Kern Life: RIDGECREST: Ideal base for exploring the desert | Bakersfield life

The high desert community of Ridgecrest (about 110 miles northeast of Bakersfield via highways 58, 14, and 395) is surrounded by four mountain ranges and is an ideal base for exploring the natural history of the desert.

The California Welcome Center at Ridgecrest is the newest welcome center in the state and its high-tech features include virtual reality, a cinematic experience, and amazing cultural showcases.

The city’s closest neighbor is the community of China Lake, home to Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, a 1.1 million acre military facility.

Ridgecrest offers many modern hotels, restaurants, museums, and opportunities to explore, learn, and enjoy the Mojave Desert.

The California Visitor Center, 880 N. China Lake Blvd., has lots of information about the surrounding area and also includes a virtual reality presentation about Death Valley, ideal for those who can’t visit the national park about two hours away. The center is currently open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Mondays and certain public holidays.

The Maturango Museum, 100 E. Las Flores Ave., offers free admission on the second Saturday of each month (with a small fee on other days). It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except public holidays. With approximately 10,000 square feet of space, it showcases the natural and cultural history of the northern Mojave Desert, as well as art and photography.

China Lake Museum, located at 130 E. Las Flores Ave., is operated by the non-profit China Lake Museum Foundation. It is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and includes information on the history of Navy operations at China Lake, a STEM learning center, and a gift shop. The US Naval Museum of Armament & Technology is located on the base at China Lake. The foundation provides information on how to visit this museum (by reservation).

The rock art district of Coso, a National Historic Landmark located on the Navy Test Facility at China Lake, is one of the most stunning petroglyphic and archaeological complexes in the country. Access is limited, but fall and spring visits are popular. The visitor center and the Maturango museum offer tourist information. While in Ridgecrest, you can also visit Petroglyph Park, a 12-acre site with replica rock carvings and artwork. There is also a picnic area and a playground. It is located near the intersection of North China Lake Boulevard and French Avenue, just south of the post office.

Randsburg, a living ghost town, is located approximately 21 miles south of Ridgecrest, a short distance from Highway 395. In the same general area you will find two other hamlets – Johannesburg and Red Mountain. The area is also popular with off-road vehicle enthusiasts.

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