California Flying

Sun and fun in Bakersfield

June 1, 2005

If Col. Thomas Baker hadn't drained off the alluvial plain formed by seasonal flooding of the Kern River as it flowed down out of the southern Sierra Nevada and Tehachapi Mountains, would Buck Owens have been able to build the Crystal Palace? Now, that's a Bakersfield question.

Bakersfield, a city of nearly 250,000 residents, is located near the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. At one time, Bakersfield had a reputation as a hard-drinking, fighting kind of town that grew up from its oil patch and cowboy roots. Song titles by native son (and country music legend) Merle Haggard such as Workin' Man Blues, Mama Tried, It's Not Love (But It's Not Bad), and Bottle Let Me Down paint a picture of Bakersfield in the 1950s and 1960s. Buck Owens, another Bakersfield country music icon, along with Haggard, Tommy Collins, and Wynn Stewart created Bakersfield Sound in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They were trailblazers in the use of Fender solid-body electric guitars in country music. As a result, in some parts of the state Bakersfield still has the image of a wild, rowdy, cowboy-stomping, hard-drinking, Friday-night-fighting kind of place. A recent visit proved that Bakersfield still likes its country music and loud, fast race cars, but there's a lot more that Bakersfield has to offer fly-in visitors.

Where?

Bakersfield is in the southern end of California's San Joaquin Valley. Bakersfield Municipal Airport (above) is on the south end of town. Meadows Field, Kern County's largest airport at 1,400 acres, is situated seven miles north of downtown Bakersfield.

The Kern County Museum

The Kern County Museum was founded more than 60 years ago with a charter to collect, preserve, research, and present the history and culture of Kern County — and it has done all of that. Located under the final approach to Bakersfield's big airport — Meadows Field — on a 16-acre site north of downtown are two large buildings, a gift shop, and 56 restored original buildings from around the county. The buildings vary from a one-room undertaker's building to the magnificent and fully restored Queen Anne-style Howell House, which was built in 1891.

The first building that was moved to the museum grounds was the Barnes Log Cabin, built in 1869 by Thomas Barnes of logs and lumber that had washed down the Kern River. The Kern County Courthouse and Jail building was used from 1867 to 1874 in Havilah. A model of efficiency, the courthouse occupied the top floor while the local miscreants occupied jail cells on the first floor. Havilah was a boom town during the gold-rush years in Kern County.

One of the most fascinating exhibits features early production tools used in pre-twentieth-century oil-field drilling and production. Standing tall between the green grass of the grounds and the blue skies is a reproduction of a wooden cable tool-drilling derrick that is typical of equipment used after the Kern River oil field discovery of 1899. Alongside is a jack-line, or jack, plant. By using long belts, large flywheels, and eccentric cable-pulling drive wheels, a single natural-gas-burning one-cylinder engine actuated a number of nearby grasshopper oil pumps. And check out those grasshopper pumps — except for a few parts they're built almost totally of wood.

The Lori Brock Children's Discovery Center and the Main Museum are near the entrance and are air conditioned for a little relief on those days when Bakersfield gets hot and dusty.

The details incorporated into each building flesh out the details of life in Bakersfield from its earliest days.

Two airports

Bakersfield is served by two airports. The larger one, Meadows Field, is north of town and is served by large airplanes such as the FedEx's DC-10 freighters and other turbine-powered aircraft. But it's also home to several general aviation companies that are capable of installing avionics, performing maintenance, and providing flight training while treating visitors with care and attention. There are two parallel runways and every kind of approach that's still on the menu.

Bakersfield Municipal Airport is an untowered airport on the south end of town. With one 4,000-by-75-foot runway, this airport provides an alternative to the big airport and is served by two nonprecision approaches (VOR/DME and GPS). The municipal airport requests that pilots taking off from Runway 34 turn left 20 degrees after established in their climb to keep the neighbors from complaining about noise. Rental cars can be obtained at both airports.

Fliers into the Bakersfield Class D airspace will need to contact Bakersfield Approach on 126.45 MHz within 10 miles for service. Unfortunately, neither airport has an on-field café.

The San Joaquin Valley is famous for tule fog — more technically known as radiation or ground fog — which often blankets large areas of the valley during the fall and winter months. According to Nathan Enns, manager of the Inland Flight Training Center at Meadows Field, this fog isn't too much of a problem for a prepared instrument-rated pilot since it is usually less than 1,000 feet thick with bases above ILS minimums. The fog typically occurs from late October through late January or early February. According to Enns, the only other flying hazard in the Bakersfield area is haze that can reduce forward visibilities to less than VFR minimums during the dog days of summer.

Bakersfield hints

The Greater Bakersfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, located in the center of town at 601 Truxton Avenue, will aid all visitors to the Bakersfield area.

In addition to the Kern County Museum briefly described above, Bakersfield is home to attractions such as Buck Owens' Crystal Palace Steakhouse and music hall, restaurants featuring Basque food, the Bakersfield Museum of Art, and Nascar racing at the Mesa Marin Raceway. There's also drag racing at the Famoso Raceway — one of the oldest drag-racing tracks in the valley. Don't get caught up in the stereotypes of yesteryear — there's a lot to discover in Bakersfield.


Links to more information on flying to Bakersfield may be found on AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/pilots/links.shtml).