California Cold - kenkistler

California doesn’t get cold, right?

I mean, not southern California. It’s all beach and desert. Those are sunny, warm, inviting places to visit year round. That’s what I used to think anyway.

My first year living in southern California I assumed it never got cold, at least not to a guy who grew up in western Pennsylvania and went to college in northern Wisconsin. I was used to cold winters and doubted California weather could throw anything at me that would even make me shiver.

I was wrong.

For Thanksgiving break I decided to head out into the Mojave to take some pictures and do some exploring. It’s southern California. Sure, it’s November, but how cold could it be in the desert. Without a second thought I grabbed a couple t-shirts, a pair of shorts, and a pair of jeans.

Three hours later I parked my SUV in the middle of a massive dry lake bed. I hadn’t seen another car or human in well over an hour.

The sun dipped beneath the western horizon and darkness set in while I planned my explorations for the next day. As I crawled into the thin sleeping bag in the back of my SUV I had a brief moment of concern. I felt a little cold.

I woke with a start. My body shook uncontrollably. The inside of the car felt frigid and the thin sleeping bag, t-shirt, and shorts weren’t keeping me warm. Not a bit. I crawled out of the bag into the driver’s seat trying to force myself to stop shivering. I couldn’t.

With shaking hands I stuck in the ignition and turned on the car. My eyes glanced down to where the car’s thermometer registered the temperature. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The glowing green electronic numbers read 18 degrees.


On that night the desert in southern California recorded a lower temperature than either western Pennsylvania or northern Wisconsin.

Somehow my t-shirt and shorts weren’t cutting it. I cranked the heater to it’s highest setting and pulled my jeans on up over my shorts. Then I wrapped the sleeping bag closely around me.

It took the heater a while to start moving the thermometer back up the scale. 19. 20. Just after 3:00 in the morning the thermometer finally hit a cozy 25. I turned off the car, pulled the sleeping bag close around me, and drifted off to a chilly sleep.

Yeah, California can get cold. Not much. Not often. Not everywhere. But it can get cold.

A few hours later I explored Grass Valley Wilderness in my faithful shorts and t-shirt. There was no grass. I wasn’t in a valley, only wilderness. The dry lake bed where I spent the frigid night neighbored an old World War II bombing range. Signs warned me of walking on or driving over unexploded ordinance.

Here are a few of the pics.

Sunset; aka. before it got freezing cold!

Hiked up a mountain just south of China Lake Naval Weapons Center.  You can see my little SUV down there a ways.

Panoramic view from the top of the hill.  In the far right of center you can see Cuddeback Dry Lake Bed where I spent the night.  To the left (west) of that is the old World War II bombing area.  Thankfully I didn't step on any bombs that day.