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Monday, August 17, 2015

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Cajon Pass and Searching for a Legendary Road

This is shaky country. The mountains on either side are there because one of the earth’s great faults passes through the neighborhood. Fires regularly scorch its sides, traffic jams it roads, and the majority of L.A.’s rail freight passes through it.

Cajon Pass threads its way through sparsely populated gap separating the San Gabriel Mountains to the west and the San Bernardino Mountains to the east. The modern superhighway, Interstate 15, channels tens of thousands of cars through here every day of the year. Multiple sets of rails carry a few thousand more rail cars towards the massive rail yard in Colton, destined for the warehouses of Southern California. At the bottom of the canyon, a not-old-looking four lane blacktop sits unused.
While the world rhapsodizes about the mother road, Route 66…that road in the bottom of the canyon...many old time state residents also remember the other number assigned to that road.  Highway 395.
Formerly stretching from border to border, the stretch here heading south has been replaced by the interstate.  It is just as legendary as the Mother Road but in a more understated manner.

It’s not a long drive through the pass…much shorter than the other big pass to the west, Tejon Pass (also called The Grapevine), and when traffic’s running smooth, it’ll only take you around 20 to 30 minutes to make the passage from Devore to Hesperia.
In between those two points is another world that most locals never see.
The intersection of Interstate 15 and state highway 138 is the midpoint of the pass and your portal to the land time forgot.  Head east and you’ll be headed towards the manmade Lake Silverwood.  Beyond that, the windy, climbing highway heads up the mountains to Crestline, Lake Arrowhead, Running Springs and Big Bear in the distance.
Boaters and fishermen love Silverwood.  Crestline is a small, quiet little community popular with hang gliders who launch off of a point west of town. Lake Arrowhead has a nice little village but the lake itself is private and reserved for residents only. Running Springs and Big Bear are popular snow skiing areas and Big Bear Lake is another lure for boaters and fishermen.
While we do have some good times in this eastern portion…Tim goes to camp each year in Crestline, I’ve misspent much of my youth on the slopes of Bear Mountain and Snow Valley ski areas, and we’ve rented a cabin a time or two in Big Bear…turning west on highway 138 is where I’m more likely to go.
Mormon Rocks Courtesy of Wikimedia
Photo by Takwish under CC BY-SA 2.5 License

The first thing you might notice are the rocks. Giant, red rocks tilted at strange angles to the sky.  Little caves dotting the sides, sitting there by themselves, off to the side, all pointing the same way. These are called the Mormon Rocks.
It’s an otherworldly sight. Several miles to the west of here, a collection of these rocks have been turned into a park where Hollywood has used them countless times as backdrops to commercials, TV shows, music videos, and movies from westerns to The Flintstones.  Legend has it that the infamous outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez hid here and the park, Vasquez Rocks, is named after him.

The rocks jut the way they do because the big San Andreas Fault lies just beneath, exerted its upward pressure.  Letty and I have had many picnics under this awe-inspiring view.
Turning left on highway 2 will put you on Angeles Crest Highway and soon you’ll be entering the town of Wrightwood. This cute little village straddling the line between desert and alpine offers some good eats and shopping in its little downtown.
Moving just west of town and you’ll hit Mountain High, one of the area’s biggest ski areas covering three separate mountains. 

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There’s not a lot of lodging here in Wrightwood, but there does seem to be enough for visitors who’d like to spend the night.

Jackson Lake Courtesy of Wikimedia
Rennett Stoweunder CC BY 2.0 License

If you’re inclined to keep going down the highway, a right turn on Big Pines Highway will take you to pretty little Jackson Lake, where kids have a ball bluegill fishing, and the desert down below where Devil’s Punchbowl park invites hikers and rock climbers to explore its canyon walls.
Highway 2 will take you all the way back to La Canada and Los Angeles if you have the time and the highway is open, but we’re heading back the way we came, back over to highway 138, Interstate 15, and pointing ourselves north out of the pass looking for that legendary road…
Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

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