The Bright Star Wilderness is visually stunning with its streams, mixed vegetation types, and massive boulders. Kelso Peak dominates the northeastern portion of the wilderness at 5,090 feet. To the west, the Kelso Mountain system meets the Piute Mountain Range in the Sequoia National Forest. Kelso Creek, a tributary of the Kern River, is sheltered within Bright Star Canyon as it flows between sculpted chunks of eroded granite. Elevations range from 3,000’ near the floor of Kelso Valley to over 5,800’ on the highest ridges and peaks. A 60 foot wide vehicle corridor (route SC431) allows access to the interior of the wilderness.
The area has strong appeal for hikers, birdwatchers, and photographers throughout the year. In winter, higher elevations are often covered with snow. In mid-summer, day-time temperatures can climb into the low 100’s before cooling off at night. Although this wilderness lacks designated hiking trails, visitors will enjoy true solitude and an incredible array of wildlife in this notable “Mojave-meets-Sierra” wilderness. Hunters also frequent the area, especially during the fall deer season.
Bright Star Wilderness boasts a rich variety of vegetation. The upper slopes of the Kelso Peak are dotted with pinyon pines, juniper trees, and large granite rock outcrops. Joshua trees grow in the boulder-strewn valley on the east side. In years of adequate precipitation, wildflowers cover the slopes in stunning displays of color. The varied vegetation of the Mojave Desert, Sierra Nevada, and transition zones provide a diversity of habitats for wildlife, including hundreds of bird species, black bear, coyote, mountain lion, and bobcat. Mule deer, chukar, mountain quail, and California quail also inhabit the area. Bright Star Wilderness has several springs and 3 streams, Cortez Creek, Kelso Creek, and Bright Star Creek. These riparian areas provide water, forage, and cover for wildlife. Eagles, hawks, and other raptors nest in the large cottonwoods and on the cliffs. The entire wilderness is included within the BLM Jawbone-Butterbredt Area of Critical Environmental Concern, an area set aside to protect and enhance wildlife and cultural resources.
The wilderness is within the territory of the Native American Kawaiisu tribe. In the 18th century, explorers and missionaries traveled through Kawaiisu territory on excursions between the Mojave Desert and San Joaquin Valley and included observations about the Kawaiisu in their journals. In the 19th century, trappers, stockmen, farmers, and miners penetrated the Kawaiisu homeland, and, in 1863, thirty-five Indians were massacred by the military. In the 20th century, Kawaiisu had homesteads along Kelso, Canebrake, and Woolstaff creeks, and along the Kern River. The wilderness retains evidence of prehistoric and historic occupancy, including the rich mining history.
The Bright Star Wilderness encompasses 8,655 acres and is located southwest of Ridgecrest. Access to this wilderness is via State Highway 178 east of Bakersfield and then south along Kelso Valley Road, or via State Highway 14 south of Red Rock Canyon State Park and along Jawbone Canyon Road. Call the BLM to check on road conditions since heavy rains can wash out portions of the roads.