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Jawbone Station and Red Rock Canyon State Park

Day Trippin' with Mel

One bright and sunny day a couple of weeks ago I decided to take a drive up the 14 to Red Rock Canyon State Park. Along the way I stopped at the Jawbone Station Visitor Center. It turned out to be a great day for a great scenic drive.

I visited the official Jawbone Station first (not to be confused with the Jawbone Jct., right next door, which is a commercial enterprise that rents off-road vehicles, among other things), where I spent a little time outside the station hoping to spot Mr. Bob. Mr. Bob is a desert tortoise who has been a resident of the Station since 1997 – he turned 125 years old this year. I didn't see him, however; he must have been napping in his hut.

Inside the visitor center I was happy to see some changes from the last time I was there. The front room is almost all books now, offering a great selection of information about the history of the area. A ranger is on duty to answer questions, and there are lots of maps and other current informational guides available.

The center has expanded and opened up another large room that is being filled with more informational posters and artifacts, of special interest to off-roaders and geology enthusiasts. It's all worth a visit.

On to Red Rock Canyon, which is just down the road, located on the southern tip of the Sierra Nevadas in the El Paso Range. The park is a marvel of desert cliffs, buttes and unique and colorful geological formations. It's such a surprise if you're driving through on State Highway 14 for the first time – its unexpected, distinctive scenery is unlike anything else on the desert drive.

Like Tehachapi, the area that is now parklands was once a home for the Kawaiisu tribe, where they left petroglyphs in the El Paso Range, along with other artifacts. The area was also a landmark for the 20-mule teams of the 19th century, and a location for many movies in more modern times.

I didn't hike while I was there, but there are miles of hiking trails and off-road trails throughout the park. I also chose not to pay the $6 day use fee to take the 13-mile scenic drive through the back of the park, but there was plenty of unique beauty to enjoy anyway, as you can see from my photos.

In addition to the hiking and off-roading trails, there is a popular 50-spot campground in the park, for those of you who like overnight trips instead of day trips.

If you go, take Highway 58 east toward Mojave, and then take Highway 14 north toward Bishop. Jawbone Station Visitor Center is about 20 miles north of Mojave, and Red Rock Canyon State Park is just a couple of miles past that.

While you can enjoy the park from the pullouts off the 14, you can also pay the fees and enjoy more of the park. Day use is $6 per car; camping is $25 per night. Camping is primitive (no RV hook-ups) and in designated sites only. There is no reservation system; camping is first come, first served.

Dogs are allowed in the park but only in designated areas. Horses are allowed in the day use area (in the cliffs parking lot), but not in the camping areas. Dogs, horses and bicycles are allowed on most of the park trails. If you want to do some off-roading in a motorized vehicle, that's fine, too, but make sure you familiarize yourself with the rules of the park.

And remember, the park is in the desert. Always have plenty of water with you.

Whether you just drive through or stop and explore it, Red Rock Canyon State Park is a great example of how unique and spectacular the scenery can be in our great state of California.

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