Tehachapi: Where exactly are we, again?
Land of Four Seasons
March 2, 2019
Editors note: Jon Hammond has been a friend of The Loop's for a long time and we are excited to be the home of his column, Land of Four Seasons. His knowledge of Tehachapi's history, and the flora and fauna that call it home, are bound to make some beautiful stories for our readers.
Anyone who has lived here has found themselves in the position of having to answer the question "Where is Tehachapi?" Like most questions, it's easier to ask than to answer.
When people would ask my friend and classmate Mark Waddell, he'd respond, "Tehachapi? Well, we're located between Keene and Monolith." True enough.
But to add more context, you can say, "We're halfway between Lancaster and Bakersfield." This is also true, but doesn't really conjure up an accurate image of Tehachapi. Lancaster is in the Antelope Valley (basically the Mojave Desert) and Bakersfield is in the San Joaquin Valley.So how do you describe where Tehachapi is? Well, the first thing is probably to establish that Tehachapi is, in fact, in Southern California. This often comes as a surprise to people who think of Southern California as L.A., San Diego and everything in between.
A few years ago, a Cal Fire crew that had been fighting area wildfires came into a Tehachapi restaurant, and said to their server, Megan, "This is our first time here – we're from Southern California." When Megan replied that, "Well, Tehachapi is still in Southern California," the crew captain replied, "Anything north of the 210 freeway is Northern California."
If you glance at a map of the state, though, you'll see that the northern county lines of San Luis Obispo, Kern and San Bernardino counties make an almost straight line demarking the bottom third of California. So Kern County IS in Southern California. Right at the boundary with Central California.
Another way to describe the area is to say the "Tehachapi Mountains are an east/west trending mountain range at the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada." We're basically a mountainous barrier between the Mojave Desert to the east and the San Joaquin Valley to the west.
In the Jepson Manual, an iconic guide to all the higher plants in California, the Tehachapi Mountains are their own subregion within the larger Sierra Nevada region. The Tehachapi Mountains are described as "a floristic melting pot between the Sierra Nevada, Great Central Valley, Transverse Ranges and Desert."
The Tehachapi Mountains are located almost entirely within Kern County, though the Tehachapis do extend slightly into Los Angeles County – the little mountain community of Gorman, for example, is in L.A. County, while nearby Frazier Park is in Kern County.
So all that explains where we fit into California's geography. But how do you describe the Tehachapi area itself? The old nickname for Tehachapi, the "Land of Four Seasons" has always been accurate, since we do have four very distinct seasons, unlike the lower elevations in most of Southern California.
In much of Southern California, summers are sunny and warm, sometimes hot; autumn is sunny and warm; winter is, well, largely sunny and at least fairly warm, and spring is mostly sunny and warm, though sometimes overcast (June gloom) along the coast. Not much seasonal distinction there.
In Tehachapi, though, the seasons are markedly different, with snow and freezing temperatures in winter; glorious wildflowers, running creeks and green hillsides in the spring; sun-washed, long dry summers; and bright autumn days with cool nights and lots of leaf color.
So there's a few possible answers for the next time someone sees your address and asks, "So where is Teh...Teh...Teh-chappy located, anyway?"
Jon Hammond is a fourth generation Kern County resident who has photographed and written about the Tehachapi Mountains for 38 years. He lives on a farm his family started in 1921, and is a speaker of Nuwä,
the Tehachapi Indian language.