The mountains of home
The Spirit of Tehachapi
July 3, 2021
When in high school I read a poem that began, "My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky." Well, rainbows are always a delight but what really makes my heart leap up is a view of the Tehachapi Mountains when I am returning from a trip. Coming from Bakersfield, I almost always take the Keene off-ramp and drive up the "old" road that was once US Highway 466. It's curvy but what mountain road isn't? When you grow up in the mountains you learn to navigate the curves.
Ascending the final mountain that gives one the perfect view of the Tehachapis with the beautiful Tehachapi Peak in the center top, my heart "leaps up." In the old days when I was younger and there was no air conditioning in most cars, this final ascent into the valley brought cool Tehachapi breezes through the auto's open windows and left behind the hotter temperatures from the Bakersfield area.
Occasionally, I drive to Bishop in the Owens Valley where the Sierra Nevada Mountain range towers above; some from over 14,000 feet elevation. The other side of the valley finds the Paiute and White Mountains. Both ranges look down at the Owens River, which still flows through the valley. These are the same mountains that once sheltered the Shoshone and Paiute Indians. The descendants of those native Americans still reside in the Owens Valley.
The geological makeup of that area includes ancient lava fields and equally ancient volcanoes. Fortunately they haven't erupted in a few million years. So, there is much to see in the winter when they are completely covered with snow. But I look at the stark, jagged Sierra Nevada peaks and think how scary they are! Not friendly, for sure and not like my mountains at home with the neat, timbered peaks. So, when driving home I wave to Mt. Whitney (14,500 feet high, give or take a foot or so) as I enter Lone Pine and continue down past Red Rock Canyon and into the Mojave Desert. I will have already gone past Vasquez Rocks where the outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez would hide and then sweep down on unsuspecting travelers during the late 1800s. Soon I will get a glimpse of Mt. Soledad just southwest of the town of Mojave. That "purple mountain majesty" is a sentinel announcing to me that I will soon turn onto Highway 58 and head for home. First, I pass those Joshua trees that Jon Hammond sometimes writes about and which I have seen all of my life. I realize, just as he said, that they seem ageless and look as they did when I was a child. Driving through the canyon I can view, as I look right, the tip end of the Sierra Nevada as that range ends. Looking to the left I see the very beginning of the Tehachapi Range.
Finally, I pass Cameron Canyon and Sand Canyon and get my first view of the Tehachapi Valley with its sheltering, timbered mountains and my "heart leaps up." It's a joyful feeling and although they lack nearly 6,000 feet in height from the Sierra Range, it's like seeing an old friend.
How can one love a mountain range? Maybe, because they are the mountains of home.