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Drive to Lake Isabella

Day Trippin' with Mel

Some daytrips just don't turn out the way I thought they would, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

A couple of Saturdays ago gas prices were down, and I woke up to a beautiful day. I decided to take a drive up to Lake Isabella to check out the water levels and stop at a couple of my favorite places along the way, specifically the Onyx Store and the Weldon bird sanctuary. But I was destined for disappointment.

It started out just fine. I headed out on the 58 to Mojave, then up the 14 – which takes you on a scenic drive through Red Rock Canyon State Park and along the Eastern Sierras – to the 178 West exit to Lake Isabella. I'd been that way a couple of other times lately and was delighted by all the wildflowers I saw those times. I was surprised this time to still see a lot of desert color, especially the various shades of yellow on the desert floor and in the bushes. No poppies were still visible, but I saw a lot of new purples and reds.

On the 178 going west toward the lake, I drove through the mountains and over Walker Pass, which includes a section of the California Desert Conservation Area and a Joshua tree forest. Many of the Joshua trees were blooming and were quite striking against the background of a very blue sky and one very yellow mountain.

My first disappointment was when I got to the historic Onyx Store, a favorite stop for decades. I'd heard it was closing but I was hoping it hadn't yet. Alas, not only was it closed but the trucks were packing things out, removing any lingering hope that it might have been bought by someone new and will be kept open. Oh, well.

So, on I went to Weldon, where I stopped at the Audubon Kern River Preserve, a great place for bird and wildlife watching, and hiking. Alas, it too was closed; the main dirt road into the preserve was underwater and impassable. Oh, well. (At least I can get back there sometime in the future – it's a favorite place for me to take a little walk through the woods, reminiscent of walking through the timber back in the day in Iowa.)

So, on again I went toward the lake, where I'd thought I'd take Sierra Way and drive around the whole of Lake Isabella in a counter clockwise direction. But alas (again!), the road was closed due to flooding. I just had to laugh at being thwarted again. Oh, well!

So, on I went to Lake Isabella, with an impromptu decision to take a side trip into the Southfork Wildlife Area (part of the Sequoia National Forest) on the way. I did get in there, and I saw several people fishing or floating in a very full part of the lake, but alas, many of the roads through the area were closed (underwater and impassable).

But really, Lake Isabella itself was beautiful and almost full of water and lots of people were out enjoying it – in it, on it and by it. Many of the turnouts to lake access are now fee areas, and I didn't feel like paying a fee, but there was still a lot of beauty and activity to see, and I wasn't disappointed in that at all.

(The last time I was up there the locals were calling it "Lake Is-a-puddle" because the water levels were so low – it was great to see the lake full of water and activity again.)

I drove on into Kernville then, thinking I might sit by the river in the park, which I did for a short time. The river was raging and the park was full of people, but the damage from the recent flooding was in evidence there too as the main sidewalk along the riverbank was closed.

I'd also thought I would treat myself to a chocolate malt while I was at the park but alas, the little place across from the park was closed for no apparent reason on a Saturday afternoon. Oh, well.

So, I drove around the neighborhoods of Kernville to explore a little, and I poked in a couple of antique stores. There are always things to do in Kernville, even if they aren't what was planned. (By the way, I later found the Frosty Freeze in the town of Lake Isabella and got a chocolate shake and some fries there...smile.)

All in all, you might think it was an unsuccessful trip for me since I was not able to do much of what I had hoped to do, but I really had a fine day. Sometimes it's good to just get away for a few hours, experience a change of scenery, and enjoy whatever is there to enjoy. The drive itself was peaceful and relaxing; it was a beautiful and easy day and the surprise of so many wildflowers still blooming was well worth it.

© 2023 Mel Makaw. Mel, Tehachapi writer/photographer and avid day tripper welcomes your questions, comments, and suggestions at [email protected]/.