Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake continues to be the major source
of employment for residents of Ridgecrest, which has a population of
about 27,000 people.
We chose the RV park at China Lake, which is adjacent to town, as a
base of operations this week to explore some national parks that
looked to be nearby on the map and a trailhead for the Pacific Crest
View from the PCT down into the
large Indian Wells Valley
I did hike on the PTC twice but the only national park we visited was
Death Valley. Two others in the Sierra Nevada Range were just too far
away to be practical, especially after a second long day trip to the
Lone Pine/Whitney Portal/Alabama Hills area.
We didn't do much in Ridgecrest itself except go to the visitors
center and adjacent Maturango
Museum, which have interesting cultural and natural displays inside and handsome
landscaping and art work outside. I also planned to hike with Cody in
Sand Canyon, a 25-mile drive from the base.
This entry focuses on those two activities.
THE MATURANGO MUSEUM & VISITOR CENTER
It was relatively balmy overnight (58 F.) but so windy during the day
that the mid-50s to low 60s felt colder. The camper was shaking all
afternoon and the mountains to the west (Sierra Nevada Range) were white
from dust and clouds, not brown like at the Yuma Proving Ground and LTVA
The wind seriously restricted our activities today so we decided to
stick close to "home" and do some activities on base and in town.
One of the places we
the Maturango Museum and visitor center to get information about
trails in the area and where spring wildflowers might be in bloom. One
of the women in the visitor center was very helpful and I got a bunch of
flyers and brochures.
A hike I wanted all of us to do is the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia
National Monument north of Kernville. The trail is only a mile long but goes
through a forest of huge sequoia trees that would remind us of the large
trees we've seen in northern California. It also sounds like a scenic drive
along the Kern River to get there.
I called the National Forest Service office to see if dogs are allowed
on the trail and was a bit shocked to find out the trail and last part
of the road to it are still under snow at 6,000+ feet! The road isn't
even open yet.
below: Down here at 2,200+ feet elevation it's springtime!
interesting shrub is on the grounds of the Maturango Museum.
We're so used to warm desert temperatures this winter and spring that we
hadn't counted on snow levels this low. That ruled out any mountain hikes
like the lower part of Mt. Whitney or Telescope Peak in Death Valley NP.
There are plenty of other hikes/day drives we could take at lower
elevations north of Kernville, on US 395 north, and in Death Valley so
I spent part of the afternoon learning more about those and tweaking our plans
for the week.
While I was inside
the building I made a quick pass through the exhibits in the visitor
center and museum, which features the natural and cultural history of
the Upper Mojave Desert.
In addition to the
exhibits, the museum sponsors various educational programs and uber-popular
spring and fall tours of the world-famous Coso petroglyphs that are
located on China Lake property.
I quote from the
webpage about the petroglyphs:
In the canyons and
plateaus of the Coso Mountains are thousands of images left by
hunter-gatherer people who populated this region in times past. The
images, called petroglyphs, are carved into basalt rocks, and range in
age from Paleoindian times to the present. This is the largest known
concentration of petroglyphs in the western hemisphere and is located on
the Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake. Public access is permitted .
. . in Lower Renegade Canyon (AKA Little Petroglyph Canyon). Access is
limited to tours with Navy-approved guides.
Petroglyph displayed outside the Maturango Museum;
is it real or a replication??
Of course we were
interested in one of these tours! We seek out petroglyphs and
pictographs while traveling around the western USA.
Alas, the museum's
tours are booked for several weeks beyond our stay. We had to be content
with reading about them at the museum and online. I'd return to this
area if for no other reason than to go see that canyon.
This is a good
article from the DesertUSA
website I often used to read up on
hikes at Joshua Tree National Park. It describes a hike with one of
these tours in Little Petroglyph Canyon.
Before leaving the
visitor center and museum we walked around the nicely-landscaped grounds
outside. I loved all the metal sculptures, which mimic some of the
ancient petroglyphs, and the stone labryinth:
Let your shadow tell the time . .
