Jawbone to Lake Isabella

Excerpts from California Desert Byways: 68 of California’s Best Backcountry Drives (Wilderness Press)
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LOCATION: Piute Mountains of the southern Sierra Nevada; east of Bakersfield and north of Tehachapi. Between S.R. 14 south of Red Rock Canyon State Park and Bodfish, near Lake Isabella. Sequoia National Forest. Kern County.

HIGHLIGHTS: You will experience the transition from the Mojave Desert to the forests of the southern Sierra as you climb from 2,500 feet to over 8,000 feet. The descent to Kern Valley and Bodfish via a narrow shelf road is spectacular.

DIFFICULTY: Easy.

TIME & DISTANCE: 3 hours; almost 54 miles.

MAPS: ACSC's Central Coast Region (A–B, 12–14). CRRA, pp. 93 (C–D, 12) and 94 (A–F, 1–4). At Jawbone Station, get a copy of East Kern County Off-Highway Vehicle Riding Areas & Trails.

INFORMATION: BLM's Jawbone Station information center, near the junction of Jawbone Canyon Road and S.R. 14. Sequoia National Forest, Greenhorn Ranger District.

GETTING THERE: From S.R. 14 about 1.1 miles south of Red Rock-Randsburg Road, take the Jawbone Canyon/Kelso Valley exit to Jawbone Canyon Road [N35°18.001' W118°00.043'] and follow it west. To go in the opposite direction, take paved Caliente-Bodfish Road (483) to a point 2.8 miles [N35°34.102' W118°30.404'] south of Bodfish, turn east onto Saddle Spring Road and make an exhilarating ascent.

REST STOPS: BLM's Jawbone Station. You will find all services at Bodfish and Lake Isabella.

THE DRIVE: Jawbone Canyon Road passes through an off-highway vehicle area. Pavement ends about 4.1 miles from S.R. 14, after you pass two large pipelines of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Ahead is a green-blue hill, Blue Point [N35°19.238' W118°04.962'], which you'll reach at mile 4.7. Shortly beyond it, the road bends north and climbs into semiarid foothills, providing outstanding vistas across the Mojave Desert. The hills become dotted first with Joshua trees, then pinyon pines and junipers, then oak woodlands and conifers—changes that signal the transition from one climatic zone to another. The road will descend into pretty Kelso Valley, passing a minor junction at mile 17.7. Following the sign that states PIUTE MOUNTAIN, continue on the main road to the major intersection just up ahead, at mile 18.1 [N35°22.662' W118°13.024'].

Kelso Valley Road goes north here. But follow Jawbone Canyon Road (589) west through the intersection. The road will bend southwest and cross a meadow. Then it turns west and climbs into the Piute Mountains. From there you will ascend the steep and narrow switchbacks of Geringer Grade and enter Sequoia National Forest. Continue north to the junction with Piute Mountain Road (501) and forest road 27S02 (Saddle Spring Road/Piute Mountain Road) at mile 31.5 [N35°26.640' W118°19.569']. Turn left (west). At mile 33.4 [N35°27.582' W118°20.745'], bear left onto 27S02. At mile 37.2 [N35°26.881' W118°22.698'], bear right (north) on Saddle Spring Road. It eventually will make a thrilling descent to paved Caliente-Bodfish Road (483) [N35°34.102' W118°30.404'], just south of Bodfish at mile 53.7.


Tony Huegel is the author of the acclaimed Backcountry Byways series of books, published by Wilderness Press. Find out more about his books at backcountrybyways.com.

Published: 2 Jul 2007 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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