River Conditions

WhiteWater Voyages Media Articles

May 24, 2006
Los Angeles Daily News

A River Runs Past It

Rafting draws most to the Kern Valley, but there's plenty more to it

By TOM HOFFARTH, Staff Writer

Kernville --

White Water RaftingYou can't always look at everything around here as a black-or-whitewater issue.

No one's arguing the fact that there are plenty of times when we simply must find the nearest off-ramp from the traffic jams that tie up our Southern California's freeways and ramp up to the rapid transit system of Kern Valley, anchoring the Southern Sierras some three hours to the north and just a slight detour east of Bakersfield.

Then, you must agree to put yourself shoulder-to-shoulder in an eight-person raft, without seatbelts but with a tightened life vest, and make the jousting journey on some of the 60 miles or so of waterways that divert every which way around Lake Isabella and its reservoir. It's an experience that can hardly be duplicated at Disneyland's California Adventure.

Even the aqua-phobic realizes the wetter, the better. Putting the paddle to the water and trying to coordinate an all-out assault on a naturally bustling thoroughfare is too real to settle for some kind of amusement park simulation. The scenery itself is worth the ride.

Take it from a first-timer here. Nature's roller coaster will take your breath away, then give it back in time for a loud scream.

But even though tens of thousands of visitors seek out the Kern River rush with rafts and kayaks each year - even Rebecca Giddens, the 2004 Olympic silver medallist in the kayak whitewater slalom race, lives here year 'round - we do realize it ain't for everyone.

For those who aren't so keen on signing your life away in a waiver form, or if you're just looking for something that doesn't necessarily involve drenching yourself with recently melted ice, Kern Valley has come up with plenty of anti-adrenalin rush alternatives - even less extreme than lake kayaking, windsurfing, hiking, mountain bike riding and rock climbing in the nearby Sequoia National Forest to pass a summer's day.

If you're the only one in the group who has agreed to make the Isabella area jaunt this Memorial Day weekend with absolutely no desire to submerge yourself, try emerging yourself in things that lower the pulse rate, seem more level-headed, and are far more drip-dry:


The only menacing water hazard on the nine-hole Kern Valley Country Club is Jake's Pond off the right of the first tee box. But if your shanked Top Flight ends up there, you'll need more than a life preserver to fish it out.

Right off CA-155 (Burlando Road) in Kernville, the 3,244-yard course has plenty of trees to navigate around, but you'll quickly find that the mountain elevation does add a little distance. The scenic surroundings can be breathtaking, especially in the late afternoons.

Course general manager Roger Fagan knows he may have one of the best kept secrets in the area, especially with just $12 green fees for walking, on weekends and holidays ($18 with a cart) and as the twilight rates take effect, it drops to as low as $11 on weekdays. There are memberships open for residents as well as non-residents that add to the value.


Everything you gleaned from the Brad Pitt flick "A River Runs Through It" can be applied here, without necessarily having to go wading into the still waters of the Upper or Lower Kern rivers, the South Fork and Lake Isabella to pluck out the native golden trout.

Guy Jeans, who runs the Kern River Fly Fishing Guide Service with his wife Raquel, is the go-to guy, a Montana Clark Fork River Fly Fishing Guide School graduate and, with 16 years in the Kern River area, a contributor to the Kern Valley Sun newspaper.

"Just think of this as golf: You learn the technique, then repeat it, then practice it, and you'll get it," Jeans said.

Catch and release is Jeans' philosophy. A two- to three hour introductory class with six different fly casts and all the equipment runs $100. Intermediate fly casting classes go for $50 a person, or a two-hour class on nymphing techniques that includes basic entomology of the river is $100. Four- and eight-hour trips are also available, even for beginners ($200 per person, with $50 each additional).


It's just one branch of what the Kern River Preserve offers, but a walk on this wild(life) side is one of its most popular activities, with self-guided trails and volumes of reading material.

The five bioregions that come together in the area provide a rare experience for nature lovers, says Laurie Robinson, the program's administrator for the Audubon studies. Two endangered species - the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo - nest in the area, and many also come to spy on the Summer Tanager. There's even a Turkey Vulture Festival in late September.


Gold mining was the region's main industry in the 1850s, and there is plenty of digging for that and other precious minerals such as opals, crystals, turquoise, jasper, copper and silver from the dry wash, dredges and slices around the region, mostly in the Keyesville area on the south fork of the Kern.

Phil Lawyer, who operates his guided-tour company, insists there is still plenty of gold to be sifted out, where SUVs with GPS systems can now get to that were formerly unreachable. He has a 110- acre claim where he will take groups (by appointment only) to pan for four-hour periods of time for $35 each. No surprise if they come out with enough to cover some of their expenses.

"The kids seem to enjoy it most," said Lawyer, "and this gold is much better than if you went to Knotts Berry Farm."


Beyond just saddling up for a lazy nature walk, the Kern Valley Trail Rides outfit has transformed it into a history lesson. The trips, from one to four hours ($45 to $115 per person), observe Indian land and gold mine paths, the old city of Keyesville and some of its buildings that still stand from the 1790s. On the three-hour tour, a visit to the old cemetery is included. The four-hour trip includes a splashy ride through the Kern River.

Just keep your legs up.


OK, so it's more of a touristy thing to do. But considering there were so many Hollywood Westerns filmed in the area, this is where the actual stagecoach from the 1939 John Wayne classic flick "Stagecoach" is housed.

And there's no getting soaked on the admission price. It's free.

© 2006 Los Angeles Newspaper Group


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