Road TripRead Now
August 28, 2022
Grace viewed a map that spanned Los Angeles and San Bernadino County wilderness areas. The distances seemed vast, but Grace wanted answers. Their wild horses were coming from somewhere. It wasn't the high country. And it wasn't Mojave...at least not directly.
So as the sun rose on August 29, they embarked upon a journey, leaving Chilao and everything familiar behind.
Out to the highway, passing the empty shell of Newcomb's Ranch, which looked as though a bear or perhaps coyotes had paid a visit.
Up Angeles Crest Highway they went, the little Jeep purring along...not particularly fast, but without complaint. They stopped at Carousel.
The wind played through the trees, an unfamiliar tune which made the girls slightly uneasy and aloof. They knew the sound of wind approaching but not its voice through this more dense cover of trees.
There was evidence of fire and next to it, luxurious green. They didn't linger long.
The Bobcat fire had run rampant through the mountains, spotting, skipping, crowning, missing whole swatches of forest and giving others the ultimate cleaning.
At Eagle's Roost, there was just enough room to squeeze the Jeep out onto the rocky soil. Grace and Skye surveyed the surroundings in silence. The fire had crowned, turning to blackness stands of old growth trees. After a while Skye spoke.
"The trees that are brown but still have needles...will they recover?"
"No. Almost with certainty no. Conifers need at least the top ten per cent of their needles to have a chance at survival. If they were lightly singed, it's possible the needles can recover and the trees can go on photosynthesizing. But when you see the trunk is black all the way to the top, that's too much. Their bark has most likely been compromised, and the limbs that supported needles are too damaged to support new growth."
On the highway again, they passed a structure, and in a few more turns came upon a set of tunnels. For a moment, Skye forgot about the fire scars.
Grace pulled in to a small vista point known as Jarvi. At Jarvi, She maneuvered the Jeep to overlook an incredibly steep and spectacular canyon.
"This place is amazing!" Skye exclaimed.
"Church" Grace said.
"Randy Emata likes to refer to this place as church. Well, the whole forest really, but this is one of the special places."
They pressed onward. The road demanded one's attention.
At 7,901 feet, they passed another structure, a sand shed for Cal Trans. They had reached Dawson Saddle.
"We made it to the top" Grace said, smiling.
The view was multi-faceted and expansive. Skye wanted to take in all of it.
"What is that?"
"I'm not sure what the correct geological term is" Grace said. "Inland desert perhaps. But it's the Antelope Valley, northern Los Angeles County into Kern County, and if we could see far enough, the Mojave basin and the Tehachapi mountains."
"Please please, let's stop."
Skye had to get a better look. She went to the edge of the precipice. The wind pushed at her back. She looked down...to an unfathomable drop of several hundred feet, and then down, down, down into a canyon miles below. Her knees trembled.
"Okay, take a good look, because we need to get going now. We've got a long way to go."
Down the mountain they went, toward Wrightwood. The approach was beautifully green. The town was set for the upcoming Labor Day weekend, flags flying from nearly every rustic, majestic, old, new, whimsical, tree-nestled home.
And the moment they had driven through the main part of town, the aftermath of another fire greeted them.
"This isn't the Bobcat fire" Grace said. "This is the one that was just a few weeks ago."
And at the base of nearly every desert chaparral plant, there was already green...profuse green.
"The burn interval was good here" Grace said. "That's why the vigorous new growth."
Fascinating though the fire ecology was, Grace quickly realized that her hunch about where Chilao's wild horses hailed from was wrong. This, Wild Horse Canyon, was hardly wild. Down every side street were homes. It was the desert side of the Wrightwood community. The name may have described the place fifty or a hundred years ago...but not in her lifetime. And so they doubled back.
They took Sheep Creek Road to Lone Pine Canyon. Ablaze in the orange-red spent flowers of chamise, glorious in its remote wildness, and a ten per cent grade, Lone Pine Canyon wound through some wild country, with the bone-dry Lytle Creek often at its flanks. And somewhere down here, there was a surprise.
They drove and drove for what seemed endless miles. When Grace finally found a place to turn around and head back, she glanced up to see the sign. She had found it. Navigating the Jeep down a wide dirt track, the girls began a three mile journey...over washboard road. Try though she might, Grace could not get the speed just right. And so they bumped, and shook, and rattled, awkwardly, down the often winding road.
Where they found, at the end of that three and a half mile endurance test in the mid-day heat...a closed road.
Skye took a deep, uneasy breath.
"Let's go for a walk."
