Illustrations by Ross Macdonald
You don’t have to hike or bike the San Gabriels to feel their beating heart. Within minutes of taking Angeles Crest Highway from the suburbia of La Cañada (set your odometer to 0), you’re immersed in a remote and rugged wilderness. Fourteen miles in, turn right for a detour up Mt. Wilson Road, which winds through stands of pine and live oak to the fish-eye views at the Mount Wilson Observatory (Figure 1).
Then loop back down and follow the highway for half an hour to Newcomb’s Ranch (Figure 2). Built in 1939, the roadhouse draws a weekend crowd of bikers with its pool table, cold beer, and hearty plates. At mile 36.2 you’ll pass first the moribund Mount Waterman (Figure 3) and then Snowcrest (aka Kratka Ridge) ski resorts, both the victims of diminishing snowfall.
Around another bend, at 6,900 feet, is the Vista Picnic Area, in case you didn’t get a table at Newcomb’s. From there, walk 50 yards south to a small saddle overlooking the dark recesses of Bear Canyon. Half a mile up the ridge to the right is the eerie, rusting top of the ski lift.
Afterward, drive another few miles and you’ll see the slopes of the 1920s town of Wrightwood, the gateway to the Mountain High ski area. Back to civilization. Now grab a seat at Evergreen Café (Figure 4), where chicken-fried steak and pancakes are on the griddle.