Haunted Roads, Snow, and Boulders

Last travelogue left off with our caravan of five solos staying at a Forest Service campground in the mountains near Castaic, CA not far from LA. We did some hiking, called the cops on our loud and intoxicated neighbor, and generally stayed inside during the cold weather and got work done.

Feb 28, Wednesday

Hanging out with this group is making me more of a morning person.

Well before lunch, I’m hitched up and ready to depart Oak Flat Campground. The sun is shining and the skies are clear… for now. We’ve timed our departure with the weather, today is the one nice day in a week of rain, wind, and snow. If we don’t leave now, we’ll be stuck here longer.

As usual, members of our caravan depart at their own pace and we make no move to actually travel together. We’re all headed to the same place and get there when we get there.

I make my way gingerly back down the dilapidated Golden State Highway to where it ends at I5 and turn north. It’s time to finish the rest of the Grapevine through the Tehachapi Mountains.

I swear the Grapevine is haunted.

Last time I drove through here south to north two years ago Bertha’s check engine light came on near the bottom of the hills, and the exact same thing happens this time too. And like last time, it turns out to be nothing. The light goes off on its own a day later, but it still causes me to be hyper alert to how the truck is running and detracts from my enjoyment of the drive. (Clearly, something about this particular drive trips some sort of false alarm in Bertha, but saying it’s haunted is more fun.)

With the engine light on but Bertha running perfectly normally, I arrive in Bakersfield at about the same time that Marshall and Kelly arrive. We meet up at Costco for really cheap pizza (not being a member I had no idea such a thing existed before now), and moderately cheap propane. There are going to be some cold nights at our next destination and I want to keep my heater happy.

After getting groceries in town, I get on 178 heading east.

This is a beautiful drive along a twisty, narrow road following the Kern River that won my heart last time I drove it. And this visit I’m not racing the clock, so I stop a couple times at pullouts for pictures.

Yep, I’m heading back to Keyesville Rec Area, near Lake Isabella, CA. I’m retracing the route I took in spring 2016, if it were me alone I’d probably go looking for new places to camp, but the rest of the caravan has never been out here and it is an undeniably pretty place to boondock, so I don’t mind going back.

I direct the group to the sandy dispersed camping area at the bottom of the hill right on the Kern River where I’d stayed previously. Given the upcoming poor weather, the place is deserted save for one closed pop-up trailer parked in a back corner. Oh, and a small herd of free-range cattle that wander through occasionally.

We paid that bull to stand exactly so for this shot from Kelly’s window

Now, here I have to point out that Joni lives in a van, and that van is currently parked down by the river. And being the goofballs we are, we get quite a laugh about it. It might be silly, but it’s the little moments like this that really make my day.

In the evening I have a sit down by the water and enjoy the ambiance, all bundled up against the cold. I’ve never had the river all to myself like this, it’s a great way to unwind at the end a busy travel day.

March 4, Sunday

Last night was to be the big snow night, with winter storm warnings going out for higher elevations. I peek out my blinds in the morning and am disappointed by the lack of snow. There’s a little in the hills across the river though.

Well, if the snow didn’t come to us, we’ll just have to go to it.

The five of us get into Kelly’s truck and we start driving north, passing the lake and getting onto Mountain Highway 99. The higher we go the closer the snow gets, but we’re not really in it yet. Then we see a turnoff for Sherman Pass Road, that sounds more promising!

Sherman Pass Road is not, I repeat NOT for RVs. It makes 178 look wide and straight, there are signs for falling rocks all over, and the drop-off is steep. In a truck though it’s a lot of fun! We gain elevation quickly and the snow becomes deeper and more prevalent.

Then abruptly around a corner, there’s snow sticking to the road. Being in a 2WD vehicle driven by a Florida girl, this seems like a good place to stop. We take a bit of a walk further down the road, and I get a bunch of pictures. We aren’t the only ones to have done so, there are tracks all over of other people and their dogs who have frolicked in the snow.

