Jawbone Canyon Store: for fun and good food
Land of Four Seasons
December 17, 2022
If you drive east out of Tehachapi on Highway 58, then head north on Highway 14, the very first waystation or pit stop of any kind that you'll encounter will be one you won't forget: the Jawbone Canyon Store, a Kern County original for 60 years.
This little desert oasis has offered a variety of supplies and a good sense of humor since the gas station first opened on July 28, 1963. For many years it was owned by Richard "Bonk" McKendry, a colorful character who was once married to the famed aviatrix Poncho Barnes. Passersby could tell when they were getting close to the Jawbone Canyon Store by the motorcycle mounted on top of a pole about 20 feet in the air above the gas pumps.
When the Tokiwas Japanese food restaurant a few miles down the road went up in flames after a fire spread from an overheated car to the restaurant, a handwritten sign appeared in the parking lot of Jawbone Canyon Store reading "Please Do Not Park Burning Vehicles Next to Our Building."
Despite that request, the initial Jawbone Canyon Store was eventually destroyed by a mysterious fire in 1999, but it wasn't connected to a careless motorist. The business was then reincarnated by Scott and Patty Spencer, who were familiar with the place because the Spencer family had ridden off-road vehicles in the area for 30 years.
They moved in a building that had been a camp store in Carpinteria, and added a shaded outside dining area with handmade log tables that bustles with activity on weekends, and is pleasantly relaxed and sleepy during the week. The store has long been managed by Bobby Spencer, Scott's brother.
The Jawbone Canyon Store, only 35 miles from Tehachapi, often has live music on weekends and is famous for their barbequed tri-tip sandwiches. Dirt bikers ride long distances for the tri-tip and some people even drive 50 miles to eat tri-tip in the beer garden.
The store also carries a wide variety of essentials for desert campers, including propane, firewood, food and drinks, toiletries, emergency motorcycle parts, etc. "If We Don't Have It, You Don't Need It" is one of the store mottos.
Another one is "The Best Store in a 50-Mile Radius," which their website acknowledges is also the only store for a 50-mile radius. The friendly general store and deli is open every day of the year but Christmas, and for more information you can visit jawbonecanyonstore.com or call (760) 373-2773.
Only one half-mile from the store is Jawbone Station, a BLM visitor's center with displays and one of the best selections in Kern County of books on local history, flora and fauna, mining and the desert. Like the Jawbone Canyon Store, Jawbone Station caters mostly to those who come to ride in more than 8,000 acres of camping and off-road riding areas in Jawbone Canyon itself, though any curious desert visitor can learn more during a trip to Jawbone Station.
The center also has a wealth of photographs and some artifacts and preserved mounts to help interpret the area for interested travelers or casual visitors.
And of course if you travel just a few more miles north, you'll come to Red Rock Canyon State Park, a jewel that's only about 45 miles from Tehachapi. From now through March is an ideal time of year to visit Red Rock Canyon and the Jawbone Canyon area. There is a very interesting interpretive center at Red Rock Canyon State Park, but very little in the way of food or supplies available, so Jawbone Canyon Store serves as the nearest source of groceries and meals for Red Rock visitors.
Jawbone Canyon Store, Jawbone Station and Red Rock Canyon State Park are fun and worthy destinations for a short drive into the desert, and are good examples of how quickly you can get to sparsely-populated wildlands from the greater Tehachapi area.
Keep enjoying the beauty of life in the Tehachapi Mountains.
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. He can be reached at email@example.com.