Another Covid-19 Escape: Chimney Peak Road to Nine Mile Canyon in an EV

By Paul Gipe

We’ve been taking weekly day trips from sheltering in place during the Covid-19 pandemic. On 17 July we took our most ambitious route yet in the Bolt EV. We made a 220-mile loop through the Kern River Valley, up into onto the Kern Plateau, then down to the desert and back to Bakersfield via Tehachapi.

It made for a long day, but we started early, botanized along Chimney Peak Road, had lunch in Red Rock Canyon State Park, where it was a cool 100 °F (38 °C), charged briefly at a new DCFC station in Tehachapi, then stocked up on bread at Kohnen’s bakery.

What made this route challenging was the unpaved stretch from Hwy 178, the Isabella-Walker Pass Road, to the paved Nine Mile Canyon-Kennedy Meadows Road. The 15 miles on Chimney Peak Road between the two points is a graded dirt road. Neither of us had ever been on it before and like the trip to Jackass Peak trailhead the advice was “You should be able to make it” in the Bolt.

The dirt road is deceptively smooth for the first few miles as it begins climbing up from the valley floor to the 7,000 feet plateau bordering the Chimney Peak Wilderness. As the road steepens, it worsens, and the tires slipped some. Nevertheless, we needn’t had worried. The Bolt reached the pass without problems as Lamont Peak and the Pinnacles loomed above us.

Though late in the season, there were several species in bloom, including scarlet penstemon, evening primrose, prickly poppy, sulfur buckwheat, mallow, woolystar, and more. We even came across a critter in the middle of the road who apparently wasn’t accustomed to seeing traffic. We did not get out of the car to greet him.

We only saw two other vehicles once we left the paved road near Onyx. And both were four-wheel drive SUVs. This wasn’t a road I’d want to try in the rain and certainly not in the snow.

Once out we drove down Nine Mile Canyon to the broad expanse of the Mojave Desert, gaining a few kWh on the long, windy descent.

We stopped for lunch at Red Rock Canyon State Park. While the park is closed, the picnic area and scenic pit toilets were open. This is the true desert and the pit toilet doesn’t have a roof. (It doesn’t need one.) If you love rocks, this is the place. The red rocks of the Ricardo Formation are dramatically exposed all around you.

It’s a good hour from Red Rock SP to Tehachapi.

While we might have had enough juice to make it all the way to Bakersfield, it would have been too close for comfort. We wanted bread and some treats frm the bakery and I wanted to check out the new ChargePoint DCFC station.

The station at a Denny’s just off the freeway has two 50 kW kiosks with dual standard connections. Because it’s part of a California Energy Commission charge corridor project, the station also has a dual headed Level 2 kiosk.

I picked up six kWh from the first unit and it worked right off the bat. Several people stopped to ask us about our EV–from a respectable Covid-19 distance.

We arrived home with charge to spare (17% SOC), using 56 kWh for the entire trip, 95% of what ABRP estimated we would have needed.

I figure we have 58 to 59 kWh of capacity in the nearly three-year old Bolt. Arriving with only 2 to 3 kWh isn’t enough of a cushion for me, so the stop in Tehachapi was justified.