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"Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake's mission is to support the Navy's   
research, testing, and development missions to provide cutting-edge weapons
systems to the warfighter . . .
The early Navy-Cal Tech partnership established a pattern of cooperation and interaction
between civilian scientists and engineers, experienced military personnel and defense
contractors that has made China Lake one of the preeminent research, test, 
development, and evaluation institutions in the world."
~ from the U.S. Navy's NAWS China Lake website

This spring we're staying at three different military RV parks that are new to us in California and Nevada. We chose them because of their proximity to places we knew we wanted to visit, such as national parks we haven't seen previously.

At each of them we also found other interesting places to go and things to do. That's how we like to travel! Each new location is a learning experience, and we often learn about new things even at ones we've visited before.

This series of entries focuses on our week-long stay at Sierra Vista RV Park at NAWS China Lake in south central California near the town of Ridgecrest.

The name "Sierra Vista" is appropriate! Those snow-covered peaks
in the distance to the west are in the Sierra Nevada Range.

I'll describe the RV park and base history and mission first, then show photos from the Naval Museum of Armament and Technology.

Other entries will feature the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest, hikes on two sections of the Pacific Crest Trail, a long day trip to Death Valley National Park, and another long day trip to Lone Pine, the Alabama Hills, Whitney Portal, and Kennedy Meadows.

On the road to Whitney Portal (Mt. Whitney is the highest mountain in the lower 48 states).

We were hoping to see Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, too, but after those two other very long day trips, we decided if we're ever in this area again we need to find a place to park the camper closer to the entrances to those parks. We were on the wrong side of the Sierra Nevada Range to make trips to those parks feasible from Ridgecrest.


It took us about four hours to drive 193 miles with the RV to China Lake this morning. The weather was good and traffic was light to moderate -- one good reason to travel on a Sunday morning!

Here's a map I highlighted with our route west on US 62 to Yucca Valley; north on CA 247 to Barstow; SW on I-15 about three miles to CA 58 west; north on US 395 to S. China Lake Blvd. through Ridgecrest, then right on Inyokern through the north gate of the base. I marked 29 Palms and Ridgecrest with large black dots:

The RV park is about a mile inside the gate, across from the golf course.

The roads were all mostly smooth but there were lots of ups and downs and dips into washes that slowed us down a bit. We topped out at about 4,000 feet. Sierra Vista RV Park is about 2,200 feet elevation, the highest we've camped since last fall. 

Traffic got backed up behind us for a little while on some of the two-lane roads where it was impractical for Jim to pull the Cameo over but the vehicles eventually got around. I stay back far enough in the minivan so people can pass me and pull in between us if they can't get around the truck/camper, too.


Looks like a dry salt lake, or Death Valley

The desert floor and mountain slopes were covered in gold-colored flowers for several miles on US 395 south of Ridgecrest. I got a few photos of them while I was driving but couldn't stop to see what they are without losing Jim ahead of me.

Later I was looking at the Death Valley National Park website and saw similar photos of Desert Gold Poppies, so I assume that's what these are. 


We arrived at the campground a little after noon. Since it was the weekend, we checked in with the campground host to get our site and went to Outdoor Rec on Monday to pay our fee.

There are 60 sites in this relatively new RV park that was built in 2013. It's attractive and the sites are relatively large.

That's us on the end of one row.

Twenty-five sites are long pull-thrus and 35 are back-ins. Each one has a concrete pad about 20-40 feet long, plus asphalt in front and back. We have plenty of room for both vehicles behind the Cameo.

There is about 12 feet of small tan gravel between the sites, with more space on end sites like ours. No one was on either side of us this week.

We're situated just about perfectly for the inevitable heat and wind, better than our position at 29 Palms -- front cap with no windows to the west, off-doorside (few windows, most sun) to the south, door to the north, bay windows to the east. There are mountains in every direction = nice views.

It's very convenient for the dogs to go potty across the road or in the very basic fenced-in "dog park." The only amenity is doggie poop bags and a trash bin. The surface is some sort of weed fabric covered in gravel. Much of the fabric is exposed so the place looks like a mess. I didn't see any dog poop lying around, fortunately. That was a major problem (and disappointment) at the dog parks at 29 Palms Marine Base last week.

