By Greg Aragon
Even though my recent road trip to California’s Eastern Sierra was carefully planned out, I still couldn’t resist stopping along the way to investigate other places of interest that caught my eye. Such was the case with Red Rock Canyon State Park and the Mojave Air and Space Port, both located off Highway 14 in Kern County.
The Mojave Airport first opened in 1935 as a small, rural airfield serving the local gold and silver mining industry. In 1942, the U.S. Marine Corps took it over and expanded it as the Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Station (MCAAS) Mojave. In 1961, Kern County obtained title and in 2013, its name was changed to Mojave Air and Space Port.
While at the airfield we examined the Rotary Rocket Roton ATV, which in 1999 became the first rocket-powered vehicle to fly at Mojave Spaceport. Next to this craft, we encountered a replica of Space Ship One, which was part of the first private manned space program in the country.
We then had lunch at the airport’s Voyager Restaurant, located on the runway. While eating a bowl of chili and onion rings, we watched planes and helicopters take-off. We also read about other cool things happening at the facility.
There is a Virgin Galactic hangar, where The Spaceship Company (TSC), Virgin Galactic’s sister company, is developing the world’s first commercial spaceline. Virgin Galactic, owned by Sir Richard Branson, aims to send members of the general public on suborbital flights to space. The company has sold numerous tickets to people wanting to be on the forefront of space tourism. The construction and test of space vehicles and carrier ships is completed here in Mojave.
The airport also currently houses Stratolauch Systems, a Paul G Allen Project, which is attempting to build the largest aircraft to ever fly. The vehicle is designed to bring manned and unmanned vehicles to space.
From space age rockets at the airport we journeyed back in time to the ancient rock formations at Red Rock Canyon State Park.
Once home to the Kawaiisu Indians, who left petroglyphs and artifacts in the El Paso Mountains, Red Rock Canyon State Park features scenic desert cliffs, buttes and spectacular rock formations. The park is located where the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada converges with the El Paso Range. Each tributary canyon is unique, with dramatic shapes and vivid colors.
The spectacular canyon was on the Native American trade route for thousands of years. During the 1870s, the colorful rock formations in the park served as landmarks for 20-mule team freight wagons that stopped for water. About 1850, it was used by survivors of the famous Death Valley trek. The park now protects significant paleontology sites and the remains of 1890s-era mining operations.
When my friends and I got to Red Rock, it was a windy October day. As we slowly drove around the one road that circles the sanctuary, it felt like we were in a scene from the dinosaur classic “Jurassic Park.” Maybe that’s because the movie was filmed here. In fact, due to its unique landscape, Red Rock was used in lots of movies, including “The Mummy,” “Zorro Rides Again,” “Westworld,” and “Airwolf,” to name a few.
The scenery was so impressive that we soon found a place to park and began to climb the rocks and take pictures and look for native wildlife such as snakes, roadrunners, hawks, lizards, mice and squirrels.
Besides us there were lots of campers in the rugged, 27,000-square-foot park. They were staying at Ricardo Campground, which is tucked up against the base of dramatic desert cliffs, with 50 primitive campsites, potable water, pit toilets, fire rings, and tables. You must bring your own firewood or buy it at the visitor center.
For day visiting, there are miles of trails to explore and shaded picnic tables near the Visitor Center. The day-use parking lot and picnic area, open sunrise to sunset, is $6 per vehicle.
Red Rock Canyon State Park is located 120 miles north of Los Angeles off Highway 14. For more information on visiting the area, call (661) 946-6092 or visit: www.parks.ca.gov. For more info on visiting Mojave Air and Space Port, call (661) 824-2433 or visit: www.mojaveairport.com.