Mt. PinosAfter almost a week of drinking and beaching it in Cali I ventured out beyond the city and got a little roughed up by Baldy. Despite this I was still determined to take advantage of my last full day in Cali to see the sights and bag a peak. In preliminary planning I had considered hiking Sandstone Peak or Oat Mountain on either side of the San Fernando. Big Pine Mountain in the San Rafael Wilderness jumped out at me from the map. I was puzzled, however, as to why I could not find anything on this peak on SP, it being a county highpoint. Finally, reading some trip reports on COHP.org and seeing how remote the peak is explained the lack of information. I did not feel like a 32 mile round trip day, so I decided to pass on that.
Mt. Pinos stood out on the map as well, being over 8000 ft. The area looked pretty nice, with national forest lands everywhere. The summit could be reached via an easy road walk, and was close by to Carrizo Plain National Monument, which I could check out afterwards. I soon finalized my plans and picked up my rental early Wednesday morning.
I-5 was a pleasant drive once I passed Santa Clarita, winding through a familiar landscape of desert peaks and golden yellow slopes. I stopped at the exit for Pyramid Lake to take a few pictures and take in the scenery, then continued on to Tejon Pass to the Frazier Park exit.
The elevation was higher here, and the road to and past Frazier Park drove through evergreen forests and lush mountain meadows. The area reminded me of Wyoming and Northern Colorado, which was surprising as I was little more than an hour outside of the city. It was a nice corner of the state forgotten by the denizens of LA, since most of them are probably too busy heading up to Big Bear for their walk-in-the-woods fix.
The road winds slowly, somewhat monotonously, up through the woods and to a giant parking lot on Mt. Pinos. From here it was another quick walk 20 minutes down a dirt road to the summit. It was still early, and under the shade of the pines it was cool, dry, and comfortable. The road gains a few hundred feet along a gentle grade, as you traverse the flat, plateau like summit ridge.
The summit was nice but marred by the radio towers, which blocked the view south. North one could peek through the tree cover into the Central Valley and Carrizo Plains area. It was a little windy on top, so I didn’t linger long. The walk back to the car went by in no time.
I took the Mt. Pinos Rd back down and continued west on FR 95 through the tiny town of Pine Mountain. This very scenic road wound its way down through the forest and as the trees began to thin at lower elevations I saw some pretty jagged peaks to the south. I figured this was probably Big Pine and the San Rafael Wilderness, and beyond it, Santa Barbara. They looked appealing on the horizon and definitely worth checking out in the future.
Carrizo PlainThe curvaceous road continued down through the golden hued meadows until CA-166, dropping me off at the southern entrance of Carrizo Plain. I had seen no other cars since passing the town of Pine Mountain, and would see not one other person the entire time I was in the National Monument. The terrain was very unique, as the road initially drives through pretty, yellow sun-baked hills that remind you of Kansas or even the Dakota Badlands. This initial section of the road, I found out later, straddles the San Andreas Fault.
Eventually the road passes through the hills and enters the plains which is, in actuality, a large valley. Caliente Ridge dominates the view west, and east you can see a lower range as well as the little foothills that mark the path of the San Andreas Fault through the state. The pavement soon ended on the road and I got the rental pretty dusty. It was scorching here in the low valley, and Caliente Ridge to the left seemed to live up to its name. It did look like a very nice hike though, maybe in January.
The visitor center was closed, and Soda Lake was dry. Picking up and looking through some pamphlets, I figured out that the lake was usually dry in the summer. Winter and Spring was when most normal people visited this area. The dry lake bed was still a pretty cool site to see. I walked up to the edge but there was no point in taking the boardwalk trail this time of year. Besides, it was running a little late and I still had to drive back to LA and drop off the car.
I exited the Park through the northern entrance, where I saw the first car other than my own for several hours. CA-58 wound its way through a few mountain passes. I drove through the small communities of Taft and Maricopa, as well as a large amount of gas and oil rigs. Lots of drilling in this part of the Central Valley. You were worlds away from the bustle of LA in this forgotten corner of the state.
The drive back to LA went by quickly, and we ended our vacation at the bars in Hollywood. We pregamed at an apartment nearby, a friend of a friend of a friend’s. We walked up to the roof, where a vista of lights gleamed below us. It was a nice complement to the views and sights I had enjoyed the past few days.