Places to go within an hour of Ridgecrest:
North and West of Ridgecrest
The Coso Rock Art District, National Historic Landmark Area is on the Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake. Tours to this world-famous rock art site may be arranged through the Maturango Museum or through the Navy as everyone must be escorted by a Navy-approved escort guide and these are many access regulations. Little Petroglyph Canyon has easily 10,000 glyphs along the walls and they are bright, distinct, and not vandalized. The Museum leads all-day tours to this amazing canyon various weekends from March to June, and from September to December. See our tour information here- http://www.maturango.org/petroglyphdescriptionl.html 95 mile round trip from the Museum. No gas, no water, one picnic facility, 1 vault toilet, no shade.
Inyokern and Brown:
* west on Hwy 178, north and south on Brown Road
It started as “Siding 16” on the Southern Pacific Railroad which ran to Lone Pine in 1909, then it was Magnolia, and got its own post office as Inyokern in 1913. The name was changed even though Inyo county starts some 11 miles north of this Kern Co. town. There is a lovely town park south of the school. Inyokern celebrates “Magnolia Days” each year. The Inyokern Airport was built by the WPA in 1935 and enlarged by the military when they moved into the valley in 1943. It now is the civilian airport for the area with full services and commuter airlines as well as private flying clubs, glider towing, etc. Several long distance records have been set by gliders from IYK. The runways easily accommodate small jet aircraft. Many commercials are filmed on runway 28.
Brown, “Siding 18” at the northern end of Brown road, was important when the original Los Angeles Aqueduct was constructed in the early 1900’s. George Brown built a hotel there to house workers.
Today it is an important agriculture area. Alfalfa is the main crop grown in the Indian Wells Valley, but pistachio trees do well here too. Other farms have many other crops, and there is a Christmas tree farm. Inyokern area also had ostrich farm and llamas are found here and there… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inyokern,_California
The Indian Wells Valley Lodge and Indian Wells Brewing Company on Hwy 14 is situated at one of the good springs which attracted both animals and the early travelers through the valley. The Indians used the waters for many years, the Death Valley 49er rescue party used the waters, and today the Indian Wells Brewery Co. and the Lodge use the waters. Visit the Brewery, sample and purchase their many interesting beverages, both beer types and soft drinks – best root beer in the valley!! The nearby historic Homestead Restaurant is also on good water and is a longtime building of the area.
Walker Pass, Pacific Crest Trail crossing:
*west on Hwy 178, south on Hwy 14 for 3 miles, west on Hwy 178; 8 miles to the top of the hill. Elev. 5250 ft.
This road passes through lovely Joshua tree forests!! The display of wildflowers in the late spring is spectacular. Snow stays on the top of the pass in the winter. Chains may be required!
At the top of the pass, the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the highway. This trail goes from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. You should hike the trail north for about 5 miles for a wonderful view down Indian Wells Canyon to the Indian Wells Valley; continue about 5 miles farther to a good place to climb (a second class scramble) to Owens Peak. Continue north to Kennedy Meadows crossing, through July 2000 fire area; pass Kennedy Meadows the trail heads north to Trail Pass and Horseshoe Meadows, and eventually it joins up with the John Muir Trail through the Sierra to Yosemite. To the south, the trail goes first to a BLM campground (pit toilet, sometimes water) and then into the Scodie Mountains at the tail end of the Southern Sierra Nevada. http://www.pcta.org/about_trail/overview.asp
Indian Wells Canyon – the southern-most canyon north of Walker Pass – access from south-bound Hwy 14 only, on hill just above Indian Wells Lodge. Road goes back to old corrals, and with 4x4, to a cabin and access to the 2nd class climbing route to Owens Peak. Turnoff is on the southbound 395 lanes just north of the Indian Wells Lodge.
Short Canyon: best wildflower show in Spring!!
*west on Hwy 178, north on Hwy 395 to junction with Hwy 14 at Brady’s gas station, turn west on to dirt road just south of the buildings under that huge billboard; go west about 2 miles. Note: BLM has cut a new road west at Leliter Road, but it has a steep, very sandy spot in it requiring 4x4.! Use the “old road” at Brady’s!
In the spring this is THE place for wildflowers. There’s a perennial stream a little waterfall, a nice meadow up the trail. When you get to the old aqueduct (buried, but covered with a concrete “cap”) you have 2 choices: straight ahead takes you over a cattle guard and to a parking lot. From here hike up the hill and continue on this trail to the stream. Go as far as you like – the trail continues on up into the Joshua tree forest. This hill is a wildflower paradise in the spring!
Left along the aqueduct – you can turn west (right) on a road which will dead-end and leave you a short hike to the waterfall near the cottonwood tree. Continue along the aqueduct road south and east up over the hill to pick up the “new” aqueduct road and contour around the hills to eventually drop down into Indian Wells Canyon. From up on the aqueduct there are fantastic views over the entire Indian Wells Valley!!
No facilities: no drinking water; no shade
*west on Hwy 178, north on Hwy 395 to Brown Road intersection, turn left (west) onto dirt road; go south of the gravel pit works, cross the new (white) aqueduct, stop near the old (black) aqueduct; about 2 miles.
