Covid-Escape: Great Western Divide Highway

By Paul Gipe

The Great Western Divide Highway takes you through the heart of Sequoia National Forest and Sequoia National Monument where the big trees are located.

The road runs north to south and we started at Quaking Aspen on the north and drove to Alta Sierra on the south. The road follows the backbone of the Greenhorn Mountains some 50 miles. A good portion of the route is paved but there’s a good long section on a graded dirt road from Portuguese Pass to Greenhorn summit.

South of the Trail of 100 Giants, which was closed due to Covid-19, we turned onto a narrow paved Forest Service road. The road reminded me of the “Pinchot” roads found in the forests of Pennsylvania and may well have been a vestige of Pinchot’s influence on the Forest Service here in the West.

Here’s the route we took:

This is granite dome country with wonderful vistas of the Kern River gorge. Imagine Yosemite National Park without the tourists or waterfalls and that’s the domelands.

The route was serpentine and often nearly overgrown. It was difficult to see around the corners. Did I say it was narrow? We had just commented that we were glad we hadn’t seen any oncoming traffic when there was a flash of white ahead. I jerked the car to the right towards the jutting granite in the cut bank. I fully expected to hear the tinkle of broken glass from either the headlights or the side mirrors or the dull crunch of body panels.

Fortunately, it was another small car and we eased pass with barely an inch to spare. It was a heart-stopping moment. He drove on and we caught our breath. If it had been one of those big American trucks you see in the mountains, it would have been over. We were miles from any trafficked road with no cell phone service. It would have been a long walk for help and maybe a call to search & rescue if they had gone over the edge.

We came to the headwaters of Bull Run Creek and found the dirt road to the Baker Point fire lookout tower. That’s a trip we haven’t done yet. We hope to do it this summer now that the forest has opened up again post Covid-19 and post Castle Complex fire.

Once we reached Portuguese Pass, the dirt road to Alta Sierra was a piece of cake. Then it was an hour-long drive back to Bakersfield, ending another full-day of exploring California on our weekly Covid Escapes.