Friday, June 29, 2012

Kern River Ghost Towns

Just when the 49er's had given up their feverish search for gold in Northern California, rumors began to spread about golden nuggets being found in the hills above the River Kern.  When a group of miners found gold in 1854 in the Greenhorn Mountains, the second gold rush was on.  One year later, 6,000 men had poured into the Kern River Valley.  Camps grew into towns.  Saloons, hotels and small wooden stores went up over night.  As soon as the gold was gone, however, the towns were abandoned.  Ghost towns are up and down the Kern River.  My travel buddy and I visited two of them last week.  Gravestones and historic markers are all that's left of most of them.  It was a bit eerie.


Keyesville was named after Richard Keyes, a veteran prospector, who found a quartz vein in the gulch above today's Lake Isabella.    The view of the lake is spectacular from up here, but other than that, there's not much to see.  The town of Keyesville reached its peak during the Civil War.  Five stamp mills in this area brought in one million dollars worth of gold and silver.  There are people living up here and we saw a sign staking a new claim.  With gold inching towards $2,000/ounce, it makes me wonder if another gold rush isn't on the horizon.


Havilah was far more interesting.  Both the courthouse and the school are replicas of the buildings that were in this town during the 1860's.  During its prime, there were 147 buildings here and Havilah was the county seat of Kern until it moved to Bakersfield.  Even though it was named after the biblical land found in Genesis, Havilah was a hotbed of vice.  Story after story can be found of the despicable characters who settled here.  It had a reputation for endless drinking, gambling and murder.

One sad story I read in Ardis Walker's excellent book,  The Rough and the Righteous,  was about a woman named Alice Sterling who lived in Havilah.  She was betrothed to Fred Stewart who got shot by Bill Hammond, a gambler.  Fred had accused him of cheating.  Fred's brother and six other friends went after the reprobate, but never found him.  Alice succumbed to depression and disappeared.  Locals said she threw herself down a mining  shaft.   Three years later, however, in Pioche, Nevada, a young woman walked quietly into another saloon and shot Bill Hammond to death.  Then she turned the gun on herself.  It was Alice Sterling.

There's a cemetery in Havilah which tells the tale of a more sorrowful story.  This tombstone of three tiny children surrounded by teddy bears reminds us that people died very young back then.  With no antibiotics, diseases like the flu and measles often brought certain death.

  In an antique shop in Bodfish, we started talking to the owner about the mining relics, and he reminded us that the average man was only about 5'4" and weighed 110 lbs. back then.  Mining for gold was backbreaking work and young men were wrecks by the time they reached 30 years of age.  Although the mining towns of the Kern River Valley were abandoned when the gold was gone,  the spirits of the men and women who lived there still remain.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Kern River

We drove the very scenic Highway 178 up to Lake Isabella.  The road parallels the beautiful Kern River and we stopped so many times that this last stretch took longer to complete than the entire drive to Bakersfield.
The Kern River is the fastest falling river in the western United States.  It originates from Mt. Whitney's massive snow melts and flows down from the Sierra Nevada high country into Kernville.  From there, it joins the smaller South Fork at Lake Isabella and flows downward to Bakersfield, irrigating the crops of the Central Valley. 
We could not pass up the opportunity to raft down these incredible rapids.  There are many rafting outfitters in Kernville and we chose Sierra South because they had a short run called the Likety-Split on Class2-3 rapids.  Because the water is low this year, we were able to take a two-man inflatable kayak down the river rather than a larger raft.  It was a thrill and we plan on a more extensive trip in the future after a strong wet winter.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Whiskey Flat

Whiskey Flat.  Why they ever changed the original name to Kernville is beyond me.   I think there's a movement afoot to change it back though.    I saw lots of Whiskey Flat this and that signs.  Every President's Day weekend there is a 4-day festival called "Whiskey Flat Days" in celebration of the Wild Wild West.  They have a parade, a rodeo, gunfighter skits, melodramas and lots of country western and blue grass concerts.  Nevertheless, the little town of Kernville is a charming place, full of antique stores and restaurants and places to rent a raft for a wild ride down the Kern River.  My travel buddy and I spent a morning here wandering in and out of shops.  I even bought a long sleeve linen blouse, which I ended up wearing almost every day.  Mimi wanted this hat!

  The whole Kern River Valley in California was part of a second gold rush boom in the 1850's.  Mining camps sprouted up over night.  The men panning for gold often left after a few months, poorer in pocket, spirit and health,  The smart ones were the men who followed the prospectors and sold them shovels, blankets and booze.  One such entrepreneur was Adam Hamilton.  He followed the gold from camp to camp and ended up at Quartzburg, but was booted out because it was a no alcohol camp and he had some kegs of whiskey he wanted to sell.  He moved down to the flats, put up a stand and started pouring.  Well, guess what?  Those poor tired miners followed him down and Whiskey Flat was born.  So much for temperance!

