, drawn to the river because of the drought and cautioning hikers to not walk alone.
|Kern River Audubon Preserve|
Continuing east through increasingly sparsely vegetated land, I left the Kern Valley and eventually came out of the mountains to desert, but this is land that has lived with aridity always so the population has adapted to living with very little water.
The town of Ridgecrest is adjacent to the China Lake complex:
China Lake is the United States Navy's largest single landholding, representing 85 percent of the Navy’s land for weapons and armaments research, development, acquisition, testing and evaluation (RDAT&E) use and 38 percent of the Navy’s land holdings worldwide. In total, its two ranges and main site cover more than 1,100,000 acres, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. As of 2010, at least 95 percent of that land has been left undeveloped. The roughly $3 billion infrastructure of the installation consists of 2,132 buildings and facilities, 329 miles of paved roads, and 1,801 miles of unpaved roads. The 19,600 square miles of restricted and controlled airspace at China Lake makes up 12 percent of California’s total airspace.
I considered going to the US Naval Museum of Armament and Technology to look at bombs and missiles, etc., but didn't. In retrospect, I wish I had. Obviously, the area is super-serious in the way of things military, and the town of Ridgecrest benefits. It is busy and modern, even though essentially a desert town, and so unlike the spooky half-ghost towns with marginal dwellings and major detritus in yards that I passed through on the way here.
I ate at the Tokyo House with a choice of seating at the sushi bar, at just a regular table or at a U-shaped hot grill. When I paid, I was given a nice Japanese wall scroll. I asked if the waitress if she was giving this to me??? and she replied, smiling, "No, it's a gift."
I saw on my map app that there was a large regional park close by so I checked it out as there were eBird reports from the general Ridgecrest area, and I imagined trees, but the park was totally open dirt with occasional widely separated palm trees. At night, it was fully lit with people playing soccer and out walking. In the predawn the next day though, it was totally dark.
|The Trail of Hazards - Kern River Audubon Preserve - CA|
|Oak Titmouse - Kern River Audubon Preserve - CA|