This month’s Road of the Month is some distance north of Los Angeles and east of Bakersfield, up in the Tehachapi mountain range. The route is spectacular, covering all types of terrain – mountains, deserts, forests, rivers, oil fields, urban sprawl, and pure nothingness. There are also lots of activities that can be intertwined with the drive, ranging from fishing to sushi, track days to apple orchards. Sound like fun? Then keep reading!
This is going to be one of the longer drives in this series, covering 227 miles just from Santa Clarita to Lancaster. That doesn’t include the distance you’ll have to drive to/from these places from your home. So make sure you’re up for the task by filling up at Egg Plantation for breakfast. After a quick bite, saunter on up the Grapevine and drop down the other side, following Highway 99 into Bakersfield. Make your way through the suburban community and into the outskirts, where you’ll pick up China Grade Loop. You’ll pass by some giant oil fields, right before hitting Alfred Harrell Highway.
From here, you’ll follow the Kern River across some County and State Parks, before joining up with Highway 178. The 178 cuts through the Kern River Canyon and winds its way up into the mountains. Sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery if you encounter a slow moving vehicle, or attack the curvy road with all your might (if you’re able). I suggest a little of both, by pulling over when you encounter a slower car. This will give you a chance to head to the river, either for a refreshing splash or to cast a line. If you’d prefer not to stop on a busy road, but would still like to try your luck at fishing, keep going up to the town of Lake Isabella. The body of water that the town is named after has plenty of developed areas to pull off and fish for a little while. Try French Gulch Marina on the west side of the lake.
Continue on down Caliente-Bodfish Road just south of the town. The road will quickly become deserted, with no guard rails or runoff areas. As it twists up into the mountains, the turns will become more frequent and tighter. You’ll also be treated to some beautiful views of the Kern River Valley. Once up far enough, you’ll start to drop into a valley where wildflowers bloom in the spring. Just be careful to keep your eyes on the road – besides the lack of guard rails, the road also narrows considerably in some places. Oncoming traffic shouldn’t be much of an issue, but you never know when you’ll be staring into the grill of a lifted pickup.
Rejoining with Highway 58 will bring you into the quaint mountain community of Tehachapi. This is another good place to grab lunch or just browse around. Head over to the any one of the apple orchards nearby to pick or buy some tree-ripened apples. Take a break and browse around at the Avenue of Faces. Or just wander among the shops in Historic Downtown Tehachapi. You would be wise to pick up something from Kohnen’s Country Bakery before leaving – with reviews like this on Yelp, there’s no reason to pass this place up.
From there, take Tehachapi-Willow Springs Rd down into the Rosamond area. You’ll pass through some rolling hills and wind power plants before arriving near Willow Springs Raceway. Check the calendar and see whether they have any racing on that day – when I passed through, Speed Ventures and Just Drift were hosting events. It’s almost as fun as going out to Cars & Coffee, but seeing and hearing the cars race each other is just that much more exciting. If there’s nothing that excites you there, cut across to Highway 14 south down to Lancaster-Palmdale. I suggest coming in for an early dinner at BigTuna in Lancaster (they also have a Palmdale location). The all-you-can-eat menu is an excellent way to cap off an exciting day of driving, but the wait is always horrendous if you arrive late.