We didn't have shots of whiskey while there, but we did have lots of Isabella Blond and Red Sequoias, ales made on site at the Kernville Brewing Company.  We got addicted to their hamburgers, too.  Big, juicy and grilled on multi-grain buns and served with a side of waffle fries.  Yum!

Oh, I almost forgot.  The original Whiskey Flat is now underneath Lake Isabella.  Those temperate guys got their revenge!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lake Isabella

Because my travel buddy is an avid windsurfer, he has been going to Lake Isabella for his "fix" every year since 2003.  The wind on the lake is fierce.  This year I decided to go with him.  Consequently, I got him out of the water and into the surrounding areas.  He discovered facts and historical anecdotes that he never knew before.

"You know, we could spend a lifetime and a half traveling around California alone and never see it all," he said.  "The diversity of this state continues to astound me."

"Are you happy I came with you?"

"Yes, but can I go back in the water now?"
Lake Isabella is located three hours north of Los Angeles.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Kern River in 1954, resulting in this reservoir.  At 11,000 acres it is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the state.  The combination of its deep blue water and the Greenhorn Mountains rising above its shore, makes for breathtaking views.
In the early morning, before the wind "goes off", the lake belongs to the fishermen.  Catfish are common, but bass, bluegill and trout are also caught.  We saw lots of jet skis and a few pontoon boats.  Swimming, of course, is refreshing in the ninety degree heat this time of year and that's what Mimi and I did!
Lake Isabella was named by a homesteader in 1893 in honor of Queen Isabella.  The man felt the queen didn't receive enough recognition for her role in the discovery of the New World..  After all, Columbus never would have been able to fund his expeditions without her.  Seems odd to me.    Truthfully, I think it's a pretty name for a pretty lake.  Ya don't have to justify it!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Trail of 100 Giants

"Magnificent" is an over-used adjective, but is 100% accurate when describing the Giant Sequoia.  It is a magnificent tree!  My travel buddy and I found ourselves muttering this word many times last week as we walked the Trail of 100 Giants.  This self-guided trail is located on the Western Divide Highway within the Giant Sequoia National Monument.  It is an easy one hour drive from Kernville, California.

Congress moved quickly back in 1890 to protect these trees by creating Sequoia National Park.   One hundred years later,  in 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a proclamation at this site to ensure that even more of these magnificent trees would receive perpetual protection.  Sequoia National Monument  encompasses 353,000 acres and 33 groves of Sequoias.
The Sequoia is one of the fastest growing trees on earth.  It can grow up to two feet every year for 150 years.  Then it just gets wider and wider until the ripe old age of 2000!  There were trees along this trail that were 1,500 years old.  One of them fell over in September of 2011, scaring a German tourist half to death.   Fortunately,  no one was injured that day but  the newly created paved trail is now blocked.  You can walk around, of course, or as my buddy tried to do--climb over it.  He didn't make it.  Thick black sap covered his hands and clothing.  He was not allowed to touch my beloved Sony camera for the rest of the day!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Summer LBD's

I have two long trips planned this summer and both of them are in areas where temperatures will soar close to a 100 degrees.  Packing, however, is a no-brainer.  I can fold three or four of my little black summer dresses into a carry-on, tuck in a swimsuit and an extra pair of sandals and voila(!) I am on my way.  I don't have to think what I'm going to wear, and I'll always look just fine.  Bon Voyage!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Colorado Street Bridge

Los Angeles is a concrete jungle of freeways, ramps and overpasses.  I love the pockets of culture and art found in the neighborhoods, but let's face it, the freeways are ugly, congested and prone to gridlock.  Getting to one of these quaint areas requires crossing over six lanes to make your exit and often you only have a two mile warning to do so.  For yours truly, this causes major anxiety.

Every time I venture down the Ventura Freeway I look longingly at the graceful arches of the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena.  I want to drive on that, not this continuous landing strip of a road I'm on.  Well, a few weeks ago, I decided to finally do it.  Only I didn't drive over the bridge; I walked!

It truly is a beautiful structure.  Over and under.  I love the way the bridge curves gracefully over the Arroyo Seco, the deep canyon below it.  This was an engineering decision made by the firm of J.A.L. Waddell, from Kansas City, Missouri (another city of beautiful bridges) way back in 1913.  Before the bridge, the local population road horse-drawn carts up and down the steep sides of the canyon and crossed the stream on a flimsy wooden bridge.  I can't help but think the new bridge contributed to the growth of Los Angeles. It became part of Route 66, that famous east-west route connecting Chicago to Santa Monica.  For a long time,  it was the highest concrete bridge in the United States.  It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
I parked my car on the corner of Grand and Green and walked the entire span of the bridge on the sidewalk to the steps on the other side.  The bridge has graceful Beaux Arts arches, cast iron lamp posts and ornate railings.  The San Gabriel Mountains serve as a backdrop.  As you walk across, you can get a good look at the impressive Federal Court of Appeals building with its distinctive dome.   Directly underneath is the Arroyo Seco Park, a hidden gem in the city of Pasadena.  I tell you, it's a different world once you get off those god-awful freeways!