A Carrizo Plain National Monument sign stands in a large valley with mountains in the background.
Rafting the Kern River Three Pump Jacks, Midway-Sunset Oilfield Painted Rock. Carrizo Plain National Monument. Poppy Piedras Blancas Lightstation, San Simeon
BLM>California>Bakersfield>What We Do>Land Use Planning>Caliente Resource Area: RMP>Chapter 12: Keyesville SMA
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Chapter 12 - Special Management Area Descriptions
South Sierra Management Area


This historic mining area consists of 7,133 acres of Federal surface and 220 acres Federal mineral estate in eastern Kern County, southwest of the U.S.F.S. managed Isabella Lake Dam and campgrounds. The area is bounded by Sequoia National Forest to the north and west. To the south lies the resort town of Lake Isabella. Highway 178 runs along Keyesville's south side while Highway 155 separates the area on its east from the Lake Isabella Reservoir.

Ethnographically, the area was occupied by the Palagewan Tubatulabal Indian group. Historically, Joseph R. Walker, who led one of John C. Fremont's expeditions over

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Walker Pass in 1834, earned the honor of being the first white American to have entered Kern Valley. In 1851, gold was first discovered on Greenhorn Creek near the Kern River by an exploration party sent out by John C. Fremont. This discovery led to the first Kern River gold rush. Prospectors spread out finding rich placer gold yielding as much as $50 per pan and several lode deposits. The town of Petersburgh, near the summit of Greenhorn Mountain, was established about 1858 and became an important overnight stop and supply point. The location overlooked Keyesville. The earthen Keyesville Fort was constructed during the Tule River Indian War of 1856 to protect the settlers, but was never utilized.

After discovery of placer gold in the Kern River in the spring of 1854 a stampede of miners began to the area. By January 1855, the area was again swarming with miners. But, even before this rush, in 1852 Richard Keys, discovered lode gold. Soon afterward, Captain Maltby discovered the nearby Mammoth mine. Abia T. Lightner constructed the first stamp mill in the area. By 1858 there were five water driven mills with 22 stamps. However, the floods of 1861 - 1862 destroyed them all. The town of Keyesville supported about 50 to 60 people and boasted eight houses, a saloon, and crude hotel. A 20-stamp mill was erected in 1865 on the Kern River, but the mill proved inefficient and only ran a short time. After the Euro-Americans had heavily mined the gulches for placer gold, the Chinese arrived to work the sands.

Mines in Keyesville were idle until a 1897 revival. During this time, a 5-stamp mill was erected at the Keyes mine and a 10-stamp mill at the Mammoth. Both mines were intermittently active until about World War II. The Keyes mine produced a total of $450,000 and the Mammoth about $500,000.

Due primarily to the high cost of underground mining of the relatively small ore bodies, mining has given way to sheep and cattle ranching. Today, the historic townsite of Keyesville is situated on private land and is little more than a ghost town.

Inventory records indicate at least twenty known cultural resource sites are located within the confines of the SMA.  Prehistoric site types typically found consist of milling features, midden deposits, rock shelter, and rock art. Historic resources include placer and hardrock gold mines, the Lightner cabin and cemetery, Keyesville village, and the fort.  The Keyesville area played a significant role in the early American western expansion, settlement, and mineral exploitation in California.

The Keyesville Area is entirely underlain by Mesozoic granitic rocks. Small scale underground hard-rock and placer gold mining continues today. For this reason the central part of the Keyesville SMA is considered to have high potential for gold.

Within the last 10 years decomposed granite has also been mined within the boundaries of the SMA.

Encompassing about 100 acres in the southeastern corner of the SMA, is an area of high potential for geothermal resources. This area extends from Kernville Hot Springs on the northeast to Democrat Hot Springs on the southwest.

By far the most dramatic natural feature of the parcel is an approximately 3.5-mile stretch of the Lower Kern River Gorge. This important white-water river attracts about 12,000 commercial and non-commercial rafters from all over the USA each year. The river and its tributaries are also used by recreationists for gold panning. Gold mining was and still is an historic use of this site. Several unfenced mine shafts exist and present a significant hazard to recreationists.

Ecologically, the area is classified as blue oak/digger pine and riparian, with no known occurrences of rare or threatened species. The Pearl Harbor Survivor's Association's Pearl Harbor Memorial Tree Plantation (a barbed wire enclosure of 40 acres planted with pine trees) is located alongside the road leading to the river at the Hwy 178 bridge.

