California: Chasing Butterflies and Wildflowers

California: Chasing Butterflies and Wildflowers
The perfect time to see the migrating painted lady butterfly and witness one of California’s rare wildflower super blooms is early March to early April. It doesn’t happen every year, but when weather conditions are just right, a simultaneous blooming of wildflowers occurs in California’s arid regions. Last year, the butterfly migration and the explosion of wildflowers went hand in hand, and searching for them on a motorcycle, well, that’s where the fun began.

Music, Scenery, and Painted Ladies

This tour’s starting point—Bakersfield, CA—is special, too: It’s known as the country music capital of the West Coast.

I’m in front of Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, a museum dedicated to the country music star who pioneered a style of country music that became known as the Bakersfield sound. The warm greeting is exceptional. “Welcome, can I show you inside Buck Owens’ museum? There is a full country breakfast inside waiting for you,” the young hostess says.

The free-admission museum brings back a flood of memories. I can hear Buck Owens singing “Streets of Bakersfield.” There are memories of another country artist in town: the late Merle Haggard, who was born in the Oildale community 3 miles north of downtown Bakersfield. He has a street named after him. I’ve traveled on Merle Haggard Drive seemingly a thousand times before on my way to the Bakersfield Harley-Davidson dealership, where there is an engraved picture of Haggard on a huge granite boulder, dedicated by Kern County in 2008. I pause to remember the country music legend. It is said that one of the last songs Haggard recorded was “Kern River,” and that mighty river is where the motorcycle fun begins.

Less than 15 miles from Bakersfield, I’m cruising open roads up to one of my favorite spots: Lake Isabella. The Kern River Canyon is scenic and wild. The Kern River in the spring is ice-cold white water flowing at a frantic speed. On some curves, I feel the mist drifting across the road. The curves require full concentration. There are massive boulders in the middle of the channel that split the river as it crashes downward. The S curves continue up the canyon as I head for Lake Isabella. The air is cool and crisp the higher I travel. It is so relaxing on my motorcycle, yet I see others seeking adventure on rubber rafts as they navigate the white water below.

Lake Isabella is popular for boating, fishing, camping, bird-watching, and hiking. I leave SR 178 for perhaps one of the most scenic roads in the state: CR 483, which locals call Caliente Road. It passes the communities of Bodfish, Havilah, Twin Oaks, Fig Orchard, Caliente, and Bealville. There are few vehicles on this stretch of road (about 55 miles) from Lake Isabella to SR 58. This is open range where cows graze along the road. The curves on this road come close to Caliente Creek. It is so peaceful here that I stop just to hear the flowing water. There are few vehicles on this lonely country road, so when you pull over to take in the scenery, don’t be surprised if locals stop to ask if you need help. This road is a great way to begin this motorcycle tour.

The Keene Cafe, southeast of Bakersfield, is a must if you’re into country cooking. This is a favorite stop for bikers on their way to see the César E. Chávez National Monument, less than a mile away. The monument is a legacy to the farm labor leader who did so much for migrant farmworkers throughout California. Inside, there are hundreds of photographs that tell his story.