Santa Clara River Valley and “The Nard”
By Bob Jaussaud
Sue and I love our life on the desert, but the summertime heat wears us down. So a couple of years ago we started looking for a summer get-away in cooler climes. Before Neal Johns met Marian (when he still had suspiciously brown hair and enjoyed his life-sized doll named “Hope”) he lived in Oxnard, a place he called “the western edge of the East Mojave.” He seemed to like it there. didn’t work. Ron Lipari and Mike Vollmert also told us of the wonders of Oxnard. So, Sue and I made the trek to check out "The Nard," as locals call it.
Of all things, we found a manufactured home in a senior park close to the ocean in a place called Hollywood Beach, so named because many motion picture companies filmed thier beach (and desert) scenes there in the early days. Also, it’s where Rudolph Valentino had his beach cottage. Now we never once thought we would end up in a “senior park,” but the place was affordable ,looked pretty good, and we were over the minimum age of 55 (if only just barely). Ha!
To make a long story short, we bought our beach hide-away and really enjoy being there, especially when the desert is inhospitable. What a great life! We alternate between the beach and the desert, so there are a lot of trips back and forth. It became imperative that we figure out the best route between “the Nard” and Needles. The shortest way involved the 101, the 210, I-15 and I-40 but we quickly learned that the only time that route might not be jammed with traffic (especially the 101/405 junction) was early Sunday morning. Since I like to sleep in we don't always travel on Sunday anyway, that didn't work. We tried all the other various route combinations to get through LA including the Antelope Valley Freeway and the Pearblossom Highway, but they all had various issues. We dreaded the trip until one casual day we started east from “The Nard” on Highway 126 leading through the Santa Clara River Valley. Now this is our favorite connecting route with the desert.
Highway 126 intersects with the I-5 near Santa Clarita and it is only a short way north from there to Gorman. From Gorman we follow Highway 138 through the Poppy Reserve to Highway 14 near Rosamond. After following 14 north to the town of Mojave, we head east on Highway 58 to Barstow and pick up the I-40 to Needles. It is a dream route that avoids LA completely. It does make the trip about 20 minutes longer, but that is time well spent in our view. The only possible bottleneck is at Kramer Junction and that won’t be the case for long as the new 58 freeway is almost completed. Happy Day!
If you try to Google our route please be aware that we go through the Santa Clara River Valley, not the Santa Clara Valley. The Santa Clara Valley runs southeast from San Francisco Bay and is part of the “South Bay”, a region known as "Silicon Valley". Defineately not our route.
We never realized any place like the Santa Clara River Valley still existed in Southern California. What a gem! It is a beautiful farming valley nestled between the Los Padres National Forest to the the north and the Santa Susana Mountains to the south. The Santa Clara River flows through the valley and is one of the most natural rivers left in Southern California. Its headwaters are in the San Gabriel Mountains and its largest fork comes out of Aliso Canyon and flows west through Soledad Canyon. The Santa Clara River tributaries include Bouquet Creek, Piru Creek, San Francisquito Creek, Castaic Creek and Sespe Creek. The river continues west through citrus farms to the Oxnard Plain and the Pacific Ocean. Along the road west of Santa Clarita, paralleling the river, there are numerous old-time fruit stands and many historic buildings. In fact, the local tourism bureau is attempting to rename this valley “Heritage Valley.” Ugh! Personally I will always recognize it as the Santa Clara River Valley.
The valley was originally inhabited by Native Americans, the Tataviam on the east and the Chumash on the west. In 1769 the Spanish Portola Expedition camped in the valley while traveling through it. Franciscan missionary Fray Juan Crespi, a member of the expedition, named the valley Canada de Santa Clara. This valley route is part of El Camino Real (the King’s Highway) and early missionaries led by Father Junipero Serra passed through to establish Mission San Buenaventura in 1782. In 1874 Nathan Weston planted orange trees near what was to become Santa Paula. His groves could be accessed easily using the then new road just established connecting Inyo County mines with the new wharf at Hueneme. The valley was also the main stage coach route from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. Fillmore was founded as a station on the Southern Pacific Railroad when they came through in 1887. The early 1900’s saw oil companies and motion picture companies establish themselves in the valley. Thankfully, the citrus groves have survived all this development and still dominate the valley today. They even survived March 12, 1928 when the Santa Clarita River carried the collapsed St. Francis Dam flood waters to the ocean.
On our commutes through the Santa Clara River Valley we have discovered many wonderful things including the Fillmore & Western Railway Company, the Santa Clara “Little Red Schoolhouse” (built in 1896 and still in use today for K-6th grade), and the historic old towns of Piru, Fillmore and Santa Paula. One Saturday we stopped at Rancho Camulos, a National Historic Landmark and the setting for Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel, “Ramona.” Rancho Camulos is currently a working ranch and still belongs to the second owner’s family, the Rubels. The original owners were the Del Valles. As prominent Californios, they were deeded the 48,000 acre Mexican . land grant in 1839. August Rubel purchased Rancho Camulos from the Del Valles in 1924 and today the ranch remains a good representation of Southern California agricultural life from 1853 to 1943. Near the historic barn there is even a gas and oil house circa 1910. The Rancho is, as Huell Howser used to say, “a fine example of California’s Gold.”
When doing our Nard/Needles commute, we always stop at the Vista Del Lago Visitor Center off I-5 overlooking Pyramid Lake. The center is owned by the California Department of Water Resources and they have some wonderful displays there. On the east side of their parking lot there is a memorial to the Old Ridge Route which was the winding road connecting Los Angeles and Bakersfield over Tejon Pass from 1915 to 1933. It is possibly the reason California didn’t split into two states… but that is another story. ~ Bob