Last week’s story about Tejon Ranch and the old Ridge Route drew a lot of comments from interested readers. I suppose almost everyone in California has traveled Interstate 5 over “the Grapevine” at some point.
The mountain barrier formed by the Transverse Ranges is an interesting area to explore and it offers seasonal surprises. In the spring, the slopes are often a lush green with jaw-dropping sheets of bright California poppies. In the winter I’ve seen storms brooding ominously on top of the peaks, evoking images of Mordor. When a couple of inches of snow closes the road, Maine, Wisconsin and Alaska shake their heads in disbelief. After it reopens, the snow-covered slopes are a beautiful sight. Late summer is the least enjoyable time, when the south valley’s smog often completely hides the mountains from view.
The unofficial designation “the Grapevine” does not come from a resemblance between the road’s many curves and actual grapevines. It comes from Grapevine Creek, which I-5 follows from the floor of our valley to nearly the top of the pass. The creek, in turn, was named by early Spanish explorers who found wild grapevines along it.
Although the old Ridge Route closed in 2007 after storm damage and remains closed due to a variety of safety issues, there is the possibility that it may reopen. To learn more about the history of the road and an effort to reopen it, check out Harrison Scott’s website at www.ridgeroute.com. Scott is the author of the book “Ridge Route: The Road that United California” – an encyclopedic work that covers just about everything on the road and its history. Jill Livingston and Kathryn Golden Maloof’s “That Ribbon of Highway II” also does an excellent job of covering Ridge Rouge history.
Located near I-5’s summit in Frazier Park, the Ridge Route Communities Museum contains a wealth of photos and artifacts that illustrate the area’s history, starting with the first human inhabitants. The museum grounds also contain historic structures plus mining, ranching and road-building equipment. For more information, go to www.rrchs.org or call (661) 245-7747.
There are a lot of other places to explore as you traverse the Transverse Ranges; Fort Tejon State Historic Park is one of my favorites. As the best example of a 19th century surviving in California, and one of the best in the western states, it’s an interesting stop for children and adults. Living history demonstrations are offered on the first Saturday of each month. Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, Fort Tejon is located along I-5, just north of Lebec. For more information, go to www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=585 or call (661) 248-6692.
The California Poppy State Natural Reserve is one of the best places to enjoy poppy-covered hills. Although this year is not stacking up to be a good wildflower year, the Poppy SNR is a great destination to file away for future years. This land survived other severe drought years – between 1876 and 1878, little rain fell throughout the south valley and the Transverse Ranges. It is located about 25 miles east of I-5, and mid-April is usually the best time to visit. For more information, go to www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=627 or call (661) 946-6092.
Wind Wolves is a 95,000-acre preserve owned by the Wildlands Conservancy. Located along the northern edge of the Tehachapi Mountains and the southern edge of our valley, the preserve is home to a wide range of species including tule elk and California condors. The terrain climbs from valley grassland all the way to pine, spruce and elevations in the 6,000-foot range. The gates are open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with tent camping available by advance reservation. Guided hikes and drives are also available. For more information, go to www.wildlandsconservancy.org/preserve_windwolves.html or call (661) 858-1115.
The highest easily-accessible summit in the area is Mount Pinos. At 8,831 feet, it provides excellent views in all directions – including our valley, Tejon Ranch, the Sierra Nevada and parts of Southern California. From the parking area at the end of the Mount Pinos Highway, the walk to the top is a bit less than 2 miles on a gated dirt road with a very gradual incline. The view is especially spectacular directly after a storm. The peak gets a significant amount of snow in wet winters and can be a popular cross-country skiing/snowshoeing destination for Southern Californians. With minimal light pollution, it’s also a popular star-gazing spot.
In regard to public land issues, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has released a draft economic analysis of the proposal to designate critical habitat zones for Sierra Frogs and Toads. The 60-day comment period will end on March 11th. To comment, go to www.regulations.gov and use the docket number FWS–R8–ES–2012–0074. Two public hearings will be held Jan. 30 at the Sacramento Horsemen’s Association on 3200 Longview Drive in Sacramento. The first hearing session will start at 1 p.m. with doors opening at 12:30. A second hearing session will start at 6 p.m. with doors opening at 5:30.
A public meeting about changes in the Sierra National Forest’s management plan will be held Jan. 27 at the Holiday Inn Fresno Airport from 5 to 9 p.m.