The text of this guide was written for attendees of Windpower 98 conference in Bakersfield, California. I updated the material in spring 2001.–Paul Gipe
Tehachapi is about one hour’s drive from Bakersfield east on Highway 58. The wind turbines are visible immediately upon entering the Tehachapi Valley and are about 15-20 minutes’ drive distant.
Tune Radio to 1610 AM
Tune your car radio to 1610 AM, Tehachapi’s own Highway Advisory radio station, for more information about the wind turbines of the Tehachapi Pass.
In the United States nearly all land is private and closed to public use unless posted otherwise. Please respect private property and don’t climb over fences or drive beyond closed gates. The best way to walk among the wind turbines on your own is to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.
Pacific Crest Trail
There are trailheads for the Pacific Crest Trail along Cameron Road. One is at the junction of Cameron Road and Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road on the southwest end, and another is along Cameron Road near the railroad tracks on the northeast end. For the best views and the easiest walking, follow the trail northeast from the junction of Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road and Cameron Road toward Cameron Ridge.
Don’t park alongside Highway 58, Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road, or other thoroughfares. You may be ticketed. There are several areas where you can pull off the roadway to watch the wind turbines. There is an access road on the north side of the summit at Oak Creek Pass where you can park. (Be careful pulling back onto Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road as there’s very poor line-of-sight.) You can also park at the easternmost end of Tehachapi Boulevard. There’s also a parking area used by commuters near the interchange of Tehachapi Boulevard and Highway 58. And there’s a large parking area at the SeaWest site off of Oak Creek Road.
You can make a loop through the bulk of Tehachapi’s wind development by taking the third (Tehachapi-Monolith) exit and following Tehachapi Boulevard one mile to Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road. Turn right onto Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road and follow it over Oak Creek Pass. Continue down the other side of the pass to the intersection with Cameron Road. From here you can turn left (north) on Cameron Road and follow it through Cameron Canyon. Or, you can continue on Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road to Oak Creek’s wind plant.
Cameron Road intersects with Highway 58. You can take Highway 58 back to Tehachapi to complete the loop or head east toward Mojave.
If you turn east, continue on Highway 58 into the crossroads town of Mojave. At the junction of Oak Creek Road (not well marked) turn right (west). Take Oak Creek Road till it intersects with Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road. Turn right and follow Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road back to Tehachapi over Oak Creek Pass.
Highway 58 eastbound crosses the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions. The road passes irrigated orange groves, vineyards, and fields of cotton, carrots, and potatoes. (Kern County is the United States’ largest producer of carrots.) There are also numerous oil fields. Look for nodding pump jacks alongside the highway.
Climbing the Tehachapi Mountains
The roadway crosses flood-damaged Caliente Creek before surmounting a block of foothills bordering the Tehachapi Mountains. The road descends the foothills to cross the White Wolf Fault at the base of Bear Mountain, epicenter of the 1952 earthquake that leveled the town of Tehachapi. Look south (right) to see the linear trace of the fault and the steep escarpment of Bear Mountain. This marks the end of the Great Central Valley and the beginning of the Transverse Range of which the Tehachapi Mountains are a part.
After crossing the fault zone the roadway begins a long snaking climb to the Tehachapi Pass. The route generally follows that of the Southern Pacific railroad built in 1876.
As you leave the grasslands of the valley you enter oak savannas at about 1,000-2,000 feet above sea level and then eventually enter pinyon pine and juniper woodlands around 2,000 feet elevation. At higher elevations, the pinyon pine grades into Jeffrey and ponderosa pines.
Ten miles west of Tehachapi, the roadway passes by the Southern Pacific’s famous Tehachapi Loop, a popular stop for train spotters.
After a final series of curves along Tehachapi Creek, the freeway spills out onto the floor of the Tehachapi Valley. The wind turbines are visible across the valley on a series of low ridges.
On the far northeast side of the valley (left) near the cement plant is a large limestone quarry. Visible beyond the cement plant is the abandoned Airtricity site with two dozen or more derelict Storm Master, and Wind-Matic turbines. This site has been abandoned for more than a decade.
Beyond the Airtricity site is the former Arbutus site on Pajeula Peak. The three-bladed Bonus turbines are in service but all the Windtech and DWT turbines are derelict and have been for many years.
In the far distance is Cameron Ridge with a mix of three-bladed Danish turbines. The larger NEG-Micon and Vestas turbines replaced FloWind’s eggbeater turbines in the 1999 wind rush.
Abutting Highway 58 on the south side (right) is Zond’s wind wall, a dense cluster of 400 Vestas turbines. These were installed in 1985. Note the deep road cuts, rock falls, and erosion gullies leading from the turbines down the hillside towards Zond’s buildings at the base of the hills. Zond was bought by Enron in the late 1990s and is now known as Enron Wind.
Near the center of the ridge is Windland’s cluster of Carter 250s, and Vestas V25s amid Zond’s large array of Vestas turbines.
Zond’s arrays include V15, V17, and several strings of V27s. Toward the south end of the ridge (right) are two prototype Z40s (one on a truss tower, one on a tubular tower) and a group of Z750 turbines on truss towers. Because they are so much larger than the other turbines, these are easy to spot. There is also one prototype Tacke (Enron) 1.5 MW turbine on the hillside (spring 2001).
To the far south (right) is CalWind’s Nordtank’s turbines (red tips). The low col on the southeast side of the valley is Oak Creek Pass.
Highway 58 and the railroad pierce the ridges east of Tehachapi on the northeast side of the valley in a steep-sided canyon that follows the trace of the Garlock Fault. Within the Tehachapi Gorge you can easily spot erosion gullies that have carved deep trenches down the sides of Cameron Ridge and the hills on the south side of Highway 58.
Crossing the Tehachapi Valley
The route crosses the length of the Tehachapi Valley, a rough rectangle bounded by faults. The valley’s long axis runs west to east towards the wind turbines.
The valley lies at an elevation of 4,000 feet. The wind turbines visible on the hills are mostly at about 5,000 feet. Those on Pajeula Peak to the north side of the pass (left) are higher, and those not visible behind the ridges are slightly lower.
The crest of the Transverse Range, including Tehachapi and Bear Mountains, is at an elevation of about 8,000 feet. Westerly winds from the San Joaquin Valley are funneled between the peaks through the Tehachapi Pass toward the ridges at the eastern end of the valley.
If the wind is blowing, you will see a mass of spinning turbines upon entering the Tehachapi Valley from Bakersfield. There are more than 1,000 turbines visible from this vantage point and in good winds, most will be spinning. Unfortunately, not all will be operating. Some of those not spinning have been derelict for at least a decade. There is no law in Kern County that requires removal of broken or abandoned wind turbines. Zond (Enron) alone has dozens of such turbines that are derelict and these are clearly visible from Highway 58.
Over Oak Creek Pass
Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road crosses the Tehachapi Valley parallel to the ridge with the wind turbines, then turns and climbs over Oak Creek Pass. Just before the final ascent to the pass, the road passes a Bergey 1500 on the west (right) side. The battery-charging turbine is part of a wind and solar hybrid power system.
The summit of Oak Creek Pass affords spectacular views of the Mojave Desert, the Garlock Fault, and Cameron Ridge. On the left is Zond, on the right is CalWind. In the far distance is what was once SeaWest’s Mojave site with more than 1,000 wind turbines. Just below the summit on the north side is Mogul Energy’s 450 kW Mitsubishis.
On the east side of Cameron Road is Cameron Ridge. On top of Cameron Ridge are Florida Power & Lights NEG-Micon and Vestas turbines, and Coram/TaxVest’s Aeromans.
Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road leads past Oak Creek’s wind plant and out onto the desert.
In the Vicinity of Oak Creek
Near Oak Creek are two more or less defunct wind plants. On the east side is Zephyr where only four carcasses of turbines remain. On the west side is a field of modified Storm Masters, most inoperative and on the ground. The Zephyr site is the world’s most egregious example of the unnecessary environmental impact that can result from uncontrolled wind development. The gouges in the hillside are only now, after more than a decade, healing. The turbines were sold for scrap years ago. In the 1999 wind rush, Oak Creek installed several NEG-Micon turbines on this site.
On the east side of Oak Creek Pass are extensive fields of Joshua Trees. These unusual plants are found in limited areas of the high desert, including the eastern flanks of the Tehachapi Mountains and the vicinity of Joshua Tree National Monument.
Oak Creek Rd. leaves Tehachapi-Willow Springs Rd. and travels eastbound toward the town of Mojave. After winding through a short canyon the road opens onto the Mojave Desert and the Mitsubishi turbines at a large wind plant once operated by SeaWest.
The SeaWest site at one time contained a mix of Mitsubishi, Micon, Danwin, and Nordtank turbines. Some of the early turbines have since been removed. Note the Mitsubishis’ direction of rotation. Of the 5,000 turbine in the Tehachapi-Mojave resource area only the Mitsubishis (660) and Wind-Matics rotate counterclockwise (viewed from upwind). The Danwins (clockwise rotation) are buried inside the Mitsubishi array and the difference in direction of rotation is easily discernible, if not jarring. In the 1999 wind rush, owners of the Mitsubishis removed some older turbines and installed new turbines on much taller towers. The developer substituted an awkward, non-uniform array for what was at one time the California wind industry’s most aesthetically pleasing wind plant. Since the discordant erection of the new turbines this array looks, unfortunately, like many of the other wind plants in the state.
From SeaWest, Oak Creek Rd. westbound leads to Tehachapi-Willow Springs Rd. and back over Oak Creek Pass. Just before the freeway overcrossing is a frontage road, Jameson, that leads to Zond’s assembly building and good views of Zond’s wind wall as well as its large arrays of turbines. In early to mid May the slopes above the Zond buildings can be ablaze with bright orange poppies.
Wind Plant Maintenance Items to Note
Throughout the Tehachapi-Mojave area look for turbines without nose cones, turbines without nacelles (blown off and not replaced), oil leaking from blade-pitch seals, oil leaking from gearboxes, road cuts in steep terrain, erosion gullies, non-operating turbines, and “bone piles” of junk parts. One Zond bone pile of abandoned fiberglass blades is visible on the east side of Tehachapi-Willow Springs Rd. near Oak Creek Pass. (Kern County doesn’t permit on-ground disposal of fiberglass.) While touring wind farm sites look for blowing trash and litter (plastic bags, soft-drink cups, bottles, electrical connectors, scrap bits of metal, and so on). These all reflect management’s attention to maintenance and general housekeeping. At the better sites, you won’t see any of this.