Summer-Ending Last Blast to the Kern River — Cooling Off in the Kern a Quick, Chilling Experience

August 21, 2009
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Brett's crash landing.

Brett's crash landing.

On your way to Kernville, driving east on 178 out of Bakersfield, you eventually encounter Kern Canyon. Greeting you at the entrance is a large sign showing the number (248) of lives claimed by the Kern River since 1968. In what’s become a summer-time tradition, the Kern County Sheriff’s Department updates the gruesome count as a reminder to river adventurers that the “Killer Kern” is armed and dangerous and not to be taken lightly.


Sure enough on Tuesday, Aug. 18, when I bought three river-running tubes for me and my two sons, Ryan and Brett, in a downtown Kernville river-rafting shop (KRV Novelty), there on the counter were the names of six people who had drowned this year in the Kern — six seemingly the annual average. Undeterred, we inflated our three tubes, strung them together and stuffed them into our 2001 Chevy Camaro for the short, half-mile drive to our campsite at the Rivernook Campground ($35 a night, plus $5 for each additional person – 760-376-2705).


Although the sun was setting fast, we dragged out three tubes to the river’s edge and plunged in without helmets or life jackets. It’s not that we were brave or foolish. The river simply wasn’t the nasty, boiling menace seen rushing over tank-size boulders in April and May. Rather, it was a lamb of a current with few gurgles and hisses. On our half-mile float back into town, it was as if we were running the streets of Pamplona without the bulls.


Still, each bend of the river was delightful. We glided past anglers and peeked into the tents of the riverside campers. (I got dumped once, and while it was nothing, my brief submersion did give me new respect for the river and show just how quickly an accident can occur.) Even though it was dusk, the furnace-like winds gusting up the canyon took the chill out of the river. We saw a red-tailed hawk sweep across the sky. Emerging from the river back at the bridge, in the business district, we ate dinner at the Pizza Barn. Fittingly, we ordered the large White Water pizza, which included pepperoni, diced ham, mushrooms, green peppers, red onions and Italian sausage ($25.83), which included a large salad from the salad bar we piled high and split three ways. No shirts, no problems. We were men of the river, after all.


044Having tamed the river, despite the ugly statistics, we searched for higher adventure the next day. We heard of a natural water slide about an hour north of Kernville. The trouble was, nobody knew exactly how to reach it. Only after somebody overhead me asking for directions in the Johnsondale (now R-Ranch) market, 26 miles north of Kernville, did we finally feel like we were on our way. About a half mile north of Johnsondale, there’s a fork in the road. The left fork leads to the Trail of 100 Giants – a grove of giant sequoias – while the right fork leads to the slide. Continue up the right road about six miles, passing four camps, Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4, and the Whitsett Boy Scout Camp. Proceed until you see a yellow and black road sign of a walker/pedestrian/hiker. At the first pullout (trailhead?), pull in and park. Lock your car, cross the road to a green gate and hike in about 20 minutes along a wide fire road that has a slight upgrade. The approach was dusty and hot, but not so long to start water rationing.


Finally, before the trail swung decidedly left to a dead-end (yes, you’ve gone too far), we cut down an embankment of boulders and found our destination — a natural slip and slide that plunged into a skin-bracing seven-foot deep water hole that felt like our own private paradise. We shared the slide with one other couple, whom we had actually met in the pull out and told they had indeed reached the right place to begin their hike. Click on the Reel People video to see footage of the slide taken by other hikers. YouTube also has a slick video of some crazies pushing it to the extreme at For some reason, I couldn’t get it to load on LaVerneOnline. Anyway, it’s a cool place to hang for an hour or an entire day. Every time you need to cool off from the scorching sun, just take another dip into the icy, black pool. Stretch out, dry, tan and dip. Repeat.


On the way home, we took the 10-mile side excursion to see the 100 Giants (it costs $5 to park). The giants make up the second most southern grove where giant sequoias are found. How was I supposed to pass that up? The largest tree in the grove has a diameter of 20 feet and is 220 feet in height. It is estimated the age of the trees in the grove are between 500 and 1500 years old.

Ryan takes the plunge.

Ryan takes the plunge.



On the way back to Kernville from the Giants and our hard-to-find swimming hole is McNally’s, home of the 44-ounce Logger Porterhouse steak that some people say is better than Morton’s. We ordered hamburgers from the almost equally famous McNally’s hamburger stand at a fraction of the price (between $20 and $25, which included a chocolate Dryer’s shake), and we told ourselves they were just as delicious as the great steaks we never tasted. All of the Yelp reviews I read about McNally’s put the steak house on a pedestal. I’ll just have to go back with my wife for the steaks. McNally’s is 15 Miles NE of Kernville on Sierra Way (Mt 99). It’s mailing address: HC 1 Box 95, Kernville, CA 93238. The lodge phone number is (760) 376-2430. The Fairfield campground is also nearby for hermits who don’t feel they need to be close to town.


Finally back in Kernville, we dropped Ryan at the Rivernook while Brett and I went shopping at James Sierra Gate Market, where we loaded up on Keystone beer and firewood ($5 a faggot). Truthfully, this store has everything — groceries, fresh produce, camping equipment, a meat counter, touristy gifts and fishing tips. If only I had stopped there first when I went searching for directions to slide rock. The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable.


Post burger syndrome at McNally's.

Post burger syndrome at McNally's.

Back at camp, we cooked spaghetti, split a New York strip three ways, munched on a pre-packaged Caesar salad, and Ryan and I killed the last of the Kernville Coolers, a new drink we invented to commemorate summer’s last blast (Hennessy cognac and red ice tea from Cosco).


Unfortunately, on our abbreviated trip, Ryan and Brett didn’t get to wake up to the smells of bacon and eggs crisping on the griddle. Somehow, the regulator (that invaluable arm connecting your fuel source to your stove) was missing. (Please check all your camping gear BEFORE leaving on your trip.) On Wednesday, I bought one ($21) from Archie’s Hardware in Kernville, which was nice enough to tell me to bring it back for a full refund if it wasn’t the right size. So we had to rough it by going into town for breakfast both days. For a small town, there are several places to eat breakfast. We tried Cheryl’s the first day ($29.98 with tip) and the Cracked Egg the next ($23.73 with tip). We gave the nod to the Cracked Egg. Its mushroom and avocado egg scramble with choice of either hash browns, home fries or o brian potatoes with toast or biscuits and gravy was a steal at $5.45. Of course, Brett, not liking mushrooms, went for the standard bacon and cheese omelet for another buck or so. Portions were large.


With not an inch to spare, with our gear not as neatly packed as when we had left, we somehow stuffed ourselves back into the Camaro, and drove home — masters of the River, admirers of the 100 Giants and new members of the secret swimming-hole society. In less than 48 hours we had managed our escape from Southern California and we’re now ready to face the new challenges of the fall — 8 a.m. engineering classes for Brett, CPA exams for Ryan and for me, building a bigger, better and more fascinating for readers.


Send us the stories and accounts of your fast 48-hour- or-less getaways that you found refreshing and reinvigorating.


Fast Facts


Trip Distance – 190 miles

Travel Time – 3 hour, 35 minutes


One Response to “Summer-Ending Last Blast to the Kern River — Cooling Off in the Kern a Quick, Chilling Experience”

  1. Dear Mr. Bennett,

    Your articles are more than informative, entertaining and well written. I look forward to La Verne Online every week.

    I thank you for your dedication in publishing an outstanding community
    news site.

    Continued success !!

    Rosalie Di Noto

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