Murals most of us are familiar with. Tehachapi? Not so much. First, let’s figure out the pronunciation. It sounds to me pretty much like Ta-hac-cha-pee. Now where would we find such a place? High in the mountains of between Las Angeles and Bakersfield.
The town has made a name for itself because of the numerous murals that adorn virtually every wall in site. At every turn, a new and fascinating piece of artwork reveals itself. Many of the murals depict an important historical event, or a famous citizen, now passed.
There are too many murals in Tehachapi to give a detailed account of each in this piece, so we’ll focus on some of the favorites. Consider this a teaser. You’ll have to come down and visit yourself if you want to enjoy all the art that this town has to offer.
The Kawaiisu Tribe was the first native people to settle in this part of the state. The mural entitled “People of the Mountains” by artist Colleen Mitchell-Veyna is a must see. It portrays a Kawaiisu village as it would have looked before contact with the European settlers. Elders, families, and craftspeople are depicted going about their everyday lives as they would have many years ago.
A mural entitled “The Historic Tehachapi Loop” was completed in 2002 and is another favorite with visitors to the area. The work was a collaborative effort between New Zealand artist Marc Spykerbosch and John Pugh. The piece is a sweeping, panoramic view of “The Loop” valley. The artists spent many days hiking through the area to get a feel for the place in order to better depict it in their mural.
The result is a beautiful work, with an interesting and unexpected element. The artists chose to include what appears to be a crack in the building wall on which the mural has been painted. This is a reminder of a destructive earthquake that tore through Tehachapi in 1952. Like much of California, Tehachapi is no stranger to earthquakes.
“Street Dance”, completed in 2004 contains no such ominous elements. In 1915, the first electric street lights were installed in the town and a great dance was held in the streets to celebrate the achievement. The faces of the dancers are representations of famous Tehachapi residents from the present and the past. The piece was created by respected mural artist Phil Slagter.
Test pilot and local Tehachapi artist Mark Pestana is responsible for designing and painting the unique “Airmail” mural finished in 2007. The piece was commissioned to mark a new stamp that was issued in 1938, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the first airmail delivery in America.
The mural is actually two works in one. One the left, we see a Tehachapi pilot standing next to his plane in 1938. The right-hand side of the mural shows an air mail letter as it would have looked in that same year. Especially interesting is that the artist chose to paint the portrait of the pilot and his plane in black and white; However the airmail letter on the right has been rendered in bright colors.
The murals are one thing that draws visitors to the town. But there is much more than just art in the area to keep you entertained.
There are many historic buildings which have been preserved in their original state, and most can be enjoyed during a half day walk around town. When you are ready for lunch, the locals recommend The Apple Shed. Generous portions of home cooked comfort food are served up by servers that are always ready with a smile. There are burgers, sandwiches, chili, and plenty of salads and vegetarian items available.
Tehachapi Depot Museum houses a collection of train artifacts along with information on train history of the region. Chances are you will see a freight speeding by on its way to or from the world famous Tehachapi loop. Admission to the Tehachapi Depot Museum is free.
If wine is more your thing, you will not leave disappointed. Neighboring Cummings Valley is home to The Souza Family Vineyard. While the family had ranched in the valley since 1990, in 2003 they mixed things up a bit, and started making wine. Their “Primivito Zinfandel” has become something of a local legend. The Souzas like to say they have brought a little bit of Tuscany to Tehachapi. Best of all, they’ll sell you a bottle to take home!
Indian Point Ostrich Ranch is a few miles from downtown and offers year round tours depending on the weather. Visitor hours May-October Every day 11-5 – November-April Thurs thru Sun 11-4
The town of Tehachapi is located along Highway 50 about a 45-minute drive from Bakersfield or two hours from Los Angeles.