March 31, 2010

Part 4 - Wildflower Safari - Highway 178 & Around Kernville

(Continued from Part 3 - Death Valley.)
It was a peaceful morning in Panamint Springs, cool, sunny and open. We had cereal for breakfast (that I had packed for the road trip). We went down to the General Store/Gas Station to check out and get coffee. The young woman there recommended we take Panamint Valley road to go back west, instead of Highway190, so that is what we did.
Pulling out of the resort, we went right and continued downhill on 190 into Panamint Valley. The Panamint Mountains loomed ahead of us, this place was somehow nicer in the morning.
Panamint Valley

Down by the thin strip of sand we turned right onto Panamint Valley road and drove through the valley. We saw some fighter jets fly overhead, which was very cool, they seemed like they were practicing. The road turned into Trona Wildrose Road and started to climb uphill, out of the valley. It felt like we were leaving the desert behind us. Still, I was amazed at how green it was this time of year.

The green desert valley

At some point we got on Highway 178 and we continued down and toward the town of Trona, which looked like it was beat and had given up. There is a chemical lake there and I guess the local industry surrounds the manufacturing of chemicals in this lake. Yards were messy and full of junk and it almost looked like it had been abandoned, except for obvious signs that people currently lived there. Our drive continued on to the much, much larger town of Ridgecrest, which seemed huge after being in Panamint Springs. Eventually, we joined Highway 14 for a few miles and then left it, continuing on Highway 178 through cactus fields. This was the part of 178 that we had traveled in the dark on Saturday, so we got to see it for the first time.
Cactus Fields

We started our ascent into the dry, rocky mountains. This landscape was very different then I knew the mountains to be on the west side, where it was more lush and green.
The Eastern, dry side of the mountains

We continued to climb and the road took us on the mountainside and a deep canyon was created below us. Along it, ran a river and we saw many signs for boat drop off places, seemingly for white-water rafting. The dry rocks began to be covered by grasses and the cacti were replaced by trees. Eventually, the road leveled out as we neared Lake Isabella. The mountainsides here were splashed with color from the blooming wildflowers.
Mountainside Poppies

We made a right off of 178 onto Sierra Way, which would take us to the northern Lake Isabella town of Kernnville. We crossed fields and pastures, which brought us closer to the base of the mountainsides. Large patches of various wildflowers bloomed all over.
 Purple and light blue patches of wildflowers

The road was windy at places and sometimes had long swinging stretches over the rolling foothills.
Sierra Way

We rounded a corner and the amazing Lake Isabella was before us along with multiple patches of different wildflowers.
 Purple Patch around the Sierra Way corner

The amazing mountainside was also colored in yellow, purple and orange. We decided to stop and admire the view more slowly.
Mountainside of flowers

Lake Isabella

We continued on Sierra Way into the town of Kernville. I liked Kernville. It seemed like a nice outdoorsy town. There were lots of campgrounds, cabins and inns. It was obvious that white water rafting was big here, from all the signs. It also seemed that hiking, kayaking, mountain biking were also popular activities. We saw a bit of downtown Kernville, which seemed rugged but full of amenities. We continued on Sierra Way out of Kernville and deeper into the mountains. The patches of wildflowers just got thicker.

Field of purple and white

Field of yellow

Field of orange and white

After several stops along Sierra Way, we found the forebay road, which is a dirt road the heads directly up these mountainsides with the thick carpets of wildflowers on either side. It was rocky and rutted and probably not suitable for a low clearance vehicle like ours, but we took it anyway. On the forebay road, Paul stopped the car and I got out to examine the fields of flowers. Luckily it wasn't too hard to maneuver through the tall grasses and it was easy to find a spot at the edge of the wildflower patch to sit down (or lie down) in the grass and take some photographs.

Field of flowers along the forebay road

 A glance into a field of poppies

A view of the forebay road and our car

The hills along the forebay road

After a while, I knew we needed to get going, so we made our way carefully down the forebay road and back out on Sierra Way. We went back into Kernville and had some lunch at a Mexican restaurant (this is what happens when Paul picks the eateries, it is always Mexican). Our lunch was good, although way too much food and we continued through Kernville and back into some of the neighborhoods, just to check them out. At the time, I was convinced I wanted to move here and wanted to see what real estate was going for. After a bit we went back to the main road, Burlando Road, and met up with Highway 155 which took us back around Lake Isabella and joined up with Highway 178.

On Highway 178 we continued west. The mountains opened up a bit and the river seemed even deeper in the canyon below. This is an amazing highway, even though we have seen it going east, it seems completely different and beautiful going west.
Highway 178

The mountain trees thinned and more grass on the hillsides emerged. There were patches of wildflowers here too, and they seemed even more wild then in Kernville, I guess because they seemed so unreachable by humans. We can only gaze on them and admire them, but we can not go there.
The unreachable wildflowers

The highway continued downhill and the Kern River became our neighbor, flowing alongside the road. We drove through the canyon, amongst the tall, lush mountain walls, which opened up from time to time allowing more sunlight in.
Along the Kern River

Then, the mountains got abruptly shorter and we were spilled out onto the grassy, rolling hills west of Bakersfield. We continued into Bakersfield, hitting traffic congestion, and eventually made our way out, back through the orchards and farmland onto I-5. From there it was a straight shot north for many, many miles through California's Central Valley. When we were east of the San Francisco Bay Area we left I-5 and continued west and eventually home, back in San Francisco.

The Wildflower Safari was over. It was so amazing that Paul said we needed to do it every year. I agreed. I couldn't believe the variety of beauty that we saw and it amazes me how many people don't get out and see these things, I don't understand. Maybe they just don't know what they are missing. I know I didn't discover that California could offer this until the year before. I hope to get down south one more time during wildflower season, but right now it is still just a hope.

The Details:
To see more photographs of the Kernville area and Highway 178 visit:
Kernville & Highway 178
All rights reserved.

The Route:
From Panamint Springs resort.
1. Make a right onto highway 190, for more than 2.5 miles.
2. Make a left onto Panamint Valley Road and continue for 14 miles.
3. The road turns into (make a right) Trona Wildrose Rd, follow for 29 miles.
4. The road turns into Trona Rd, continue for 17 miles.
5. Continue onto Highway 178 W for 24 miles (follow signs).
6. At the dead end, make a right onto Highway 14 South for less then 3 miles.
7. Make a right onto Highway 178 W and follow up into the mountains for 32 miles.
8. Before the town of Weldon make a right onto Sierra Way and continue to the town of Kernville and beyond for about 14.4 miles.
9. Watch carefully for a small dirt road that climbs up the side of the steep hill with a small green street sign that says "Forebay" road.
10. Make a right on the forebay road and carefully enjoy the wildflowers. When finished, carefully turn back around and descend the forebay road.
11. Make a left onto Sierra Way and follow for about 1.5 miles.
12. Make a right onto Burlando Rd and follow through Kernville for about 5 miles.
13. Make a right/continue onto Highway 155/Wofford Blvd., for about 6.5 miles.
14. Take the exit for Highway 178 West and continue for 42 miles.
15. In Bakersfield, follow Highway 58 West for about 8.5 miles.
16. Follow signs for I-5 north, for 188 miles.
17. Follow signs for I-580 W for 62 miles.
18. Follow signs for I-80 W toward San Francisco, for 8 miles and into the city of San Francisco.

(from Panamint Springs, CA)

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