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The Keyesville area receives a high amount of recreational use because of the access to the Lower Kern River and the availability of trails for off-highway vehicles (OHVs). The visiting public comes from nearby communities and as far away as Los Angeles. Specific recurring uses include a very active white water rafting program (administered through a cooperative agreement with the Forest Service) and the annual Keyesville Classic, a National Off Road Bicycle Association sponsored stage race. In 1996, the eighth year of the event, 848 participants competed and more than 2,500 spectators watched the action. BLM maintains two launch sites for support of river rafting trips, referred to as "BLM South and Keyesville Bridge". OHV use continues to increase in the area, sometimes resulting in an unsightly network of trails and ways. However, the BLM is working with the Forest Service and local user groups, such as the Southern Sierra Fat Tire Association, to keep useable trails open and to designate other areas which present safety concerns or potential for resource damage. Recreational mining is permitted in Sec. 25 SE¼, Sec. 36 N1½NE¼, SE¼ , T. 26 S., R. 32 E., MDB&M, areas withdrawn from the general mining laws.

There are presently three grazing permits within one allotment in the SMA. Land use authorizations and withdrawals within the Keyesville SMA include various rights-of-way, lifetime leases, and various power project withdrawals.

Objective   Manage Keyesville to protect riparian and cultural resources while providing for recreational use (with particular emphasis on white-water rafting, mountain bicycling, and recreational mining).

Management Prescriptions

  • Disposals of mineral materials may be authorized outside of or away from riparian zones, sensitive plants, and cultural resources.
  • Shooting of firearms, except for the legal taking of game, is prohibited.
  • The SMA is open for the leasing of oil, gas and geothermal resources subject to LSU - Sensitive Species stipulation.
  • Provide for recreational mining through the continued closure to the mining laws in the Keyesville area (Sec. 25 SE¼, and Sec. 36 N½NE¼, SE¼, T. 26 S., R. 32 E., MDB&M). Expand closure to include Sec. 25 S½SW¼, Sec 35 NE¼NE¼, and Sec 36 S½NE¼, N½NW¼.
  • The area within 100 yards of the fenced right-of-way at the Bodfish Exit of State Highway 178 is limited to day-use only. Additional areas may be identified as day use area to avoid over crowding river access points and other visitor conflicts.
  • Lengths of stay for visitors may be shortened to accommodate more visitors.
  • Routes of travel for OHVs and bicycles shall be designated in the Keyesville SMA and an agreement with user groups should be developed for trail maintenance.
  • The SMA is available for livestock grazing and is currently allotted.
  • Recreational mining may be allowed within areas near Keyesville that are withdrawn from the general mining laws, subject to permit. All use must be in compliance with cultural resources legislation. Permits will have the following four constraints:
    • Suction dredging - requires a valid permit from the California Department of Fish and Game. Dredges must have an intake nozzle diameter of 3 inches or less. When working in the Kern River, dredges must be at least 100 feet apart. Highbanking is not permitted.

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  • Sluices/riffle boxes/dry washers - these gold collection devices must have collecting surfaces of less than 6 square feet.
  • Mining - mechanized earth moving equipment (backhoes, bulldozers), explosives, mercury or other hazardous chemicals may NOT be used.
  • Vegetation may not be disturbed to conduct recreational mining.

Support Actions

The existing two white-water launch sites along the Lower Kern River shall be maintained and an additional site may be constructed at the Bodfish off-ramp (for use during low-water years) to replace the Keyesville Bridge site.  These sites will be managed as day use sites. The MOU with the USFS for managing the white-water Lower Kern River for commercial and individual raft trips shall be continued and updated periodically.

The Lower Kern River shall be studied in conjunction with the Forest Service for Wild and Scenic River suitability.

Legal Description


T. 26 S., R. 32 E., MDB&M

Sec. 14 Lots 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12,

Sec. 15 E½, E½W½,

Sec. 22 All,

Sec.23 Lots 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16,

Sec. 24 Lots 7, 8,

Sec. 25 All except for Lot 5,

Sec. 26 All except for Lot 5,

Sec. 27 All,

Sec. 34 N½, W½SW¼, NE¼SE¼,

Sec. 35 All except for Lot 5 and MS 6664A,

Sec. 36 All

T. 26 S., R. 33 E., MDB&M

Sec. 30 Lots 3 - 4

Sec. 31 Lots 1, 2, 3 portions NW of State Route 178

T. 27 S., R. 32 E., MDB&M

Sec. 1 Lot 1 portion NW of State Route 178, Lots 3 and 4, S½NW¼, SW¼,

Sec. 2 All except for MS 6664A

Sec. 12 NE¼NW¼, N½NW¼NW¼, N½SW¼NW¼NW¼, S½NW¼, N½NW¼SW¼,  SW¼NW¼SW¼, N½SE¼NW¼SW¼


T. 26 S., R. 32 E., MDB&M

Sec. 25 Lot 5,

Sec. 26 Lot 5,

Sec. 34 E½SW¼, W½SE¼, SE¼SE¼,

Sec. 35 Lot 5

T. 27 S., R. 32 E., MDB&M

Sec. 12 S½SW¼ NW¼NW¼, S½SE¼ NW¼SW¼

Area Map

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