California Desert trips,interesting places to visit: ghost towns, old mines, lost treasure, personalities and bits of the old west


The desert is sort of my second home. The places described below are special and worth visiting provided you know the story. That's what this blog is all about. Now I have tried as best I can to be factual but sometimes you hate to let facts get in the way of a good yarn.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Piute Mountains via Jawbone Canyon

John Kelso hauled merchandise and mining equipment between Los Angeles and the new mines discovered along the Kern River in the 1850s. His route took him through Jawbone and Hoffman canyons to Kelso Valley. From there, he headed north to the Kern River area. In the 1930s, a narrow road was cut along a ridge line to avoid the, often impassable, Hoffman Canyon defile. Though rough in spots, Kern County has maintained the Jawbone / Kelso route in such condition that even low-riders can make it most of the way.

Before you take the trip that I have outlined below, I suggest that you stop at the BLM Information Center and purchase a map titled, “Off-Highway Vehicle Riding Areas and Trails” (OHV Map).

A scenic road trip for all non-snowing seasons:

Leave Highway 14 at the BLM Information Center (N 35°17.737’; W 118° 00.390’) and enter to the Jawbone Off-Highway Open Area. According to the description on the OHV Map, “Riding is allowed anywhere within this area which includes nearly five miles of sand wash, steep hill climbs and many miles of novice trails” Watch for motorcycles and quads. On three-day weekends, they’re everywhere.

Continue on past Blue Point a bluish copper colored rock formation that … worth a visit.

Take a right when you reach the cattle gate and head (right) up a sandy wash 1.3 miles to where the road turns sharply to the east and hairpins up to the ridge line. Stop when you get to a clear spot and take note of the scenic desert panorama with Blue Point in the foreground. The road is very narrow in places with steep sides so look out for cars coming the other way. Continue north on the ridge to where the road trends to the west (your left).

The road continues to Kelso Valley. Watch for cattle crossing or just standing and blocking the road. This segment passes through Joshua tree woodlands, a transition zone between desert and mountain vegetation.

At the junction with Kelso Valley Road, continue on Jawbone Road. From here, you’ll start climbing into the Piute Mountain Range. It’s narrow in places with a number of switch-backs. In other words, it will be a bit slow so take your time and enjoy the view. Geographically you are in the Sequoia National Forest at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. When you reach the intersection with Piute Mountain Road it will be time to stop and have lunch. The early mining camp of Claraville was located near here.

Take Piute Mountain Road east (to your right) and cross Landers Meadow. In a few miles you will reach the edge of the forest and begin rapidly descending into Kelso Valley – a drop of 2,500 feet in less than three miles. Watch for sharp twist and turns. In the 1860s, this stretch was referred to as the “St. John Grade” and posed a difficult reach for wagon teams hauling freight to mines located north of Claraville. In a few places you can see the old trail.

At the intersection with Kelso Valley Road you have a number of options:: A) go back south (right turn) to Jawbone Road; B) turn left and proceed to Highway 178, or C) take the scenic Bird Springs Road (see OHV map) and at the Los Angeles Aqueduct turn to your left and take the Aqueduct Road (north) to Highway 178. Consult your OHV map for other options down to Highway 14.

If you go north on Kelso Valley Road, take a right (east) at the intersection with Highway 178. From Here the road takes you over Walker Pass and down to Highway 14.


Placer gold was discovered in the Piute Mountains in 1861 and soon the Mount Sinai mining district was formed. By 1865, shafts, tunnels and stamp mills dotted the landscape and near the center of these activities a small community took form named Claraville. Typical of the time, it had hotel, general store, boarding house, a number of saloons and an assortment of other buildings. The Bright Star Mine was about the only profitable operation in the district. The community was not well positioned for success as most of the mines and prospect holes failed to produce enough gold to make wage. As a result, prospectors, placer miners and camp followers soon pulled up stakes and moved on to new finds. It has been reported that by 1869, Claraville had become a ghost town. In later years, some of the buildings were moved to Bakersfield Pioneer Village and for a short time during the 1930s some small mining activity resumed.


Sageland arrived almost overnight following the discovery of placer gold along Kelso Creek in 1866. The lively camp had all of the businesses that you would expect to find topped-off with an opera house. The population reached 500 at its peak and dwindled to less than 100 by 1870. The town site is located on fenced private property along the north-west side of Kelso Creek immediately north of Piute Mountain Road.


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