A Wild West Drive Through Southern California History

Southern California never ceases to amaze. No matter how many Sunday drives I take around the region, I am still finding new and exciting getaways. Such was the case last week when a couple friends and I headed to Wrightwood and took a few memorable turns along the way.

The adventure began when we pulled off the northbound I-15 Freeway near the Cajon Pass and Devore and ended up on Old Route 66. This lost portion of the historic highway parallels the freeway for a spell while it twists and turns its way through the rocky San Gabriel Mountains.

After a few minutes we spotted a white monument on the side of the road and pulled over to investigate. It turns out we were driving through a split that divides the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges. This ancient route was traversed by Native Americans, early settlers, horse thieves and railroads, before Route 66 and the freeway came along. The pass was also called the Salt Lake Trail, as it was used extensively by the Mormons, who founded San Bernardino in 1851.

While reading a roadside plaque, we heard thunder coming in the form of a mile-long Southern Pacific train. Looking up, we saw the iron horse directly in front of us, just across a deep gully with a flowing stream at the bottom.

Continuing our trek up to Wrightwood, we turned off Route 66 onto Lone Pine Canyon Rd and discovered an old, abandoned outpost known as Clyde Ranch. Built in the 1870’s by the Clyde family, the cabin and surrounding 160-acre settlement was said to be a retreat for Wyatt Earp and his brother Virgil, who grew up in the nearby city of Colton. Story has it that the legendary Earp brothers would ride their horses from Colton, through the Cajon Pass to visit the Clydes and hunt deer.

From the ranch we continued up Lone Pine Canyon Rd and began to see snow along the side of the road and clinging to the mountainsides. We then found ourselves driving through a residential area of cabins and lodge homes, before popping out into the tiny town of Wrightwood.

Located at 6,000 feet in the east end of the San Gabriel Mountains, Wrightwood is best known for its popular ski resort Mountain High. But the place is also a charming little town with quaint shops and restaurants and a host of outdoor activities at hand. And no traffic lights!

When we got to town, it was 56 degrees, the sun was shining, and a brisk breeze was blowing through. There was ice on the ground and snow on rooftops. There was smoke coming from the chimney of a local restaurant named Evergreen Café. We took this as signal to pop in for lunch. We did and were treated to a hearty meal of hot chili and chicken-fried steak.

After lunch we drove up Angeles Crest Highway, which cuts through town. We took this until we found a spot on the side of the road where people were playing in the snow. This looked too fun to pass up, so we parked and followed a trail to an area packed with families sliding around on inner tubes and makeshift sleds.

Continuing up Angeles Crest Highway, we stopped at Mountain High Ski Resort (www.mthigh.com) and watched snowboarders and skiers glide down the mountain. Billed as Southern California’s closest winter resort, Mountain High consists of three separate mountains: Mountain High East, West, and North. Back on Angeles Crest, we winded our way to picturesque Jackson Lake. Covering about seven surface acres, the tiny lake was frozen when we arrived and was being used by ice skating ducks.

On the way home from Wrightwood, we turned off Lone Pine Canyon Rd and took my Jeep down a tiny trail called Swarthout Canyon Rd. This exciting desolate road is as fun as it is bumpy and unforgiving.

For more information on Wrightwood and surrounding area, visit www.wrightwoodchamber.org.

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