Wind Wolves Preserve
April 16, 2022
Sixty-two miles west of Tehachapi, hidden among the orange orchards and random oil wells of southwest Bakersfield lies the Wind Wolves Preserve. Located just off the 166 (Maricopa Hwy) about 5 miles west of the 5, it is easy to miss the sign as there is absolutely nothing visible from the highway that even slightly hints at the beauty in the hills to the south. I was scanning the horizon for cottonwoods and waterfalls, the whole time thinking this place can't possibly be out here. I was wrong.
After missing the turn off by almost 5 miles, we turned back and finally spotted the small sign on the side of the road. A right turn onto a paved road took us back a half mile or so to the main entrance to the preserve. A large information board outlined the history of the area and the story behind its name: the wind blowing through the tall grasses was reminiscent of the wolves and grizzlies that once roamed the area, hence Wind Wolves Preserve. We were also pleasantly surprised when we saw that there was no charge to enter.
About a half mile further we came to the headquarters and found plenty of places to park. Scattered around the headquarter grounds were elk antlers as well as an impressive elk antler arch. Wind Wolves is home to the largest herd of Tule elk in California. Near the headquarters is a nice area for picnicking along with a charming pond (no swimming though!)
We set off on a well-marked trail and headed south into San Emigdio Canyon, once home to the Yokuts tribe, namely the Tulamni. The snow-capped peaks of the Los Padres National forest were in the horizon. The path we took was more of a road than a trail making it an excellent place to ride a bicycle as well as hike. Our goal was a waterfall at the head of the canyon. The map that I had picked up for free at the preserve headquarters indicated that it the waterfall was about 4 miles into the wide canyon.
The hike was an easy one, with only a minimal incline that left me slightly winded (I'll blame COVID for that.) Being a somewhat adventurous type, I didn't hesitate to veer off the wide path onto a narrow trail that led us down to a tiny stream that often disappeared into the sandy soil altogether. The stream bed was wide and deep though, indicating that the tiny stream had often been a more formidable river. The trail led us through meadows of grass and wildflowers dancing in the cool breeze, eventually bringing us to an extremely well-maintained picnic area with very clean restrooms.
Despite the falls being only another mile ahead, I decided to not push my luck with my temperamental knee so we turned back. Our return trip took us on another trail that wound its way through a restored marsh area before leading us back to the stream that we had crossed earlier. Eventually the trickle became a delightful stream winding its way north, shaded by a majestic canopy of oaks and cottonwood trees. We came upon a stocky bobcat making its way through the grass in front of us. It moved off to some nearby bushes where it then sat and watched us go by.
All along the trail back to the parking area there were plaques identifying different native shrubs and flowers. There were also signs of newly planted trees. Rangers and volunteers have dedicated thousands of hours to restoring this area creating one of the few areas in Southern California where hiking, picnicking and even over-night camping are free. Wind Wolves Preserve is, by far, one of the most beautiful and wonderfully maintained hiking areas I have experienced in this area and I will be returning soon. Next time, I will make it to the falls.
Wind Wolves Preserve is located at 16019 Maricopa Highway, Bakersfield, CA 93311. You can find out about their guided tours and volunteer opportunities by going to http://www.wildlandsconservancy.org.
Sarah Rose, local business owner, nature lover and writer would love your feedback and hiking ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.