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A Sunday drive through Cowboy Country

Day Trippin' with Mel

Back in the day, a long time ago when I was a kid, a Sunday drive was a pretty regular weekly event. As a family we would go to church, then perhaps have a big Sunday dinner, and after that we would take off for a Sunday drive.

Sometimes the drives were to favorite places, sometimes they included extended family members. Sometimes they were for parts unknown as we explored every big and little road, paved or dirt, in our surrounding area.

The idea of a Sunday drive has stayed with me through the years, along with enjoying new roads, and old and new destinations. The idea of a driving exploration is key, and I still enjoy that kind of experience today.

So in that spirit, one recent Sunday my friend Leila and I took off for a leisurely drive through historic East Kern County – often called Cowboy Country – from Tehachapi to Kernville and back. The idea was more about the drive and the scenery than it was about any particular destination, but we did make some stops along the way.

We headed out of Tehachapi on the 58 West, and about 15 miles down the highway we took the Caliente exit. That took us through Caliente to a Y in the road, and a choice. Both choices will take you to Walker Basin and then on into the Lake Isabella area – Caliente Creek Road to the right is a little longer but not quite so twisty and turny; CalBodfish Road to the left is shorter but slower due to lots of twists and turns and switchbacks. We chose to stay to the right with a plan to come back the other way.

Because we were in open range country, I told Leila we probably would see some cattle on the roads, but we didn't see a one. However, we did see something quite unusual. Imagine my surprise when what we saw walking down the road toward us was three ostriches out for a stroll! We later saw deer and other birds and of course ground squirrels but no other livestock or wildlife that day.

We stopped at the School House in Twin Oaks for lunch (where we also found out that the ostriches escape their fencing regularly and would soon be herded back home). Cat Adams is one of the new owners there, and if you haven't been to the School House in the last couple of years, you're in for a real treat. It's been remodeled and refurbished and the food is excellent!

After lunch it was on to Walker Basin, where we had another choice – to go right toward Lake Isabella or on back to Caliente and the 58. We went toward Isabella with the turn-around destination of Kernville.

On the way from there we came upon the Historic Havilah Museum, which was worth another stop and a visit with volunteer docent Roy. Havilah was the original county seat for Kern County, but few of the original buildings remain. Of special interest is the museum and the old schoolhouse, between which there are picnic tables and a chance to sit in the welcome shade.

Back on the road again, we made it through Bodfish and Lake Isabella and on through Wofford Heights and into Kernville, where we spent a little time in the park watching people swim and float in the Kern River. After ice cream at the Big Blue Bear coffee shop we were ready to head back home. We drove around the woefully low lake and then back to CalBodfish Road.

In Walker Basin we chose the option of the windy road (following CalBodfish Road and the sign toward the 58). That took us right by Rankin Ranch, and then we began to climb. The road may be narrower and windier that way but the views are pretty darned spectacular and well worth it.

All in all it was a beautiful day for a great Sunday drive through Kern's back country. (By the way, we were always on paved roads – no side trips onto the dirt roads on this day.) Sometimes it's really nice and pleasurable to just go with no particular plan or time limit, and just enjoy the unique sights and scenery that surrounds us off the freeways and other beaten paths.

© 2022 Mel White/Mel Makaw. Mel is a local writer and photographer, an avid day-tripper; she welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions at [email protected].