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Seasons in the Wind : Tehachapi's spinning turbines--a major source of electricity--add to the picturesque landscape. And the weather changes, too.

October 14, 1994|REBECCA HOWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Rebecca Howard is a frequent contributor to The Times

TEHACHAPI — Before you reach the fruit orchards of Tehachapi, you'll see groves of windmills along the Antelope Valley Freeway past Mojave, a testimony to the area's harvesting of a different energy source.

The Tehachapi-Mojave area is one of the world's largest producers of wind-generated electricity, and the hundreds of spinning turbines stand like sentries guarding the land where the desert meets the mountains.

Veering off the freeway and heading northwest on California 58, you'll notice the winds start to lose their burning edge during the 17-mile drive. The desert begins to fade away as the elevation rises. The land takes on a pastoral feel, with green mountains swelling up to relieve the eyes.

Tehachapi is called "the land of four seasons," boasting snowy winters and mild summers. The 20-degree drop in temperature is reason enough to drive the 100 miles north of the San Fernando Valley. Festivals, outdoor recreation and historical sites provide an alluring getaway as well.

The tiny town of Tehachapi sits in the Tehachapi Mountains. It was founded when the railroad went through the pass between the San Joaquin Valley and the desert to the east. Railroad enthusiasts may want to check out the Tehachapi Loop, 10 miles north of the town. The loop was completed in 1876, allowing trains through the valley to cut over the Tehachapi Mountains. Take California 58 to Woodford-Tehachapi Road and journey three miles to the Loop Viewpoint.

Since the first apple orchards were planted in the 1880s, the area also has been known for its cherries, pears, peaches, raspberries and squash. In addition, Tehachapi has been the site of the California Institute for Women, the 1952 Tehachapi earthquake and the Monolith-Portland Cement Co.

Celebrating harvest time, Tehachapi's October Applefest last weekend included an array of fresh apples, as well as apple pies, candied apples, apple crisp and other apple dishes, in addition to a plethora of arts and crafts.

You can still get an autumn feel from the many orchards in the area--and there are 1,200 acres of them--devoted to fruit production. Local orchards offer a chance to pick your own apples, and some apple farms offer the chance to browse among baked goods, jellies, cider, crafts and other gifts. A guide to area orchards may be picked up at the Tehachapi Museum or from the local chamber of commerce.

The town of Tehachapi during non-festival time is pleasantly sleepy, especially on a Sunday, when many shops are closed. In the downtown area along Tehachapi Boulevard, gift shops and antique stores offer relaxed browsing.

On a side street off Tehachapi Boulevard, you can renew or buy licenses to hunt deer, bear, dove, quail, chukar (an Asian and European partridge) or wild pig. You're not in the big city anymore.

The Tehachapi Museum, 310 S. Green St., although small, houses an interesting array of items to illustrate the history of the area. These include a femur from a giant mammoth, tiny school desks from 1910, old photographs, a safe with its door blown off from a robbery, one of the first gasoline-powered tractors and the model of a hut used by Tehachapi's first residents, the Native American Kawaiisu tribe.

Several cafes in this shopping district, such as Kelcy's Restaurant on Tehachapi Boulevard, provide a small-town atmosphere and home-style food. More healthful offerings may be found at Apple Jack's Yogurt Plaza Cafe.

If you'd like a more sophisticated lunch, Sky Mountain Lodge in Stallion Springs, about 16 miles northwest of Tehachapi, has a restaurant in a lodge-type setting with views of the mountains.

The Sky Mountain Resort includes a golf course, horseback riding, biking and various hiking trails. The "Top of the World" hike is about three miles long and somewhat strenuous, but offers good views of the surrounding valleys.

Every August the town holds its annual Mountain Festival, featuring a parade, barbecue and food booths, an arts and crafts show in the city park, a rodeo, musicians, dances and a potentially world-record-setting cow-chip toss.

The Tehachapi area offers a number of other outdoor recreation options. Brite Lake is open for fishing and camping from April through November. Tehachapi Mountain Park is a tree-filled area perfect for camping, picnicking or walking.

The winds harnessed by the wind turbines also serve recreational needs. For example, those interested in trying a sailplane can visit Fantasy Haven Airport to feel the free-flowing effects of a ride in one of the small aircraft.

"The closest feeling to riding in the sailplane is that of sailing," said one airport employee. For $30 to $70, you can spend from 10 to 30 minutes in the front of the sailplane, with an experienced sailplane operator in the seat behind you controlling the flight once the sailplane is released from the power plane that towed it.

And on a clear day, it may be the ideal way to get a good perspective of Tehachapi and beyond.

Where to Go

What: Information on Tehachapi.

Call: Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce, (805) 822-4180 or Tehachapi Museum, (805) 822-8152.

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