Country back roads
Land of Four Seasons
April 13, 2019
My favorite Tehachapi area back roads for you to explore
I often get asked to recommend pleasant drives for people who are newer to the area and I'm happy to do so, since the Tehachapi Mountains have an assortment of picturesque country roads that wind their way through the foothills, valleys, canyons and mountains of this California range. These two-lane back roads are relics from an earlier time – some were even dirt roads for horses and wagons before the arrival of autos and asphalt.
Sometimes newer residents and visitors are willing to try these secondary roads, while people who have lived here for a long time will bypass the older, slower routes. This may be because they are in a hurry and can say, "Oh yeah, I've taken that road before," but the last time might have been years ago, so I am hereby encouraging my fellow residents to take the path less travelled and revisit these back roads.
Here are a few of my favorite country roads for you to explore if you haven't driven on them yet, or for you to reminisce if you've traveled their rural miles many times before.
They range in length from only a few miles to roads that can lead to Bakersfield or Lancaster.
Turn off onto one of these old roads, slow down, and enjoy your surroundings as you experience a drive on one of the area's original roadways.
Old Town Road is one of the oldest roads in the Tehachapi Valley, and knew the clip-clop of horses' hooves long before the first cars arrived – this road first led to the original Tehachapi townsite, also known as Williamsburg, in the 1860s. It runs between Woodford-Tehachapi Rd. at its north end and Highway 202 at the southern terminus, and meanders along a ribbon valley that parallels Brite Creek, passing pleasant country homes and small farmsteads.
Woodford-Tehachapi Road leads about 10-miles from Highway 202 in the Old Towne Business District down to Keene, whose railroad siding Southern Pacific named "Woodford" to avoid confusion with Kern Tower, a railroad property by Edison. Most locals just call it "the back road to Keene" and it is winding and attractive, with a front row seat to the Tehachapi Loop and historical markers, as well as sweeping views of Highway 58 far below.
Cummings Valley Road is one that many people find confusingly named, because this stretch of road is the main roadway in lower Brite Valley, and yet is named Cummings Valley Road. That's because roads were often named for where they led to (Cummings Valley, in this case) or the two places they joined, like Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road and others on our list. This short stretch of road starts at Highway 202 in Brite Valley, rambles past old ranches and meadowland and then meets up again with Highway 202 just inside Cummings Valley.
Banducci Road is the other road that links Brite Valley and Cummings Valley, as it has for nearly 150 years. It starts at Highline Rd. in the western tip of the Tehachapi Valley, heads west past Brite Lake, winds through the narrows by Alpine Forest Park and then offers a panoramic view overlooking Cummings Valley before descending down, crossing the last remaining cattle guard (there were three until recent years) and the historic Cummings Ranch and eventually ending up in Stallion Springs.
Caliente Creek Road is very picturesque, and to access both this road and the famous Lions Trail (Caliente-Bodfish Road), you exit Highway 58 at the Caliente Turnoff. This will technically put you on Bealeville Rd., but it quickly becomes Caliente Bodfish Rd. (which street signs identify as "Cal-Bodfish Road" because the full name is too long to fit).
After you pass the little hamlet of Caliente, the two roads diverge, with Caliente-Bodfish Rd. heading abruptly upward in a very winding 9-mile stretch known as the Lions Trail, and Caliente Creek Rd. staying lower and following the creek.
Lions Trail (occasionally spelled "Lyons Trail") is known officially as Caliente-Bodfish Rd. because it links these two small communities, and this road twists and turns and after 9-miles descends into the beautiful Walker Basin and runs past the incomparable 31,000-acre Rankin Ranch.
This winder of a road was originally laid out on horseback and it is like a time capsule. Watch for free range cattle both on this and Caliente Creek Road.
Highway 223 is also known as East Bear Mountain Boulevard, and you can easily find this road by continuing west past the Caliente Turnoff from Highway 58 and continuing two more miles to the Arvin Cutoff, where you exit Highway 58 and then cruise past the Bakersfield National Cemetery (stop and visit this natural beauty of a veteran's cemetery if you have time). As you continue heading southwest on Highway 223, you go through hilly Tejon Ranch cattle property on both sides of the road and then find yourself among vineyards on the valley floor and then the little town of Arvin itself. At the moment you can also see where the Deer Fire started and how much it burned – there are long red streaks in the mountains where fire retardant chemicals were dropped from aircraft.
Bena Road is also accessed by exiting Highway 58 at the Arvin Cutoff, but instead of staying on Highway 223, you head west toward Bakersfield on Bena Road. This loveable back road changes with the seasons and transitions from foothills to the San Joaquin Valley floor. You'll hardly encounter a single residence or building until you approach the small farming community of Edison. You can then either stay on Edison Highway or get back on Highway 58, as long as you head west they both continue into Bakersfield.
Cameron Road is another shorter road, and it connects Highway 58 and Tehachapi-Willow Springs Rd., but it offers great views as it curves up through Cameron Canyon and then emerges on top and crosses over to the Oak Creek side and heads back down. There are only a handful of Cameron Canyon residents and very little traffic on this isolated but well-maintained road.
Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road is an interesting route, known to locals as "the back way to Lancaster," and it begins at the eastern end of Highline Rd., then leaves the Tehachapi Valley via Oak Creek Pass on a steep downhill grade, and continues through the descending foothills until it eventually reaches the Mojave Desert floor.
Although there has been tremendous wind energy development around this road in recent years, parts of it have changed little for decades and it's a great way to see the mountains merge down with the desert. It turns into 90th Street West at Rosamond Blvd., but you can continue straight at this stop sign and end up in Antelope Acres, a little west of Lancaster.
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.