Thanksgiving Weekend Explorations

Trona Pinnacles, Kern River Audubon Preserve, Breckenridge Mountain
November 23-25, 2006
Todd and I drove down to the Lake Isabella area on Thanksgiving Day and had turkey
dinner with his mom and stepdad.  They live in a beautiful rural area out in Weldon, CA.  
This area is one of my favorites to explore because it is just so diverse.  It is unique in
that 5 different bioregions converge here (Sierra Nevada Forest, Mojave Desert,
California Chapparal, Great Basin, and Central Valley Grasslands).  Thus, within the space
of only a few miles, you have lush pine and fir forest, pinyon and juniper woodlands,
riparian cottonwood forest, oak and grassland, and Joshua tree forest.

We stayed at the KOA in Weldon and had a nice campfire that night.  On Friday morning
we got up really early (3:00 am!) in order to get ready and leave by 4:00 to meet Todd's
mom and stepdad and nieces and nephew at the Wal-Mart in Ridgecrest by 5:00.  I had
never felt compelled to be part of the madness that characterizes the day after
Thanksgiving shopping, but went along with them, and it turned out to be a pretty
pleasant experience.  The Wal-Mart in Ridgecrest, even on the day after Thanksgiving,
isn't as busy as the Wal-Mart is in Porterville on a typical day.  And we got some good
cheap stuff including a 20" LCD TV for $248.

After Wal-Mart we all went out to eat breakfast then went our separate ways.  Todd
and I headed out east towards the Trona Pinnacles.  They are some of the most unique
geological features in the Mojave Desert. The unusual landscape consists of more than
500 tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, rising from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake
basin and spread over 14 square miles. The pinnacles vary in size and shape from short
and squat to tall and thin, and are composed primarily of calcium carbonate (tufa) similar
to the tufa towers at Mono Lake. The Trona Pinnacles have been featured in many
commercials and films (remember Planet of the Apes?)
Heald Peak near Weldon, CA
The Trona Pinnacles were designated by the Department of the Interior as a National
Natural Landmark in 1968 to protect one of the nation's best examples of tufa
formation. The area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management to protect its scenic
values. It is a blast to explore this area by road (high clearance and 4wd is highly
recommended and maybe necessary) and you can scramble and climb up many of the
pinnacles as there are many hand and toe holds, but be very cautious, as the tufa is very
sharp-edged and can also be crumbly in some spots.
By then it was getting to be lunchtime so we headed back into Ridgecrest to eat lunch
and look at some trucks.  Todd wants to buy a Dodge pickup and we saw one that we liked
but will still have to wait a few months before we buy.

We then headed back up and over Walker Pass to Lake Isabella and stopped at the Kern
River Audubon Preserve.  The South Fork Kern River is home to California's largest
lowland riparian forest. A shared effort between Audubon and The Nature Conservancy
protects 2,894 contiguous acres of this beautiful land.  There have been 332 recorded
bird species in the preserve and it was one of the first 10 sites in the US to be
designated as a Globally Important Bird Area.  It is also a National Natural Landmark,
like Trona Pinnacles, and there is a beautiful little visitor center and 1.5 mile hiking trail
that beckons and educates visitors.  We saw many birds including woodpeckers and
juncos and I saw lots of coyote scat on the trail.  The world's largest red willow tree
grows there and I don't know if I saw it but I saw lots of huge willows and fantastic old
gnarled cottonwoods.  I had a lot of fun exploring this treasure and I hope to go back in
the spring to see it when there are wildflowers blooming!
That evening we went karaoke-ing with Todd's friends Mike and Rhonda and their
extended family.  It was a lot of fun but soon it got to be about 9:00 pm and I was
exhausted.  It was a long but very fun day...

On Saturday we slept in, got up and made a fire and I made oatmeal for breakfast, took
showers and packed up, then we headed into Bodfish then south along the
Caliente-Bodfish Road.  I wanted to explore a part of Sequoia National Forest where I
hadn't been before, Breckenridge Mountain.  The turnoff for the Breckenridge Road is
just south of the historic town of Havilah.  From here it is about 15 miles to the top.

On the summit of Breckenridge Mountain, at 7,500 feet, is a manned fire lookout that
was built in 1942. During the summer and early fall you can visit and chat with the fire
lookout about their job and there is nobody better to tell you about the views you get
from the summit. It was too bad that the lookout was already closed up for the winter
but I was still able to climb up the stairs and look at the view, which like all lookout
views, is marvelous.  There were dense white clouds below to the south and west and
both Todd and I had fun watching them move beneath us.

The original Breckenridge lookout was a "crows nest" lookout built in the top of an 87
foot tall tree in 1912. This tree still stands near where the current lookout is situated.
In 1931 a wooden tower lookout was built near the tree, but not in the same position as
the current lookout structure. The 1931 tower was replaced in 1942 by the structure
that stands today. It was built by the CCC and is on the National Historic Lookout
Register. During World War II Breckenridge Lookout was used by the Aircraft Warning
Service to watch for enemy aircraft.

It was cold and windy up there so we didn't spend too much time poking around but
instead headed down the mountain to the west.  As we descended the winding country
road we caught a beautiful sunset and eventually found ourselves in Bakersfield.  We
then drove home...
This one reminds me of Jabba the Hut, lol
That's me up there
Volunteers have placed dozens of nest boxes throughout the preserve to
make up for the decline of old dead snags in the area that would have
served as nesting spots for Bluebirds, Wrens, Swallows, and other birds.
This was the A. Brown Flour Mill on the Brown Cattle Ranch.  It was built in
the 1880's and is the oldest structures in the Kern River Valley.  Although
off limits to humans, the mill is now home to Barn Owls, bats, and other
The view north, I do believe you can see Tobias
Peak and Maggie Mountain in the distance
Lake Isabella is just barely visible in the lower left
There are lots of cool rocks on Breckenridge
Looking back up towards Breckenridge as the sun sets
Smile Todd!  I wonder if he had any inkling that his son would be
photographed sitting under this same tree 7 years later?  :)