I saw some shrubs, trees, and flowers that were new to me, too,
including this agave (?) that appears to have a giant stalk of asparagus
I can't make up this stuff. It was there and I don't think it
was one of the sculptures.
Since low snow levels ruled out hiking the Trail of 100 Giants
(ancient sequoia trees) to the west of China Lake, I hunted for other hikes
I could do with one or both dogs that weren't too far away.
One that caught my attention in the pile of leaflets I picked up at the
visitor center was Sand Canyon in the Owens Peak Wilderness Area. The BLM
says the perennial stream that flows through the lower canyon creates a
sanctuary from the searing heat of the desert and is one of the longest
stretches of riparian woodland in the eastern Sierras.
Since it's in a wilderness area, the trail is an excellent site for
birding. Dogs and horses are allowed on the trail but no bikes or
More than ten miles of trails lead to the north and south forks of
the canyon, so hikers can go out and back any distance they want.
Elevations range from 3,150 feet at the trailhead to 4,900 feet at the
end of the highest trail (there is a north fork and a south fork farther
up the trail). The ridge top, which can be accessed off-trail, tops out
at about 7,000 feet elevation.
Sounded like my kind of trail. Since Jim had other plans on Wednesday morning,
I took Cody with me and planned to hike up the lower canyon two or three miles,
then back down.
The road to Sand Canyon is located northwest of Ridgecrest off US 395. It was
a 25-mile drive from the RV park at China Lake to the trailhead parking area.
Here's a map where I marked the RV park with a yellow dot and Sand Canyon
with a purple dot:
The dotted purple line paralleling US 395 on the west is the
Pacific Crest Trail, which I hiked on Friday and Saturday.
To reach Sand Canyon from China Lake, I drove several miles west of Ridgecrest on
CA 178 toward Inyokern, with nice views of the southern Sierra Nevada Range:
Note the horizontal line across the sides of those
mountains in the next photo I took another day when we drove out
this road. That is the east branch of the lengthy California Aqueduct,
which I passed under later on this trip:
right (north) on US 395 and drove a few more miles to the Brown Rd. exit.
I crossed the frontage road on the west side of US 395 and took a graded dirt road
toward the entrance of a large sand and gravel quarry:
I continued following the BLM directions, turning left just before the quarry entrance
and driving this increasingly-narrow dirt road several miles to the trailhead.
under one or two large aqueducts that provide water to lots of folks downstream
(the black pipe may carry something other than water):
The road gets more narrow the farther back into the canyon you drive:
Over a cattle guard; I didn't see any critters grazing, even in
green forage next to water.
I was doing fine in our low-clearance 2WD Honda Odyssey minivan until I came to a cement
crossing with water running over it. I got out to gauge the depth of the water by just
looking at it -- and misjudged how high it would come on the car.
As soon as I drove through the water I could smell the brakes and feared I'd messed up
something really badly. I don't think I scraped any rocks, just got
the brakes too wet.
I drove to the trailhead (next picture) about 1/4 mile farther and saw water coming
under the front end of the car. That freaked me out.
No one else was around and I didn't have a phone signal to call Jim to
explain what happened and see if he might know what damage I'd done.
Great. Now what??
Instead of hiking, I immediately turned around, went back through the water (no smell that
time), and high-tailed it back to US 395 where I had a signal and could
call Jim. Fortunately, I got back to the camper OK and apparently didn't do any damage
to the car. [It still runs well two years later, despite its advanced
age of 16 years!]
Photo of the
second pipeline, taken as I was going back out to the highway
OK, lesson learned about driving through water. I need to walk through any
water in a dip in the road next time to more accurately gauge the depth, not just
I considered going back another day and parking just before the water
crossing, walking to the trailhead, and hiking up the canyon. However, I
didn't get back out there on this trip. The description of the trail and
interesting so if we're ever in this area again, I may try it again.
This is one of many times I've wished for a
high-clearance 4WD vehicle like a Jeep! The Odyssey is just too
practical for us to give up, though.
Next entry: a long but fun day trip north to Lone Pine, the
Alabama Hills, Whitney Portal Road, Nine Mile Canyon, and Kennedy Meadows
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil