Interstate 5 blues; creative cures for a monotonous five hour drive

San Luis Reservoir, looking southeast down to one of California's largest lakes.

Beat the Interstate 5 blues; creative cures for a monotonous five hour drive

If you are a California resident, you’ve probably driven Interstate 5 south to the Los Angeles Basin many, perhaps even scores, of times. You likely have your favorite gas or reststop, maybe ventured to Harris Ranch for a burger and a drink, and look forward to climbing over the Grapevine and down into the huge metropolis, putting the monotonous drive behind you.

Spice up that drive, add a few hours and venture off the Interstate to see some of the spectacular country and attractions along the Interstate. Here are our favorites, listed north to south, both for families and for inveterate explorers.

San Luis Reservoir and Recreation Area, With fishing, camping, and spectacular views,  the reservoir is a huge man-made lake on San Luis Creek, just 12 mi west of Los Banos on Hwy. 152. Water is pumped uphill into the reservoir from the California Aqueduct; the dam is the fourth largest embankment dam in the US and one of California’s largest reservoirs. Camping is available at four campgrounds; the lake also offers numerous picnic areas and fishing spots. Since the reservoir’s water is imported from the Sacramento River Delta, its fish species include largemouth bass, bluegill, shad, striped bass, crappie and yellow perch. But it’s the scenery that will reward your visit most of all.

Tule elk are the prime attraction at Tule Elk State Reserve.

Bravo Farms: Stop at 33341 Bernard Dr., Kettleman City for an old West nostalgia stop just minutes off I-5 that both kids and adults will enjoy. Featuring great food with a sit-down restaurant, and plenty of snacks including nuts, ice cream, candy, cheeses, historic farming and ranching artifacts and old west shops a’plenty – Bravo Farms is a kid’s and photographer’s paradise.

Kern National Wildlife Refuge: The refuge, off exit 278, northeast of Lost Hills, preserves 11,249-acres of natural desert uplands, an ancient riparian corridor and marshes. A part of what once was the largest freshwater wetland complex in the western United States, it provides prime wintering habitat for migratory birds like waterfowl and water birds. The refuge also provides suitable habitat for several endangered species and protects an example of the historic valley uplands of the San Joaquin Desert. A year-round 6-mile auto road winds through the some of the wetlands, making for easy viewing.

Tule Elk State Reserve, The reserve, off the Stockdale Highway near Buttonwillow, protects a growing herd of tule elk, once in danger of extinction. Elk from the reserve have been successfully transplanted to other areas in California.  Today nearly 4000 tule elk, most active in summer and fall, are again roaming the foothills and grasslands of California. The park offers a picnic area offering a good opportunity for viewing elk, as well as birds of the San Joaquin Valley.

Old windmill is surrounded by wildflowers on the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Carrizo Plain National Monument: Just a few hundred years ago, California’s Central Valley was a vast, undeveloped grassland where elk and antelope grazed and the spring landscape was a’blaze in wildflowers. Over the last 200 years, agriculture and human settlement has forever changed the face of the valley; the Corrizo Plain preserves a segment of California as it once was. While a bit further off I-5, this is worthy of your time. Follow winding CA Hwy. 58 west, becoming more scenic by the mile. Golden and purple wildflowers began to show their faces (usually best in March and April), and as we reached a deep pass through the dramatic hills, suddenly the slopes were a’glow in gold, purple and yellow hues.

The monument features two campgrounds, a wealth of hiking and bicycling, horseback riding and stunning birdwatching, wildlife and wildflower viewing. Wildlife can include sightings of pronghorn antelope, tule elk, black-tailed deer, bobcats and mountain lions, coyotes and ground squirrels.

Ft. Tejon, looking west towards the old parade grounds with old barracks on left.

Ft. Tejon State Historic Park, at the top of the Grapevine and just blocks off Interstate 5, Ft. Tejon was an outpost of the US Army from 1854 to 1864, with troops garrisoned to keep the peace between settlers and resident and marauding bands of Native Americans. The fort was also the site of a several year experiment with more than 70 camels, which were deemed not a good fit for the army.

Pyramid Lake and Vista Del Lago Visitors Center, Just beyond Ft. Tejon, at 38500 Vista Del Lago Rd., Gorman, is this beautiful lake and stunning visitor center that tells the story of the creative engineering of the southern section of the California Water Project. The views are killer, and this visitor center does a riveting show and tell how water has transformed the Los Angeles Basin with growth and prosperity. You will also find sections of the old Templin Highway near the reservoir, the earlier road over the mountains before Interstate 5 superseded it.

Pyramid Lake and Vista Del Lago Visitor Center are just off Interstate 5

Break the I-5 boredom; plan a few extra hours on your trip to LA and discover new pleasures!

For more information: Bravo Farms, bravofarms.com, 559-386-9622; Carrizo Plain National Monument, blm.gov/nlcs_web/sites/ca/st/en/prog/nlcs/Carrizo_Plain_NM.html, (805) 475-2131; Camping at federal campgrounds, recreation.gov, 877.444.6777; Ft. Tejon State Historic Park, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=585, (800) 777-0369; Kern National Wildlife Refuge: fws.gov/refuge/Kern/; Pyramid Lake and Vista Del Lago Visitors Center, water.ca.gov, (661) 294-0219; San Luis Reservoir, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=558, (209) 826-1197; Tule Elk State Reserve, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=584, (661) 764-6881.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com; follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

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  • Blog Author

    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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