Cesar E. Chavez National Monument
Day Trippin’ with Mel
September 17, 2022
The heat has been getting to me lately, as I'm sure it has gotten to you as well, and while gas prices are going down, they are still relatively high. Both of those factors prompted me to go somewhere close this time, just a short drive and to a mostly indoor, cooled destination.
That destination was the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene, and it turned out to be a great little quick getaway (call it "half-day" trippin' instead of "day" trippin').
As is my usual modus operandi, I stopped for lunch first at the Keene Café – I love to combine my day trips with an eating experience, and I've never been disappointed in a meal at the Keene Café! – then went on to the monument, which is right down the road.
The Chavez National Monument is in a beautiful setting (called “La Paz”), just off the 58 and right by the train tracks, and the outside garden is one of the draws of the place. In spite of the heat, I spent a good amount of time sitting by the fountain out there, enjoying the sound of falling water. The only other sound was an occasional bird (no train happened by while I was there, and I couldn’t hear the freeway noise).
The upper garden also has a beautiful water feature near the graves of Chavez and his wife, Helen. It’s full of plants and flowers, statuary, and bordered by a line of tall Cypress trees.
Inside the Visitor’s Center I found a quiet and reverent homage to the man, Cesar Chavez, and his efforts on behalf of our nation’s mostly forgotten, undervalued and exploited farm workers. Two National Park Service rangers were on duty to welcome visitors and answer questions. The actual tour through the facility is self-guided.
From the brochure: “For much of our nation’s history, the people who labor to put food on our tables were out of sight and mind, powerless to confront the industry and laws that worked against them. Out of the dusty California fields, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Larry Itliong and countless others built a movement that brought migrant workers to the attention of the world.”
Their historic struggles to change the world and to achieve basic human rights are what the national monument is all about, as that is what the life and work of Chavez was all about. It’s a history worth knowing, especially since all of us eat the food that the farm workers harvest for our tables.
On Oct. 8, 2012, President Obama signed a Presidential Proclamation creating the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene. The peaceful “La Paz” site is open to the public year-round (10 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily) and draws visitors from all over the world. It is also the setting for special events and activities.
If you go, it’s a short drive down the 58 to the west: 10 miles to the Keene exit. Take the exit and turn right, then right again onto Woodford-Tehachapi to go by the café and on to the Chavez center. There’s plenty of parking, and the whole place, including the upper garden, is wheelchair accessible. It is interesting to note that all the informational signs and story boards are in both English and Spanish.
Admission is free but note that masks are required inside the facility at this time. I was caught unaware of that requirement but they provided one for me so I could enjoy the inside of the Visitor’s Center.
Also note that if you’re up for a little more of a special experience when you visit the place, you can take Woodford-Tehachapi Road to get there and/or to get back (I went there on the freeway and came home on W-T). You can also make a stop at the new Loop overlook if a train happens to be going by.
If you like to eat like I do, no matter how or when you visit the Chavez Center, it’s worth the time and effort to learn about the history of a man and a movement that changed the world, especially for the people whose skills and work in harvesting our food are essential to everyone’s health and well-being.
© 2022 Mel White/Mel Makaw. Mel is a local writer and photographer, an avid day-tripper; she welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.