Part of California’s Transverse Ranges, the Tehachapi Mountains of Kern and Los Angeles counties cut an east-to-west divide between the fertile San Joaquin Valley to the north and the inhospitable Mojave Desert to the south. Cresting between 4,000 and 8,000 feet, they connect to the mighty Sierra Nevada to the east, and to the Sierra Pelona and San Emigdio Mountains to the west.
Anyone who has traveled I-5 between Northern and Southern California knows the Tehachapis – at least the western terminus of the range. Tejon Pass – the precipitous climb known colloquially as “the Grapevine” – marks place where the Tehachipis join the San Emigdio Mountains. The Grapevine is one of the oldest continually used passes in California, with a pre-Columbian history going back hundreds – if not thousands – of years. “El Camino Viejo” the Spanish called the route – the Old Way.
The Tehachapi Pass, which marks the eastern end of the range, has an equally venerable history and is the site of the main line of the old Southern Pacific Railway (now owned by Union Pacific). Today, 40 trains a day traverse the famous Tehachapi Loop – a landmark of civil engineering completed in 1876 – making it one of the busiest single-track mainlines in the world.
The Kawiisu people are one of several Native American tribes that have inhabited the Tehachapi mountains. Hunters and gatherers, they roamed between the desert and the mountains depending upon the season, and lived in villages of 60 to 100 people. The name “Tehachapi” may come from the native Kawaiisu word “tihachipia” – translated as “hard climb.”
“When you feel lost or depressed — when the ground shifts beneath your feet — when you pull down into the depths of yourself to face the demons there, you are the heroine gone underground. It might take days or weeks or months or years but eventually you rise, stronger for the broken places.” Justine Musk