There are some pine trees here, and higher up it looks like there are a lot more of them. We’re technically in Sequoia National Forest, but this far east there are no sequoias, they’re on the wetter western slope of the Sierra.

After getting our fill of the winter wonderland vibe, we turn around and head home. Sherman Pass Road continues on (sixty-some miles in total) and connects with 395. I bet it’s fun to take it all the way when the weather’s nicer.

March 7, Wednesday

Besides the one big snow adventure, most days we also take breaks during the work day to explore along the river near camp. The shore is littered with massive boulders and fun rock formations and it’s good exercise to climb up and down them. One can even sit in them on occasion…

Not to mention, it also makes for some good landscape photos.

On evening my friend Ethan (the one who convinced me to climb Mt. Elbert when my truck broke down in 2016) stops out to visit and I drag him along for a little river fun.

As you can see, even down here at lower elevations there are trees. After months of boondocking in the desert, it’s a nice change of pace. Tomorrow our caravan continues on and it’ll be back to the desert for a while.

Our week here has passed quickly, but I’m really looking forward to our next (and final) stop as a caravan! The gorgeous Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, CA.

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. gene on April 16, 2018 at 8:28 pm

    I know you are on a budget, but you may find solace in an OBD2 scanner. It is a diagnostic tool to check why your check engine light comes on. It will give you a code and then you can check the internet to see what that code means.

    For instance, I was having problems with the check engine light and discovered that my gas gap needed replaced. I now know that if my gas cap isn’t perfectly tight that the light goes on, and stays on for a few days after it is tightened. With the OBD2, I can turn off the light once I know what the issue is.

    They are not necessarily expensive, though there are some high dollar models. Also, it is not vehicle specific. It will work on a friend’s car, or your replacement vehicle.

  2. Sherri Burris on April 2, 2018 at 10:42 am

    I love the photos and I’m glad you stopped when you ran into snow. You sure didn’t want an accident or to get stuck.

  3. Mark Zurkowski on March 30, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    Regarding the haunted road or Highway and the check engine light the reason why the check engine light goes on there is because of the air pressure that your vehicle has encountered and is trying to adjust and will catch up, usually a day or so later

    • Becky on March 30, 2018 at 5:08 pm

      Interesting Mark, thanks for sharing.

  4. Rosemarie Reade on March 25, 2018 at 9:02 pm

    Hi Becky,
    I just found your blog about two weeks ago, and I have been ‘catching up’ on your articles and pictures! Your life is one I wanted to pursue with my teenage boyfriend in high school, many, many moons ago! But, alas, I became part of the corporate world, and, well, life just happened. Yah, know? Anyway, just wanted to say YOU are living the life you have chosen for yourself, and I applaud you for that! Now, at my ‘retirement’ age, I am going to ‘go for it!”
    I also can’t wait to see your new teardrop! I have always been a camper myself, hiking the backside of Yosemite, camping for weeks in the Sierras. All I need is a tent, a hiking stove to heat my coffee and wash my face, and warm sleeping bag, good boots, and my mountain bike, and I’m set! So I totally get your ‘paring’ down to just the basics you need.

    • Becky on March 26, 2018 at 5:34 pm

      Welcome to IO Rosemarie, glad to have you here! I wish you all the best as you prepare to hit the road yourself, you’ll find lots of good information here on the blog.

      I can’t wait to get my teardrop too! It won’t be ready until the fall, but I am counting down the months, let me tell you. It’ll be a different experience for sure!

  5. Bill Maier on March 24, 2018 at 12:24 pm

    Great stuff, Lone Pine Bill

  6. Linda Sand on March 22, 2018 at 6:12 pm

    x3 for Northern Exposure. Especially Chris in the Morning.

    • Rhonda on March 23, 2018 at 11:20 am

      For sure, Linda….I mourned for days when the show was cancelled. They all felt like family. I think my fav character was Ruthann and her tiny little grocery store that at least one item of any exotic food you’d find anywhere in the far reaches of the world. Clever writing…but Becky here is a fantastic writer, as well…and she takes us to wonderful places, too! What lucky followers we are! 🙂

      • Becky on March 23, 2018 at 5:47 pm

        Okay, obviously I need to watch this show sooner rather than later!