The roads within the RV park are nicely paved and it's easy to walk or bike with the dogs. There's also a sandy path all around the golf course.

The fenced-in dog area is just beyond the little tree in the center of this photo.

We have full hookups and so-so WiFi but no cable. Weekly rate for retirees for either pull-thru or back-in sites is an inexpensive $98 ($14/day). Daily rate for retirees is $15 and monthly rate is $390. We are able to get good TV reception for the major stations.

We really like the looks of this place. It's nice to have all the pavement and not be on sand (29 Palms) or scruffy gravel (YPG). There are some active duty personnel and contractors here in small trailers but their sites don't look "homesteaded" like they do on some bases. I think the current visitors are mainly retirees. About half the sites are empty this week. 

Storm approaching the RV park (above) and a pretty rainbow (below).
The high netting is to prevent errant golf balls from landing on RVs.

There is a restroom/laundry room/community room in the center of the RV park. Washers and dryers are just $1 each. 

After we got settled in on Sunday we took a drive around the cantonment area of the base to get our bearings and find places to walk the dogs and play ball with Casey. The streets and buildings are attractive. There is a park and several other grassy areas where Jim can play ball with Casey, such as this large lawn near the heath clinic:

The housing area is small, as not a lot of active duty people live here long-term. A lot more civilians and contractors work here than active duty.


China Lake NAWS reminds us of Yuma Proving Ground, where we spent five months this past winter.

Both bases are huge and located in warm, dry, remote deserts. Both were established during WWII to develop and test weapons. Both continue to provide our Navy and Army service men and women with training on advanced, reliable, effective weapons systems.

China Lake is noisier, though. With all the F-18s and other jets flying around, it sounds more like an Air Force base than other Navy bases where we've stayed. I'm not complaining, though. We were gone so much of the time that we didn't hear all that many jets.

The static aircraft display is quiet!

NAWS China Lake is located in the western Mojave Desert in southern California. Covering 1.1 million acres, its two nearby ranges and main site comprise the Navy's single largest landholding.

On the map below China Lake's two large ranges are shown in light gray. I marked the approximate location of the RV park on base with a yellow dot. Bakersfield, CA and Los Angeles are to the southwest, Las Vegas to the east:

At least 95% of that land is undeveloped.

China Lake's restricted and controlled airspace = 12% of California's total airspace, providing an unprecedented venue to test missiles and other weapons and train military personnel how to use them.


We learned a lot about the history of the base and its current mission at the museum on base, which spans about seven decades of naval history. 

There are so many interesting videos that Jim went twice so he could see more of them:


The Navy established China Lake in 1943 as the Naval Ordinance Test Station (NOTS) in collaboration with the California Institute of Technology. CalTech needed a large, suitable place to test and evaluate rockets and the Navy needed a new proving ground for aviation ordnance.

China Lake was a good fit for both entities. Per the China Lake website, the vast and sparsely populated desert with near-perfect flying weather and practically unlimited visibility proved to be an ideal location not only for testing and evaluation activities, but also for a complete research and development establishment.



Some of the rockets and missile systems that have been developed at China Lake include the Sidewinder, the world's most used and copied air-to-air missile, and the Bat, Tomahawk, Walleye, Condor, Harpoon, HARM, Gator, Rockeye, Sparrow, Maverick, FAE, Snakeye, Caleb, Bunker Buster, Phoenix, Mighty Mouse, Zuni, and Shrike weapons.

China Lake has also researched, developed, tested, and evaluated torpedoes, guns, bombs and "smart" bombs, fuses, cluster weapons, night-attack systems, and parachutes that have been used in conflicts from WWII to the Middle East.




Jim looks at radios like ones he operated in Viet Nam in 1968.

This museum is free and open to the public. There are plans to expand it and move it into the town of Ridgecrest so it's more accessible.

You can read a lot more about the history and mission of NAWS China Lake at this link and others.

Next entrytour of the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest and a drive up Sand Canyon

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil