The Sierra Nevada mountain range in California tops at Mt. Whitney, tallest mountain in the Continental U.S. at 14,494 feet. Then the range slopes away to the south gradually exchanging alpine peaks for less lofty ridges and a relatively little known area that has been termed the Kern Plateau.
On the east this land borders Highway 395 as it tracks a straight course through Indian Wells Valley. Access is by a spectacular road up what is known as Nine Mile Canyon moving in that short distance from desert to wood lands and meadows. Here there is a small settlement called Kennedy Meadows where the South Fork of the Kern River winds serenely before dropping into another canyon.
Past Kennedy Meadows the road climbs again to the true plateau, a wonderland of giant Ponderosa, red fir and lodgepole pines separated by classic Sierra meadows and languishing quiet creeks masked with silver willows and myriads of wildflowers. Here you are at elevations that range from 7400 to 9,000 feet. To serve the campers, fishermen, hunters and bike riders there are three campgrounds operated by the Sequoia National Forest. They are Kennedy Meadows on the banks of the South Fork of the Kern River, Fish Creek at 7400 feet and Troy Meadows at 7800 feet.
For those seeking access to the adjoining Golden Trout Wilderness Area the trailhead for back packers and horsemen is at Black Rock served by a paved road past the Black Rock Ranger Station.
For this writer the Kern Plateau area was first discovered and visited over three decades ago and the scene of many happy camping and hunting adventures. And then after many years of personal neglect was rediscovered this summer.
Where we first visited this area there was no road that connected the east access with the western slope which is marked by the North Fork of the Kern River. Now the road climbs to Sherman Pass at 9200 feet elevation and offers the visitor superb vistas in every direction including the alpine Whitney group of Sierra peaks, almost always with some snow to be seen.
The change of elevation is just as dramatic on the western slope as the road descends from the 9200 foot pass to 3,000 feet where the Kern River winds through a canyon to Kernville and then Lake Isabella.
As you move west over Sherman Pass you may not be ready to leave this beautiful and relatively untraveled part of California. If this is the case then a side road at the 7,000 foot level, called the Cherry Hill road, will take you to Horse Meadow where there is another Forest Service campground. Here again to enjoy wandering creeks, towering trees and wide Sierra meadows.
This is true four season country with winter snows at the higher elevations in winter. The other three seasons offer a remarkable climate of cloudless days, seemingly without end, warm days, very cool nights and as often as not gentle breezes filled with the scent of pines
For those who want only a quick view of this remarkable stretch of California a one day trip is possible from the Los Angeles area.. From Highway 395 on the east to Kernville on the west it is 93 miles but in those miles you will climb 6,000 feet and descend the same amount. It is all mountain road, paved, well marked with direction signs but the only services are at Kennedy Meadows and Kernville.
More information can be obtained about the Kern Plateau by writing or calling the Sequoia National Forest, Supervisors Office, 900 W. Grand Avenue, Porterville 93257, calling 559-784-1500 or on the web at www.r5.fs.fed.us/sequoia.
EDITOR'S NOTE: AND THEN THERE WAS FIRE
The above story was written by the Editor while camped at Troy Meadows Forest Service Campground. Just three days later, on July 22nd of this year, a forest fire ignited near Manker Meadow. It became the worst forest fire in the Sequoia National Forest in over a half century and has become known as the Manker Fire.
It took 494 fire fighters, two air tankers and six helicopters 25 days to extinguish the blaze which consumed 74,439 acres including much of what is known as the Dome Lands Wilderness Area. Heroic efforts by fire fighters saved most of the Kennedy Meadows private homes and businesses but not all.
The Troy Meadow Campground where we stayed was spared from the fire as was the Horse Meadow Campground on the western slope of the Plateau where we also camped for a few days. We left only as the huge towering plumes of smoke reached ever nearer and the Forest Service closed the roads to all but essential fire fighting equipment.
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