        Glad you’re enjoying my blog Rhonda, thanks for following along!

  7. JOHN R GIBBONS on March 22, 2018 at 1:41 pm

    Hi Becky

    That’s some awesome pics.
    I have seen those area’s, you have been .
    Just awesome and beautiful .The roads threw the wine country,
    vineyards give’s you kinda strange feeling.
    Now I’m staying in the valley, which
    is ok , very dry with dust storms, The weather has been great. But, it’s sure not pretty as
    up in the mountain’s and the Kern river. I loved the ocean
    over at Morro Bay and the elephant seals lying on the beach.
    I’m heading back to Arizona and then onto the north west come
    summer. Hope to see ya all out on the happy trail 🙂

    • Becky on March 23, 2018 at 5:46 pm

      Have a good trip John! Glad you enjoyed this, take care!

  8. Cindi Rendel on March 22, 2018 at 10:13 am

    FYI, Johnsondale it up the road past Kernvile. Probably lots of snow there now though.

  9. Cindi Rendel on March 22, 2018 at 10:11 am

    Hi Becky,
    I enjoy reading you blog. We live in Bakersfield and have driven the canyon many times. Be careful on the Kern River. It has taken many lives. There are swift currents and many snags underwater, so if you fell off the boulders it could be danderous.

    If you drive up to Johnsondale (RRanch), turn right just past there and go a couple of miles there are 4 free campgrounds. They are numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4. If you get to Pepermint Creek you have gone too far. They are all on the right and 2, 3, and 4 are beautiful. Camp 4 is just past Camp Witsett, which is a Boy Scout Camp. At camp 4, in the summer, you can slide down rocks. One of my favorite spots. Another favorite is next to Kennedy Meadows. You go up 9 mile road off of 395 then turn right on Kennedy Meadows road. Just before you get to the Kennedy Meadows Campground, on the left, you turn inbetween some tall bushes and there are two campsites right on the river with big trees. It is awesome. Probably better when it warms up a bit. Might be snow in that elevation now.

    • Becky on March 22, 2018 at 12:17 pm

      Hello Cindi, thanks for sharing.

      We did some driving around and spotted at least two of the numbered camps. Sadly they’re all still closed (gated off) this time of year. Instead we saw a couple die-hards camping in the day-use areas along 99 as those were open. I bet they are beautiful once they open up!

  10. Rhonda on March 22, 2018 at 10:01 am

    AND what an incredibly beautiful post! All your photos are lovely, Becky, and I got a smile out of this…”but saying it’s haunted is more fun”. I also laughed out loud at your inference to Joni “living in a van down by the river”. It reminded me of a line from my favorite television show of all time: Northern Exposure (you are probably too young to remember that one, but it was the best if one enjoys “quirky”). Maggie’s wealthy, high falootin’ mother comes to Alaska to visit. At one point she tells Maggie…”I don’t know, dear, I just wish you’d do something with your life.” To which Maggie states, deadpan…”Mother, I am a bush pilot. In Alaska.”….So good for Joni living in a van down by the river and good for you to keep sharing your wonderful adventures with those of us who remain, for whatever reason, tethered to the lazyboy. Bravo on this post, Becky!

    • Becky on March 22, 2018 at 12:10 pm

      Thanks Rhonda (and Ron).

      Yes, I feel like I’ve achieved some sort of life goal by proxy by being with Joni down by the river. Since I don’t have a van myself this will have to do. 😛

      I’ve heard of Northern Exposure but haven’t watched it. It sounds like a fun show! I’m glad you enjoyed this post.

    • Angelack on March 22, 2018 at 12:36 pm

      “Living in a van, down by the river” is always a favorite. I’m sure we can all picture the SNL skit in our heads right now. I agree Rhonda, Northern Exposure was a fantastic show.

  11. Ron on March 21, 2018 at 11:08 pm

    What an incredibly beautiful spot.

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