Visalia & Wasco, California

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After driving for miles through the San Joaquin Valley, and passing nothing but farm fields and immigrant-worker communities, my expectations weren’t very high for Visalia. Much to my surprise, I found a nice city with a beautiful downtown that seemed clean, comfortable, and very much alive.

Visalia’s centerpiece is the Visalia Fox Theater, on Main Street.

The Fox opened its doors in 1930, bringing luxuries like a star-covered ceiling, an east-Indian temple motif, air conditioning, and the three-sided clock on the tower above the ticket booth.  That clock was, at the time, the largest ever constructed — but it didn’t keep good time.  The Fox remained Visalia’s most popular movie spot until the mid ’70’s, when it was converted into a triplex, and the magic began to fade.  It shut down in 1996, and soon afterward, the Friends of the Fox group formed to preserve it.  After a massive restoration effort, the Fox reopened in 1999.

Visalia’s Main Street makes for a nice walk, and it gave me a good excuse to put off the 300 more miles I had to drive on Day 7.  Flowers were already blooming in flowerbeds along the street…

… and businesses seemed busy.  Look closely at the horizon, and you can see Visalia has a good view of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east.

As you leave Visalia, find your way over to California Route 99, the path of historic US 99, which provides one of the two major north-south routes through California’s central valley (the other is Interstate 5 — the two come together, forming a “V” near Bakersfield).  Take Route 99 south.  Eventually, you will turn on Route 58 east, through Bakersfield, towards US 395.

A trip down the 99 freeway is a stressful drive.  It’s mostly 4-lanes (just two in each direction), which is puny by today’s freeway standards.  And, since the central valley is dominated by agriculture and industry, there is a lot of truck traffic, crowding onto those tiny four lanes.

All of that traffic came to a grinding halt, just as I approached an exit (though I don’t remember which one).  I decided my odds were better on the back roads, even though I had no clue where I was going.  So, I exited, and headed west, until I ran into CA Rte. 43.

Almond Tree Fields

Along the way during my detour through the central valley, I passed dozens of groves, with trees in full bloom.  The white blossoms that fell from the trees covered the ground, making it look like a blanket of snow had fallen.  I’m not certain, but I think these are almond trees.

Wasco

Highway 43 eventually took me into the town of Wasco.  It’s a small town hiding in plain sight, in the middle of the “V” formed by I-5 and the 99 freeway.  I’m sure almost everyone rushes right by Wasco, on their way to somewhere bigger and more exciting.

Wasco’s website8 declares the town to be “universally known as the rose capitol of the nation.”  That struck me as, just possibly, a bit of an overstatement.  Sure, 55 percent of all roses grown in the U.S. are grown in and around Wasco.  I’m not questioning that statistic (also from the town’s website).  It’s the “universally known” part that seems a stretch.  You can get to know Wasco during the town’s annual Festival of Roses, held on the first Saturday after Labor Day Weekend. During the festival, you can take a tour of Kern County’s rose fields, which are in full bloom in September. 

There ‘s a clock in the middle of Wasco’s main intersection downtown, making it almost a roundabout, but not quite.

From Wasco, I continued to head south, through the town of Shafter, then took the diagonal Santa Fe Way to Rte 58 — the road that would take me east.  Rte. 58 is a freeway through Bakersfield, and I passed through without doing any exploring.  It was too late in the day, and I still had too far to go, to spend time exploring another city.  So, I made Boron my next stop — a very small town near the intersection of CA 58 and US 395.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive on Hwy. 63 south into Visalia:

… and from Visalia south on Hwy. 99, 43, through Wasco, Shafter, to Hwy. 58.

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