They went around the gate, and crested a small knoll. Skye was stunned. Amid the constant drone of high tension power lines, train whistle in the distance and the occasional homestead in the middle of this no-man's land...water. Giant cattails. An oasis.
It wasn't huge, but it was relatively deep as far as Skye could tell.
"I'm told it has something to do with a fault that runs through the region. You may have noticed the slip in the ground on our left as we were coming in. As distinct from the dry creek to our right. I don't know if I really understood it right, but anyway. Pretty cool."
"And plenty of water for horses" Skye said. "If you were thinking maybe this is where the horses came from."
The girls did not linger long at the water either. Originally Grace had wanted to go back home through Valyermo and Juniper Hills, the back side of the desert where she thought the horses might be coming from, but she changed her mind halfway through Wrightwood. They headed back up Angeles Crest Highway, veering left without warning onto another dirt road, one that went immediately up into an alpine meadow...and which, thankfully, was not washboard.
"Where are we?" Skye asked.
The country was easily as harsh as the desert...perhaps moreso, as it was steep. But it was as different as it could have been, with huge trees twisted by wind and alpine meadows full of rugged plants such as Skye might have expected to encounter in the tundra.
They came to a sign post and read the trail names. Wild Fire. Backdraft. Inferno Ridge. They paused in silence. Were they ever going to escape the sight, the touch, the theme of fire? A few more turns and another surprise. This was not just a recreation road. This was Mountain High Ski Resort, the base of which was in the western flank of Wrightwood. And there was nothing subtle about it.
Slowly they made their way another three miles up the mountain.
"Where are we now?" Skye asked, just as they rounded a tree-lined corner and came into Blue Ridge campground. It was small and quaint, and there was a short-axled motorhome and a truck with a trailer enjoying the solitude, the cool air, the view...and the bees.
The tree line also appeared to be the bee line. There was no shortage of them here, and they seemed to be thriving...or perhaps, working hard and fast in the short season of plenty that preceded the certain onset of bitter cold in not so many months.
The girls pressed on. Then rather suddenly, Grace turned the Jeep around. They could have pressed on another two miles, but Grace was satisfied. They had made it over the top of the mountain, down to sea level, and now back into the alpine region again. They did not need to go to the very end of the rod. This was good. This was enough.
They paused to enjoy the view. Ravens came, flowing effortlessly up the mountain on thermals, eager to see if there were hand-outs to be had.
It was late afternoon. They headed slowly down from Blue Ridge, savoring the green, the unbridled beauty, the harsh, windswept character of the land, the late summer flowers.
They paused once more at Jarvi on the way home. The East fire, contained to a steep mountain slope by the efforts of firefighters and the loss of vegetation from fires in 2020, filled the sky with smoke despite its containment status. The day's warm winds and temperatures fueled what fire remained. The reality of fire would not be avoided. They would have to embrace it, and be grateful for what they still had. Theirs was a landscape facing dramatic change. A few more fires and it would be a windswept, high elevation desert. There was no escaping that reality, not as a theory, not as a prediction, but everywhere and all-encompassing.
(The Bobcat fire of September 2020 tore through the Angeles National Forest almost unchecked as forty other major fires plagued California and the west. It was particularly devastating where it crossed into the footprint of the 2009 Station fire, burning all the new growth that was doing so well, and leaving the landscape too depleted to have another vigorous recovery. Fire interval is very important and an interval of 11 years was very much not enough. It was also particularly devastating where it walked through the high country, and down into the desert to destroy the Devil's Punchbowl Visitor's Center and thousands of acres of already stressed habitat in between. The high country - once covered in snow six months out of the year - is severely stressed due to the increasing temperatures and lack of rainfall. It is believed that climate conditions have changed so much that the high country will not recover from the Bobcat fire. Previous high country fires have not seen vigorous recovery. The Station fire offered a glimpse of what nature can do at a proper fire interval...but what we have seen since then has been one radical fire after another. Our local climate gets warmer and warmer, drier and drier, causing trees to die even without fire. It is a difficult scenario to witness, after seeing such wonderful recovery from the Station fire).
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Hi, my name is Corina, the official story teller for Grace and Skye. Grace owes her beauty, style and charm to Anne Field, Field of Dolls Studio. Skye does too, for that matter, as Anne fostered her for a while, giving Skye a complete makeover in the process. The horses, dogs, cats, saddles, bridles, furniture and so forth are the work of many artists. I'll do my best to acknowledge them as we go from day to day.
This is the ongoing, unfolding story of grace little, manager of redbird ranch, and her little sister, Skye