The Tehachapi Loop

As a soon-to-be-father of twin boys, I sometimes catch myself thinking about what I used to do when I was a heck of a lot younger than I feel right now – searching for ways to amuse them, so their mother and I don't go totally footloose bozo. A long trip to grandma's house, anyone?

One of my earliest recollections is of my great-grandfather taking me down to the Truxtun overpass to watch the trains. I don't know what it is about kids and trains, but the strength of that attraction is superseded only by the power of the locomotives themselves.

Some of us never outgrew it.

Kern County is fortunate to enjoy one of the world's greatest engineering marvels. The Tehachapi Loop is considered a Mecca for railroad enthusiasts. It's also a great place to unleash your inner child and remember a time when trains hauled your imagination instead of cargo.

Constructed in 1876, the loop solved a major problem – how to get trains up between the desert and valley through the steep mountains near Tehachapi. The solution was a section of track that runs just short of three-quarters of a mile that manages to loop back on itself as it makes the climb. Check this out: a train more than 4,000 feet long (that's roughly 85 boxcars) actually crosses back over itself as the creatively-named Tunnel Nine (it was the ninth in a series) bores 77 feet below the upper section of track.

A chance to view such an occurrence is a railroad buff's Holy Grail. Since this is the world's busiest single-track line, your odds are pretty good. The spectacular scenery doesn't stink either.

The loop sits at a spot dubbed Walong, named for Southern Pacific Railroad District Roadmaster W. A. Long. Granted, this isn't your typical tourist spot.  The nearest snacks are three miles away in Keene, and the closest concentration of gas and food opportunities are about 15 minutes up the road in Tehachapi, but the isolation is worth the drive. Visit a local proprietor, pack a lunch, and stay awhile.

If you haven't been there before, the loop can be tricky to find. Take the Keene exit from Highway 58 and turn north to Woodford-Tehachapi Road. A right turn here sends you in the right direction. Turn right and go about a mile to a spot where the road joins the tracks.

There are access points to tracks along the entire route, but be cautious. There's plenty of private property in the area, and trespassers area about as welcome as Terrell Owens at Donovan McNabb's house. A good (and safe) vantage point is the site of the Tehachapi Loop historical marker.

Located roughly three and a half miles from Keene on the left side of the road (assuming you followed my directions), the marker proclaims the loop to be a California Registered Historical Landmark and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

In my book, both designations are rather cool in a Casey Jones sort of way.

Weekends are the best time to ogle. Saturday is prime viewing time with up to 40 trains making the slow trek. They're also more spread out than on weekdays, when work traffic mandates windows of lesser activity.

A great source of information on these and other Tehachapi-area locations is the Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce (661. 822.4180 or www.Tehachapi.com). For even more to see and do in Kern County, check out the Kern County Board of Trade's tourism web site at www.VisitKern.com.

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