There is an exclusive club located on the edge of the Mojave Desert. Only a small group of oldtimers belong, and they persist against daunting odds. As the years go by, they still stand strong and survive, despite wind, drought and long hot summers.
This unique enclave is a grove of Valley Oaks (Quercus lobata), and they occur in the most arid, desert conditions of any Valley Oaks in the world: about 7 miles southeast of Tehachapi, at the intersection of Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road and Oak Creek Road.
This small grove consists of five large trees grouped together, and three more a few hundred feet away. They seem to be in good health despite constant adversity.
These gnarled giants huddle together on the north side of Oak Creek Road. They grow from soil that's mostly a mixture of sand and decomposed granite. The oldest of them have been living at the desert's edge for at least 200 years, and perhaps more than 300 years.
Throughout California, massive Valley Oaks are generally found growing in the deep rich soil of alluvial plains, particularly in the fertile deltas of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys.
The big lobata oaks found growing on the floor of our local valleys already make do with less rainfall and more shallow topsoil than the rest of their species, but the Oak Creek Grove is extreme.
This location is special for more than just presence of Valley Oaks — it is also the only place in the world where Valley Oaks, California Juniper, Arroyo Willow, Joshua Trees and Blue Oaks all grow within a few hundred yards of each other.
Though most local residents pay little attention to this biological anomaly, the Oak Creek Grove has not escaped the notice of botanists. In her landmark book "An Island Called California," a very readable volume that should be on the bookshelf of everyone interested in our state's plant communities, Elna Bakker writes: "The Southern Sierra, the Tehachapis, the Coast Ranges, and the Mojave Desert all come together in a welter of canyon and ridge. In addition to the unusual associations already mentioned, we find other interesting and peculiar assortments. Valley Oaks, of all things, have crept through Tehachapi Pass to the desert edge where they grow with Joshua Trees and cactus."
The trees of the Oak Creek Grove no doubt sprouted from acorns that had washed down out of Oak Creek Canyon, a hidden oasis with a couple of large meadows that form more typical Valley Oak habitat, and they are been able to survive for centuries thanks to the life-giving, though intermittent, waters of Oak Creek.
This stand of trees must have been known to the Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Paiute) Indian people, for they are the first Valley Oaks you encounter when approaching Tehachapi from the desert. One of these desert oaks produces some of the largest Valley Oak acorns I've found anywhere in the Tehachapi area, and since there are still pah-haaz (bedrock mortar grinding holes) along Oak Creek, I'm sure this food source did not go unnoticed.
The Oak Creek Grove shaded and sheltered later arrivals who came to the pass on horseback or in a stagecoach. Sheepherders once camped beneath the trees when taking their bands out into the desert.
There was also reportedly a small post office building there in the late 1800s, and a one-room schoolhouse for a short time in the early 1900s before the stone school at Willow Springs was completed.
Those times have long since faded from human memory, but the Oak Creek Grove remains, withstanding freezing winters, harsh winds, long drought, the desert sun and occasional wildfires. The species is accustomed to easier growing conditions, but these trees have made their stand at the very edge of possibility.
There are even three young Valley Oaks struggling to join the others. The smallest of them is only about waist high and I've watched it growing for more than 20 years. It is easy to overlook, but it represents a chance at the future for the Oak Creek Grove. . . .
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to email@example.com.