Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Helicopter 03
East of Bakersfield on 178, where the foothills rise suddenly from the rolling plain and the highway vanishes into the narrow canyon of the Kern River, there's a billboard presenting grim statistics on the river's danger: 268 drowned since 1968.

Up the canyon a ways I stopped for lunch at a riverside picnic area. At first I had the place to myself. Then I heard a helicopter in the distance--spotted it a good ways away, above the ridgeline--and watched as it did a slow pass at a respectable height and headed off in the other direction. And as it circled back and did another pass a little lower. And as it came back, slower this time, dropping to 100' or so above ground level. Looking for something, or someone.

And of course that billboard was at the front of my mind. Why else would a sheriff's helicopter be flying that low above the river? Spotting fires, looking for pot farms, searching for a missing hiker...maybe. Fugitive...unlikely. But there's a limited number of plausible scenarios there.

When I got home a few days later I found the Kern County Sheriff's website and checked their recent news releases. Nothing. There had been a drowning a week earlier, but nothing of note that day. So I have no idea what it was all about, except that apparently it wasn't what I was afraid it was.

Helicopter 04

Helicopter 05

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