Homer's Travels: From Trona To Bakersfield

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

From Trona To Bakersfield

After I came back from Frazier park last Saturday I thought about going back when it was less crowded. Over the next day or two I thought about it and I couldn't justify a four hour drive to see snow that I'd already seen. I mentioned this to the Wife and she suggested Trona.

Now, I have some splaining to do. What , where, or who is Trona, you ask. For now, Trona is a town. A couple of years ago they were talking about sending my job to China Lake near Ridgecrest. The Wife and I looked at the possibilities including towns in the area that we could move to if it came to that. One nearby town was Trona, CA. Soon after when we vacationed near Death Valley we had a chance to drive through Trona. We both remember the town being a run down semi-ghost town decaying rapidly. We both laughed at how decrepit the town seemed. Fortunately for us, my job did not move, and it was a moot point since I was going to quit my job anyway.

Ever since we drove through and I have become interested in photography, I have wanted to go back to take some ghost town pictures. This was my chance. A chance for another meandering roadtrip. This may be turning into a habit.
I left early and drove out to the Mojave. I took an interesting route suggested by Google that took me along seldom used roads across the desolate desert. I took roads like Redrock Randsburg Road, Garlock Road, and Searles Station Road. On this last road I saw some train cars parked in front of a backdrop of snowy mountains. I got out to take pictures and realized that the desert is cold in the morning. It must have been in the 30s. It felt great! I really can't wait to move back to the chilly mid-west.

I stopped along the road to find a geocache, "
Poison Canyon", before I reached the turn off for the Trona Pinnacles. When I was planning this roadtrip I was a little worried about the road. Several places on the web suggested that the road to the pinnacles becomes impassable for all vehicles, including 4WD, after rain. Since we had just had over three inches of rain I figured I would get here and have to turn around. I used my stop at the geocache to checked out the ground. The soil there is very sandy and the top layer seemed to be dry but you could tell it was wet underneath. After walking around a bit I decided it wasn't too bad.

I reached the turnoff to Pinnacle Road and started offroading ... slowly. The road was packed pretty good and wasn't too muddy. Every now an then I had to swerve to avoid frozen mud puddles the size of my car but the road was very wide and it was easy to avoid most bad spots. After driving seven miles along the dirt, mud, and rock I arrived at the Pinnacles.

I drove around the loop road that took you around and through the towering stones. I got out and walked around and climbed up to the top of one particularly large formation. Several movies have been filmed here including Star Trek V (The worst of the Star Trek films in my opinion) and the new Planet Of the Apes. The place did have an otherworldly feel. The desolation was fascinating - yep, I find desolation to be fascinating, go figure.

I started back to the highway. The the day was getting warmer and some of the frozen water in the mud was thawing making the road feel a little squishy in spots. There was one place where I swerved to miss a puddle and I could feel the car struggle a little to get out of the mud. Except for that one spot I had no difficulty getting back to the road.

I turned north and drove up to Trona. It wasn't nearly as bad as I remembered it. There were fewer boarded up housed then I remember. I stopped at the Trona rest area and found a second geocache, "
Welcome 2 Trona". I drove around and saw a couple museums. I stopped at one and learned about the history of Searles Valley. The other museum was a train museum and somehow I missed it on the way out of town. Not sure how that happened.

I thought about eating in Trona (There were at least two restaurants) but I didn't feel like a sit down meal and there were no fast food joints in Trona so I headed to Ridgecrest where I inhaled a Roast Beast Sandwich at Arby's (I was surprisingly hungry - I should have eaten at the sit down restaurant in Trona).

From Ridgecrest I headed west on CA-178 that follows the Kern River Valley. The road climbs up to 5,000 feet, where there was still snow on the ground, before dropping down into the valley. Very beautiful. Yucca, Pine, and Oak forests. Snow on the mountains. Ranches. Very cool.

CA-178 passes by Lake Isabella. The lake seemed a little low. After passing the lake the valley becomes a rather narrow canyon. I stopped to pick up one last geocache, "
China Garden", before I followed the Kern River to Bakersfield. The canyon stops abruptly and you come out onto rolling ranch and farm land.

At Bakersfield I caught CA-99 and headed south. I was surprised by a low flying crop duster that flew low over the freeway. Despite the fact that I was driving over 70 MPH I managed to get one good picture of him through my windshield without causing an accident.

On the way back I passed Frazier Park where I saw that a lot of the snow was already gone. That was OK since I saw a lot of cool stuff along the road - snow, trains, pinnacles, mountains, and crop dusters. It don't get any better than that. Well, it does get better but it was still pretty good.

There is one lesson that I learned on the roadtrip. Actually it's a lesson that I seem to learn and forget over and over again. When you see something interesting, stop and take a picture. I didn't do that on several occasions on this trip and I kind of regret it. I just zoom by and think to myself that I should go back and take a look and by the time I'm done with this mental debate I'm 20 miles down the road and it's too late to turn back. The first was a 12-14 foot tall pyramid made on angle iron. It was just a frame except for a flat triangular panel on one side with a huge eye painted on it. It was facing the sun. It was cool. It was weird. It was in the "yard" alongside two old beat up mobile homes out in the middle of nowhere. I think I was afraid of running into the person who would build a pyramid with an eye in the middle of the Mojave desert.

Another missed opportunity were some old building in the ghost town of Garlock that, once again, I passed by without stopping.

The last was failing to take a picture of the yucca plants surrounded by snow. It was kind of strange seeing desert plants surrounded by pristine white snow. I looked for a place to pull over but there really wasn't any place to do this safely. At least I tried to stop but I didn't get a picture either.
The pictures I did get are here.

P.S. Now you know the Where that is Trona. Now, the story of the Who. I mentioned that the Wife dreams that we will have three dogs. Well she had another dream. The name of the third dog has been revealed. Along with Homer and Astroburger (or possibly Astro-bugger) there is now an ugly dog named ... Trona-California. Go figure.


  1. I've been up and down that section of desert, including two trips out to Death Valley, and I've not yet made it to the Trona Pinnacles. Go figure. Always wanted to see Burro Schmidt's tunnel too.

    But a train museum? Well, now, my inner train-geek might just have to check that one out soon...

  2. GH: I was interested in visiting Burro Schmidt's tunnel as well but the ol' Honda probably couldn't hack it. I here the road is in major disrepair.

    I seem to be on a train kick lately. I'm surprised I missed the museum.

  3. Fascinating adventure. And yes, there is just something compelling about utter desolation. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ryan, Thanks for visiting Homer's Travels and you are welcome.