Sand Canyon’s little stream usually runs all year, feeding the cottonwood grove and supplying needed water for a wide variety of desert animals. It is a great place to take a picnic any time of the year. Birding is always great along the stream. The area above the second stream crossing is now wilderness area, so you can’t drive back there, but you are most welcome to walk the washed out roads anyway and explore. Mountain lion and bear tracks are often seen – watch for these animals!! Back about 2 miles is an old ranch and an old Indian village site near a grove of Foothill (Digger) pines. There are some grinding holes in various rocks.
No facilities; no drinking water unless treated properly; lots of shade! Primitive camping allowed.
Grapevine canyon, north of Short and places to investigate too, although the road doesn’t go far as there is private property up there. Mt. Owens Cemetery just behind the locked gate. You can hike up the canyon past the gate.
9 Mile Canyon to Kennedy Meadows – see separate Kennedy Meadows pages.
Little Lake: North on Hwy 395 about 40 miles
Indians loved it! Private Property today, but sometimes the Museum can arrange tours to see the many petroglyphs on the rocks and cliffs surrounding the lake. It is a major stop-over for migrating water birds – ducks, snow geese, coots, even white pelicans. The lake is spring-fed but there is a man-made dam at the south end that keeps it about 10 feet deep in the center. Note that the cliffs are columnar basalt just like at Devil’s Postpile. No public access, sorry.
On the west side of the highway – There are a few petroglyphs on the columnar basalt rocks by the Railroad bridge and some grinding holes at the base of them- access from the side road (Old 395) turn left and park in the clearing opposite the cliff rocks. You might be most interested in stopping by the Maturango Museum or USO Building to pick up the Historical Society’s book “Zig Zag Post Office,” a history of the Little Lake area, the people who lived there, the post office locations, and more about the making of Little Lake (a dam), moving the train and roads around the marsh that was there, etc. It’s also possible to drive ON the old railroad grade for a ways….
Fossil Falls: (fossil waterfall, not bones)
*north on Hwy 395 past Little Lake; 3 miles north of Little Lake, turn east (right) on dirt Cinder Road just south of “red hill,” a volcanic cinder cone and cinder mine- active during the week, watch for large trucks!; watch for BLM sign to turn south (hard right) to Fossil Falls, about another .7 mile with a left turn in there… to the parking lot. Picnic tables, pit toilet. New accurate archeology and geology signs at the beginning of a 1/4 mile trail that takes you to the falls overlook. The trail is obvious, but goes up and down over rocks which house various residents – watch for rattlesnakes when the weather is warm!! At the waterfall – note all the obsidian chips. Native Americans long ago camped along this stream; archaeologists have investigated several sites. There is abundant obsidian here from the source at nearby Sugarloaf mountain to the east. Do not collect arrowheads or obsidian chips!! – leave them where they are as a record of the past for others to see. (besides, it’s illegal to collect archeological artifacts of any kind any place!) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossil_Falls
It’s a total of 80 feet from here to the bottom! It’s now dry of course, but the falls were cut through the basalt basement rocks of the area by the Pleistocene Owens River. The “fossil” part of the falls is that the Owens River used to run through here during Pleistocene times as the glaciers melted and fed the China Lake-Searles Lake system. The waterfall cuts are fascinating – lots of pockets and holes. The rock is solid to climb on, but be careful!! In the winter when we get our rains, the river runs again and there is water falling once again. When the winter rains come and fill the potholes on top, almost transparent fairy shrimp hatch from eggs lying in the dry mud and swim around in their little pools. Their life cycle is all of 6 weeks. This area is very popular with rock climbers. It’s tempting, but dangerous to try to slither down through the holes – and once you’re down there, how do you propose to get back up? The walls are vertical. Rock climbers have proper ropes and techniques, and also need to watch for snakes on ledges!
BLM campsite. Tables, BBQ, pit toilets, water in season. 12 sites among the basalt rocks. Just north of the Falls trail parking lot – watch for signs. Picnic table and pit toilet; no drinking water, no trash collection, camping in designated campground sites, some OK for RV’s.
Little Lake Overlook: follow signs toward Fossil Falls on Cinder Road, , but go past the Fossil Falls turnoff and continue east across the plain about 3 miles – all the way across the valley to the Power Lines – turn south on Power Line Roads, go 3.1 miles to the sign indicating turn to the parking lot. Walk a short ways to the overlook. !! 2 nice benches, 3 interpretive signs about the area, the birds, the geology. You’re on top of the volcanic basalt cliff overlooking the lake. (Don’t jump, the lake isn’t that deep!) The road is rocky – high clearance best. Can be very windy.
Across the way on the Sierra escarpment, you can see the remains of the old Sacatar wagon road coming down from Kennedy Meadows. This road was the main trading route before the highway was put in over Walker Pass. Wagons and cattle were brought to the Owens Valley from the Central Valley by way of this switchback road. Settlers in Kennedy Meadows even drove down that road to Brown and Coso! It is now in wilderness area, but you can hike on it. No facilities, no water. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacatar_Trail_Wilderness