A vast out­door play­ground with a few sur­prises

Travel Guide to California - - KERN COUNTY - BY CHRIS­TINE DELSOL

SPAN­NING THE SOUTH­ERN END of the fer­tile Cen­tral Val­ley, Kern County can re­sem­ble the Plains states more than pop­u­lar im­ages of Cal­i­for­nia. The third-largest county by area stretches from the coastal moun­tains, over the Sierra range and into the Mo­jave Desert, con­sist­ing mostly of farms and small towns de­pen­dent on oil fields and the mil­i­tary. But in their midst lie some of Cal­i­for­nia’s finest out­door recre­ation op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Al­most 43 per­cent of the county’s es­ti­mated 886,507 res­i­dents live in Bak­ers­field, known for the roots-ori­ented Bak­ers­field Sound genre of coun­try music em­braced by Buck Owens, Merle Hag­gard and Dwight Yoakam. The city is also justly proud of its dozens of parks and the diver­sity of mu­se­ums.

The scenic Kern River has drawn out­door en­thu­si­asts to this re­gion for decades. The deep Kern Canyon, north­east of Bak­ers­field, is a hot spot for trout fish­ing, boat­ing, kayak­ing, river­board­ing and some of Cal­i­for­nia’s most chal­leng­ing white­wa­ter raft­ing. Camp­ing, hik­ing and pic­nick­ing are also pop­u­lar.

Ghost-town afi­ciona­dos stop at Sil­ver City on the way, even though it’s ac­tu­ally a col­lec­tion of more than 20 his­toric build­ings moved from sur­round­ing min­ing camps to rep­re­sent a town as it might have looked after the gold veins played out. Hol­ly­wood has made good use of the rus­tic set­ting, while some tours—both guided and self-guided are avail­able—make good use of the town’s ghost lore.

North of Lake Is­abella, the man­made reser­voir di­vid­ing the Up­per and Lower Kern River, the val­ley’s hub of ac­tiv­ity is Kernville, south­ern gate­way to the vast Se­quoia Na­tional For­est. Here you can tour the U.S. Depart­ment of Fish & Game’s fish hatch­ery and book fly-fish­ing classes through the Kern River Fly Shop. The Kern River Brew­ing Com­pany’s mi­cro­brew­ery pro­vides a hefty pro­por­tion of in-town en­ter­tain­ment for vis­i­tors and lo­cals alike.

On the way south­east to Te­hachapi, a short de­tour re­veals an en­gi­neer­ing feat that draws rail en­thu­si­asts from around the world: the Te­hachapi Loop, a .73-mile spi­ral on the busy Union Pa­cific line where you can see longer trains cross­ing over them­selves. Once in Te­hachapi, a rail­road mu­seum, a bud­ding wine trail, and the nearby Cat House (yes, re­ally—a pre­serve for en­dan­gered fe­lines) vie for at­ten­tion, while pet­ro­glyphs and red stri­a­tions in the desert cliffs and rock for­ma­tions of Red Rock Canyon State Park are a 40-minute drive away.

WHISKEY FLAT DAYS in Kernville, above; Red Rock Canyon on I-14 in the Mo­jave Desert, be­low.

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