I was heading out to the Mojave Desert, not really getting an early start
from San Jose that
would give me time for some desert hiking in the afternoon.
I decided to stop in the Central Valley
near Avenal for a couple of easy summits I could do in an hour or two. I had been
to the Kettleman Hills on several occasions over the years. There are few summits
with 300ft of prominence in this range of low hills adjacent to Interstate 5, but
there are many named summits thanks to the historical use of the range for oil
and gas extraction. I've been adding a few of these every so often on my way to
and from other places in the state.
On the leeward side of the Diablo Range, the Kettleman Hills
see little rain, the vegetation mostly grass and low scrub, making for easy
This summit is located less than half a mile from SR269 (connects Avenal with
Because the extraction is ongoing, I figured Sunday would be a good time to visit
since there was unlikely to be any work going on. I parked on the southeast side
SR269, northwest of the summit, went over an old barbed-wire fence,
and then made my way to the summit in less than 15min. There are
quite a few roads in the area, only a few still used.
There is also much detritus from the extraction work,
notably rusting pipelines no longer used and concrete features
from structures of
days gone by. It was particularly hazy today, so the views were pretty marginal,
overall. The west summit I visited is clearly higher than the eastern summit.
This one is found closer to I-5 on ranchland adjacent to the oil & gas fields,
though I saw no cattle today. La Ceja is a 2.5mi-long uplifted ridge with a small
escarpment on its southwest side. It is composed of crumbling sandstone which can
be seen on that same side along the ridgetop.
Most of the slopes are vegetated
sand, so it was probably helpful that the ground was damp today, providing decent
footing. I was
concerned about being spotted from the highway where I started, but
was happy to find a drainage
I could drop into only 30ft from the road, allowing
me to be quickly out of view. The grassy drainage held no standing water, making
for easy travel, especially after the first quarter mile when I picked up
a good cow trail.
The drainage eventually cuts La Ceja in two, the highpoint found on the
southeast half. I followed the drainage until it turns to the northeast through
the cut in the ridgeline, then went up slopes to the ridge and onto
There is a powerline running across the ridge, but no homesteads or buildings
anywhere near, making detection unlikely though I was now in view of both SR269
and I-5. Views are not so great - the oil and gas fields to the west, I-5 and
the drab Central Valley to the east. I spent about an hour on this second outing,
finishing up by 11:30a. Now for another 5hrs of driving...