On previous trips to the Tehachapi Mountains, I encountered northbound trains in the early morning when I was hoping for southbounds. So this trip I set up my shots for northbounds and got (what else?) southbounds.

First stop today was Caliente, and though it was light, the sun was not yet up when we arrived. In this area, I prefer to shoot in the early morning from sunrise until 9:30 or so when the air is still cool (but hot by Western Washington standards). The low angle sun brings out the textures and shapes of the scenery. When it gets higher in the sky, not only is it much hotter, but the shadows become harsh and the air becomes hazy, which was especially bad this trip because of wildfires.

Between trains, Caliente is a quiet place with birds singing. If you're lucky a breeze will blow and rustle the grass. The occasional automobile or truck may briefly intrude, but Highway 58 is way over the hill and out of earshot.

That all changes with an approaching train. No need for a scanning radio here. Trains can be heard long before they come into view. You can hear trains up on the hill at Cliff and when they whistle for the crossing at Bealville. You can hear them blowing for a crossing down the canyon. There are so many train sounds drifting in off the hills that you get lost trying to figure out what you're hearing. Is that up the hill, or down the canyon? Wait, is that another train, or the one that just went by?

In the video, you hear a train sounding its horn. That's not the train you're watching at Cliff, but BNSF 7690 South coming up the canyon from Bakersfield, running about 8 track miles behind it.

UP 4728 Southbound intermodal at Cliff, high above Caliente. We'll see this train again at Cameron.

Caliente, CA
6:28 AM July 24, 2008

BNSF was very cooperative for this shot and had this southbound autorack train arrive at Caliente just as the rising sun began to hit the valley floor. After scrambling up here to the top of the cut, I nearly inhaled my small bottle of water. It wasn't hot yet, but the dryness and a little hard work had me wishing I had brought a large bottle of water... like the kind they put on water coolers.

BNSF 7690 South rounds the big horseshoe curve at Caliente. We saw this train again at Cameron.

Caliente, CA
6:31 AM July 24, 2008

BNSF 7690 South (Autoracks) climbs towards Bealville, just as the sun peaks over the eastern mountains. After snaking out of view to the left, it will continue across the cuts seen above and to the right of the locomotives. Then it will again curve to the left behind the hill and proceed toward Tunnel 1.

Caliente, CA
6:32 AM July 24, 2008

Since I had not been to Cache Creek Canyon between Tehachapi and Mojave, we decided to skip the Loop this trip and do some exploring.

With three southbounds between me and Caliente, I confidently set up a shot for them at Cameron only to have this northbound manifest freight sneak in behind me. After watching it snake through the "S" curve here, I decided to move up the hill on the other side of the tracks for better light.

BNSF 7410 North

Cameron, CA
8:12 AM July 24, 2008

Fortunately, trackwork near Monolith had the southbounds jammed up on the other side of the summit, giving me a chance to do some climbing up the hillside. UP 4728 South appeared a short time later. This train no doubt left Bakersfield in the dark, was climbing the hill at Cliff at sunrise, and now will cross the desert in broad daylight.

UP 4728 South. This train also appears above at Cliff.

Cameron, CA
8:41 AM July 24, 2008

By this time, I was getting pretty thirsty and we decided to head up to Tehachapi for breakfast. As any railfan knows, the most sure way to see a train is to pack your gear in the trunk and start the engine of your car. Nevertheless, I managed to grab this shot of BNSF 7690 South as it makes good its escape from the clutches of the maintenance department.

BNSF 7690 South. This is the autorack train we saw at Caliente.

Cameron, CA
8:56 AM July 24, 2008

Plans for breakfast were postponed upon reaching this horrific sight in Tehachapi. The depot needed work when I last saw it, but not this much.

Tehachapi had devoted a lot of energy into restoring its historic Southern Pacific depot only to have it go up in flames due to the careless and illegal use of fireworks shortly before its grand opening. Plans to rebuild were announced almost immediately. To help, contact:

Friends of the Tehachapi Depot
P. O. Box 2044
Tehachapi, CA 93581-2044

Tehachapi, CA
July 24, 2008

On the return to Bakersfield, I saw a northbound train descending toward Caliente. I figured I could still catch it at Sandcut even with a stop at the big fruit stand on Highway 58 for my wife.

We barely got parked when a horn announced the presence of this southbound out of Bakersfield.

BNSF 4624 Southbound intermodal

Sandcut, CA
10:42 AM July 24, 2008

The southbound intermodal had nearly made it down the grade when it slowed to a stop approaching the end of double track at Bena for the meet with BNSF 785N.

BNSF 4624 South on Sandcut grade

Sandcut, CA
10:45 AM July 24, 2008

These big locomotives hardly show the strain of suddenly having a steep grade to overcome after coasting downhill all the way from Tehachapi summit. Once this double stack cleared the switch at Bena, the southbound was free to go.

BNSF 785 North on Sandcut grade

Sandcut, CA
11:03 AM July 24, 2008

Local life you'll want to keep an eye on: foxtails (left) and cactus (right). Foxtails are prevalent everywhere from Bakersfield to Tehachapi and are a great annoyance to man and beast. While it looks like dry grass swaying gently in the breeze, a mere brush with your foot will impale a dozen or more dart-like barbs whose sole existence relies on pushing deeper and deeper into your socks. These function like fishhooks and go in but not out. The only way to remove them is to remove your socks (or other clothing they are embedded in) and pull them out from the inside. Don't bother, though, you'll soon collect twice as many in another couple of steps. After a while, you learn to ignore the pinpricks. My brother says he escapes them by not wearing socks.

The cactus is named "Bakersfield Cactus" for a town near here. For obvious reasons, you want to keep your feet and other body parts at a safe distance. For not so obvious reasons, you'll want to avoid disturbing it since it is now an Endangered Species, making it even more important to Homeland Security than trains. It once covered the valley below Sand Cut but now one of its last stands is here on the slope between the railroad and Edison Highway.

A couple of days later, I returned to the Caliente area and caught this southbound manifest between Tunnels 1 and 2. It was moving very slowly and threatened to burn up my remaining video tape. When the train finally pulled by, BNSF 668 and 5083 were pushing on the rear. It eventually stopped at the approach to Bealville, probably due to maintenance further up the line.

BNSF 5447 Southbound manifest

Caliente, CA
6:55 AM July 26, 2008

Following the BNSF manifest was the UP 8382 South intermodal train. Here it is rounding the curve that leads into Tunnel 2 at what appears to be breakneck speed. But it was barely crawling and stopped with the lead unit poking out of the far end of the tunnel. Watch the video to see the - YAWN - action.

UP 8382 South intermodal

Caliente, CA
7:10 AM July 26, 2008

A lone bull watches a crazy man haul a big camera and tripod up and down the hill.

Where is Herb Alpert when you need him?

All photos by David J. Cooley - All Rights Reserved

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