What a weekend. Nearly getting shot. Falling into quick mud. Nearly getting the Jeep stuck in the sand. A steep climb up a 7,500-foot peak. And a roadrunner sighting to boot.
Kern River Plateau: Lake Isabella, South Fork Wildlife Area, and Audobon Kern River Preserve
We headed for the Kern River Plateau in the Southern Sierra with the intention of viewing the fall colors of California’s largest contiguous great valley cottonwood-willow riparian forest. Having driven past the Audubon Kern River Preserve multiple times in the past, we decided we needed to hike there with the trees in their full fall color foliage glory.
Unfortunately, arriving at the preserve, the trees were not quite ready. Though we were a few weeks early, the few miles of hiking trails in the preserve were still quite pleasant. The shade offered relief from the heat. Though the trail network was not very extensive, multiple benches underneath the trees offer opportunities for bird and wildlife viewing.
After spending a couple of hours in the preserve, we headed towards Lake Isabella and entered the South Fork Wildlife Area. We spent a few hours driving around (4×4, high-clearance required) and admiring the scenery. The area reminded us of what we saw in the Serengeti, including a rock outcropping amazingly like the copies found there. Had this really been Africa, we would have expected to see lions resting at the top. We wondered if occasionally a mountain lion may use the high ground to spot prey. Instead of lions we saw a herd of cattle and a roadrunner. Wile E. Coyote, however, was nowhere to be seen.
As we approached the lake shore itself, the roads turned into tire tracks in the sand and we spent most of the time skidding along. We stopped at the shore, littered with seashells. These stretched for quite a distance from the water indicating a previously higher water level. We walked towards the water and getting nearer, Sharon broke through the surface, sinking ankle deep into the quick mud. Luckily the crust was dry enough to allow for a quick escape. I sank in too and with laughter we took turns breaking the surface and getting out.
There are lots of camping spots in the BLM land along Chimney Creek Road. Arriving on Friday, we found that the only two offering any shade were already occupied; much to our surprise. Usually, there’s not a person in sight. We set up camp in the Chimney Creek Campground (no fees, though donations are accepted) and this is where we returned after our Saturday drive.
Eating dinner and finishing off our bottle of rum, a group of 3 neighboring campers approached us and struck up a conversation. They were in the area bear and deer hunting (apparently this was opening weekend). It appears that California sells about 2000 bear tags annually; a shame since these are such magnificent animals. The hunters bragged about drinking and driving and littering the campground with stray bullets before our previous night’s arrival. As we all headed to bed, they promised not to shoot us. Minutes after nestling in our sleeping bags a short volley of gunfire rang out. Alcohol, guns, and people lacking common sense do not mix.
Lamont Peak: 4-mile round trip, strenuous
I planned for a Sunday hike on the PCT, but Sharon insisted we head to the Lamont Peak Trailhead instead. The 4 mile round trip to the summit is steep and strenuous. The trail gains over 2,000 feet in 2 miles, often scrambling over rock or loose sand. The view from the 7,429 foot summit is well worth the effort with views of the Paiute and Scodie Mountains as well as the South Fork Valley 3,000 feet below. Few hikers seem to find their way up here as the entries in the summit register were sparse, though dating back to the early 1960s. The hike (heel shuffle) down was nearly as challenging as the trip up.
Lake Isabella is popular with boaters and RVers, but few hikers and backpackers seem to know that the surrounding wilderness areas exist. Heading into the Domelands or the Chimneys one can typically expect solitude, tranquility, adventure, and incredible scenery.
- Dome Land Wilderness Loop – 3 days, 32 miles, strenuous
For more national forest adventures, visit our U.S. Forest Service Agency Guide.