Halfway up the dusty dirt road that winds past Drunkard's Hill in Lockwood Valley, Bea Anderson gives a sharp yelp.
"George, there's a rattler," she says, pointing out the window of the couple's carpeted, four-wheel-drive International Scout. "Did you bring your gun?"
Anderson, who is president of the Lockwood Valley Homeowners Assn., has left his rifle at their ranch-style mobile home. But quicker than you can say "Wild Wild West," he leaps out of the Jeep and starts whacking at the hissing, slithering reptile with a wooden club.
Since the last grizzly bear in this area lumbered off to parts unknown some 80 years ago, 4-foot rattlesnakes are about the only lethal fauna faced by this mountain community of about 300 souls off Interstate 5 in the northeast tip of Ventura County.
Shoehorned between Kern County to the east, Los Angeles County to the south and the Los Padres National Forest all around, Lockwood Valley is the most remote outpost in Ventura County, more than a mile above sea level and light-years removed in geography and spirit from the rest of the county.
"What goes on in Ventura along the coastal area doesn't affect us at all," says Lockwood Valley resident Pete Liebl, who teaches third grade in nearby Frazier Park and moonlights as a turkey farmer. "What happens across the county line in Kern affects us much, much more."
Lockwood Valley children go to school in Kern County rather than make the tortuous, 174-mile round-trip daily bus ride down California 33 to the nearest Ventura County school in Ojai. Lockwood Valley's mailing address is Frazier Park, 13 miles away in Kern County. For big-ticket and agricultural items, many residents shop in Bakersfield, 68 miles north along Interstate 5.
But whatever its civic leanings, Lockwood Valley doesn't welcome the encroachment of civilization. And today, its residents are increasingly concerned that the revving of motorcycles may soon replace the sound of wind whistling through the pinon pines of their cherished valley.
Earl Smith, a Santa Barbara entrepreneur who founded the American Roadracing Assn., a private motorcycle racing club, recently bought 640 open acres in Lockwood Valley and wants to build a 1.5-mile concourse, a beginners' off-road course, an RV park and a picnic area that would draw up to 300 people each weekend.
That's 300 people too many, according to most locals.
"It's a 2-lane road in and out of here, and Lord knows we have enough accidents already," says Lloyd Richards, who moved to Lockwood Valley two years ago from Granada Hills.
Not only that, but a race track "would bring in a lot of bad elements," reasons longtime resident Candy Card, who has a 6-year-old daughter and was drawn here by "the country atmosphere, clean air, mountains and trees."
Smith, who owns a vacuum cleaner shop in Santa Barbara, doesn't understand all the fuss.
"It will be a simple little paved race track," says Smith, who plans to live on the property. "It will be hidden from view, and there will be sound limitations. I want it to be like a park setting."
The motorcycle maven says he plans to submit a proposal to the Ventura County Planning Department by month's end, but already, opposition is brewing as residents circulate a petition against the race track and rally the support of County Supervisor Maggie Erickson, who represents the area.
In an interview, Erickson says she hasn't seen a plan but doubts that a race track would be appropriate for Lockwood Valley. "It certainly isn't something at this point that I would like to support," she adds.
But Erickson agrees that the proposed race track is the biggest thing to hit Lockwood Valley since 1972, when the county flirted with the idea of allowing a developer to build about 5,000 houses there. The proposal would have sent 20,000 people pouring into the back lands of Ventura County and required the county to spend millions on roads, schools, sewers and water lines.
County officials and planning documents indicate that the subdivision failed to get off the ground because it wasn't economically feasible and because the area lacked water.
Currently, residents must drill their own water wells before the county allows them to build. Most of the land is zoned for open or agricultural space and the county requires 2.5-acre minimum plots and steep fees for building, sewer, water well and other permits.
Ron Blevins, a real estate broker from nearby Gorman, says the pricey permits--which can run from $5,000 to $9,000--discourage many folks from building in Ventura County. Just a stone's throw away in Kern County, however, the same permits run about $1,000.
Talk of Secession
That inequity, plus the general feeling of isolation from the rest of Ventura County, leads to a fair amount of grumbling. Occasionally, the discontent flares up and people get to talking about seceding from Ventura County and scooting over into Kern.