Thursday, July 19, 2007

Another trip to God's Country

As far as being true God's Country, this place was pushing it, but all in all, I think it qualifies.

My family and I of course live in Sacramento, while my brother and his family live in Las Vegas. With our hectic lives, it can be rather difficult to synchronize schedules so that we may visit. It was rather important that we see each other soon, because we each had a new child that neither had ever met. My daughter was born in April of 2006, and his son was born in September of 2006, but we had yet to meet each other's new additions. At the same time, the last time we had seen each other's older children - they are both three and only two months apart in age - they were younger than our younger children are now. Yes, I know, I have confused you. The bottom line is that I hadn't seen my brother for two years, so a visit was overdue. What we decided on was to split the distance. The original plan was to meet in Bakersfield, because it is roughly halfway between Sacto and Vegas. We were never really enthused about meeting in Bakersfield because quite simply, the city is a dump, and in July, it is a very hot dump.

Instead, we agreed to meet at Lake Isabella, which is in the Sierra foothills east of Bakersfield, but still equidistant between Sacto and Vegas. Lake Isabella is still hot in the summer, but at least it is somewhat rural, and in the mountains. We ended up renting a house for the weekend, but instead of getting one on the lake - which would be much more expensive - we rented one that was eight miles away from the lake and was nestled up in the forests of the southern Sierra Nevada.

I have been to a lot of places in California, but this area to which we were going was one with which I was very unfamiliar. After looking at a map to plot our route to the rental house, I found that we would have to travel south from Sacramento on HWY 99 to a town called Delano, which is about 30 miles north of Bakersfield. At Delano (which is just an absolute armpit in case you're wondering), we would get onto HWY 155 and travel east toward and into the Sierra Nevada for about 50 miles, where we would reach the rental house, which lay just off HWY 155 near the town of Wofford Heights. Here is a map to orient you. I have drawn a rectangle around the area in question. You can click on the map for a closer look:

Now, even though I had never been to this area, I know enough about California's geography and map reading to come to a startling conclusion. Let's do the math. I knew that Delano was a farm town in the Central Valley and probably lay at an elevation of no more than 100 feet above sea level. I knew that our rental house was at approximately 6,500 feet above sea level. Yet, the trip from Delano to our house was only 50 miles. Not to mention that the mileage would be even less if you count from when you leave the the Central Valley and actually start to climb into the foothills, then you are talking no more than 40 miles to go from 100 feet or so, to 6,500 feet or so. Therefore, my conclusion was that this ride from Delano to Wofford Heights was going to be one curvy, steep S.O.B. of a drive. I hate it when I'm right.

I have driven some steep curvy roads in my lifetime, but they all pale in comparison to this one. The 50 mile drive took almost two hours, because once you get into the mountain part of the journey, the curves and the severe uphill limit you to about 25 mph... 30 mph if you're lucky. I had never seen anything like it. My wife and my daughter both got carsick, although neither expelled anything. The other part of the journey I found interesting was the different vegetation. Up north where I live, if you travel to 5,000 or 6,000 feet elevation in the Sierra Nevada, you are going to be surrounded by Pine, Fir, Cedar - It looks like a forest. Down south, we were at almost 6,000 feet and nearing the end of our journey, and we were still surrounded by scrub and oak trees. Then suddenly and dramatically, we went around a bend in the road
and literally, the vegetation instantly changed to the familiar evergreen forest I had been anticipating.

The rental house was just past the summit of this long climb. If you wanted to go to Wofford Heights to get groceries or something, you had to drive 8 miles down the hill from our house to the town. Now lets do some more math! The rental house is at approximately 6,500 feet. Wofford Heights is at about 2,000 feet, and there is 8 miles of distance between the two. I didn't feel like I was driving to Wofford Heights; I felt like I was falling to Wofford Heights! Before this trip, the steepest downhill grade I had ever driven was 7%; you've seen the signs warning truckers to check their brakes and all that. Beginning the descent into Wofford Heights, we passed a sign warning us of a 12% (!!!) downhill grade ahead. Then we passed another sign that said All Vehicles: Use lower gears for the next 8 miles. Holy Crap! Use lower gears my arse! I had our Honda Pilot in first gear, yet I still had to use the brakes because we were gaining too much speed and the tachometer was reading 6,000 RPM on the engine. By the time we neared the bottom of the hill, I could smell our brakes.

I found it funny that just looking at the California map and mulling over the distances and elevations in my mind, I had a pretty good idea that the ride would be interesting. It was.

I did manage to snap some pretty photos. I will show the rental house and its surrounding area first.

You can barely see it, but there is a large pine tree growing right through the roof of the house, above the front window on the right. Hence, this house is called "The Tree House". Get it?

The view from the back deck is quite striking though. Behind the house is Sequoia National Forest for miles around.

My son and his cousin certainly enjoyed being boys in the woods! My son is in the striped shirt. And full disclosure: My wife took this photo, not me. Great shot, Honey! Nice use of shadow.

Meanwhile, just a scant 8 miles away, the landscape quickly changes from high evergreen forest to rock and scrub near the lake. Nevertheless, I find the harsh looking landscape to be quite beautiful in its own right:

It's not exactly Mount Shasta, but it's mountains ain't it? Additionally, the Kern River runs through these parts on its way to Lake Isabella. My brother and I took the older kids into the drink with us:

Just so you know who is who, I'm on the far right, and my son is wearing the green baseball cap. One of the funniest things about this entire trip is that we never even went to Lake Isabella, let alone took any pictures of it. We had enough fun up at the Tree House, I guess. I have most certainly been to prettier parts of California, but there were enough redeeming features about this place to make photographing it just worth my while.

Good Day to You, Sir


CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Despite your hair-raising ride on the tortuous mountain road (12% grade??!!), the photos say you had a good time. Amen!

bluejay said...

What adorable little boys!

Darren said...

You like stark landscapes, huh? Then you'll like the pictures from my upcoming trip through central Nevada!

I've never head of these places you mentioned in this post. Thanks for cluing me in.