One of the best-known roads in the Tehachapi Mountains is more than 100 years old, is seven miles long from end to end, provides access to many cross streets, and has provided the name of a local rock band. This iconic route is Highline Road.
Today cars go whizzing by on Highline at the posted speed limit of 55 miles an hour, or considerably faster, but earlier in the previous century, traffic on Highline Road was often on foot or horseback, and sheep greatly outnumbered motorists.
Highline Road starts at the very westernmost part of the Tehachapi Valley, where it connects with Brite Valley. There is an unusual three-way intersection of Highline, Banducci Road and, well, Banducci Road, according to the street sign.
Banducci Road runs east through Stallion Springs and Cummings Valley, zigzags through Brite Valley and then connects to Highway 202. Just before it does, Highline Road joins it on a curve, so it appears that you have three roads coming together and two of them are named Banducci Road, since one is the little spur of Banducci that connects to Highway 202.
For decades this strange intersection was just marked with yellow yield signs, and despite that, it didn’t seem to be the source of accidents. I think that the uncertainty of which motorist had the right-of-way made everyone proceed with caution. Now the yield signs have been replaced with stop signs, but most drivers still treat that intersection warily.
From there, Highline Road heads mostly straight in an easterly direction. Although the route is fairly straight, it definitely isn’t flat — the roadway undulates with the natural ups and downs of the terrain.
The most extreme example of this is Thrill Hill, just past Water Canyon Road. If Highline Road had been constructed in modern times, it surely would have been graded down flatter, leaving steep road cuts in a few places.
It wasn’t, however, so you have Thrill Hill, the highest point on the road. If you go over this crest at speed, you experience a sudden drop on the other side, leading to a sensation my daughter calls “sicky belly.” Tehachapi teenagers in years past would drive unsafely fast over this rise, which led to the name Thrill Hill. Since the road is lower on either side of the hill, you’d think that the county would simply grade off the crown and level it somewhat, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Highline Road continues heading east, intersecting with numerous cross streets. It didn’t used to join Tucker Road when I was growing up. Tucker Road used to dead-end into Cherry Lane, but about 1990 it was extended south to Highline Road. This brought a large increase to the traffic on Highline Road, since motorists could exit Highway 58, stay on Tucker Road all the way to Highline, and then head west towards Stallion Springs, Bear Valley Springs, etc.
That road extension project also helped spread yellow starthistle into the area. Apparently construction equipment used in extending Tucker Road had previously been used where there was a yellow starthistle infestation, because large stands of yellow starthistle appeared alongside the new road where there had previously been none. I never saw starthistle in Tehachapi before that project was completed.
Highline Road continues east until it ends at Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road. There is a slight dip in the road after you pass Steuber Road. Water from Blackburn Canyon used to cross the road here en route to Proctor Lake, the seasonal lake near the cement plant.
During El Niño flooding in the winter of 1982-83, a raging torrent crossed Highline Road at that dip, and a local resident nearly drowned when her VW Beetle was caught in the floodwaters at night. A pickup truck was also stuck there and half buried in sand. The power poles along the road were undercut by surging water and leaned drunkenly towards Highline.
Since the Blackburn Dam and Antelope Dam flood control projects were completed in the late 1980s, that no longer happens.
From the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th century, Highline Road saw huge bands of sheep trail their way along the road each spring as they headed from the San Joaquin Valley down to the Mojave Desert floor.
The bands of sheep would come up the Sheeptrail (Comanche Point Road) from outside Arvin, pass through Cummings Valley, Brite Valley and the Tehachapi Valley and then descend using Oak Creek Pass. Many of them were owned by the Mendiburus, a Basque sheep-raising family. The last sheep drive through the Tehachapi Mountains on foot was in 1971, according to late ag inspector Brad Krauter. The sheep still arrive each spring or summer, but they are moved in diesel trucks now.
Longtime local residents sometimes still refer to Highline Road as Poleline Road, due to the row of power poles that run along its north side. I haven’t been able to confirm exactly when it was first paved, but it seems to have been in the 1940s.
There was a time when “Poleline Road” was the source of some illegal commerce: a travel trailer pulled by a Cadillac was brought up from Bakersfield twice a month on Friday paydays from the cement plant at Monolith. It was used as a portable bordello to provide services to workers at the cement plant. Apparently it was so successful that a second trailer was added after a time.
Highline Road is the way that many local residents drive to get to their homes. Some friends of mine, Dave and Kathy Bouldin, live off Highline Road, and so did some other members in their rock band, so Highline became the natural source for the name of their band Highline.
Highline Road can be dangerous and has been the source of traffic fatalities and serious injuries over the years. Despite periodic tragedies, some people still drive Highline Road like it was a German autobahn. They should slow down and enjoy the scenic and historic drive. It’s only seven miles from start to finish, and it provides great views of Tehachapi Valley.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 40 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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