Copyright (c) 1998 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.
Chapter 58 - October 9 to October 20, 1998 Lone Pine, CA to San Diego, CA 24,062 miles (38,810 km) cumulative
Stretching from the town of Bishop all the way past Lone Pine, a staggering length of over 120 miles, is one of the deepest valleys in the entire world. The valley floor lies at elevations ranging from 4000 ft. at the northern end to 3500 ft somewhere near Lone Pine. The mountains crests to both the east and west reach the dizzying heights of 14,000 ft. making for a 10,000 ft. deep valley. A gray haired man checking us in at the Diaz Lake county park told us that no one really knows what formed the valley, but there are three theories. John Muir thought it was made by one expansive glacier flowing all the way from Bridgeport down to Lone Pine. Looking at the ragged peaks of the mountains to the west it does appear that some glacier carving has occurred. But, the mountains to the east don't appear to have similar carving. And the valley, although wide and flat, really doesn't seem to have a true U shape normally associated with glacier valleys.
Another theory is that the mountains have been uplifting while the valley floor has been left below. This theory has some pretty hard physical evidence to support it. As the mountains rise up a few inches each year the valley continues to slip back through a series of mini earthquakes. However, on August 23, 1872 an enormous earthquake occurred along most of the length of the Bishop fault, the fault line that tracks north to south along the west side of the valley. In the time span of just 18 seconds the entire valley floor dropped some 16 to 20 feet. For many decades the valley floor had been stuck on the edge of the mountains and had been rising upward with it. Finally on that August day it broke loose and slipped back to where it belonged. Although little damage occurred due to the very limited population settled in the area, the National Geographic Magazine has called this the most significant earthquake event ever recorded. If you think about it an entire 120 mile! long valley suddenly dropping down a distance of 20 feet is quite significant.
Finally, a twinkle came into his eyes and a rueful smile spread across his face as he said, "Folks round here figure the wind did it. It just blows the sand around from one spot to another. Sometimes Bishop is higher, sometimes we're higher." Uh huh. And I suppose Paul Bunyon had a hand in its creation as well.
Riding from Bishop to Lone Pine actually turned out to be far more interesting and enjoyable than we had expected. We'd been getting up with the sun and riding until just after noon, getting in about 60 to 70 miles each day. We'd been worried about getting those infamous desert winds, but as it happened the wind stayed relatively calm even after we'd stopped for the day. We have driven this section of Rt. 395 on a couple previous occasions, vacations, ski trips, and even to a wedding once. And every time I just recall a long, flat, desert, boring drive. But, as we usually find, on the back of a bicycle it doesn't seem so flat, lifeless, and dull. There were the spectacular mountains on each side to look at, the gradually widening valley, the green trees and bushes marking the path of the river, and even here and there piles of black lava rock giving a hint to volcanic activity of ages past. I had to wonder why there are no longer active volcanoes in central to southern ! California when there are so many just a bit further north. Even Diaz Lake was a surprise as I had absolutely no recollection of it whatsoever. The towns proved to be much more vibrant, alive, and pretty than I remember. My memory of Lone Pine was just a dusty little 4 or 5 building town having nothing more than one or two run down motels and restaurants. But, there actually is a real town with clean reasonably modern motels, good sized grocery store, brand new gas stations, new schools, and even a pretty green well tree lined town park. The ride proved to be much more pleasant than we had expected.
On the other hand, the ride from just north of Ridgecrest, gateway to the huge Naval Weapons Center China Lake where Brian spent many a long boring meeting, to the town of Adelanto was just as boring, bleak, and unmemorable as I recall it from behind the windshield. The roadway undulates up and down just slightly through brown, unremarkable landscape. Tall truss electrical wire towers follow along the highway mile after mile copying the up and down of the road. The only highlights were the town of Johannesburg which is just a bunch of dumpy small houses each surrounded by its own carefully preserved array of rusting junk and Kramer Junction, a four corner intersection hosting some sort of fast food restaurant on each corner. The most famous, at least in aerospace engineering, is the Shuttle Drive Inn whose logo is a space shuttle sporting a big Mexican sombrero on its vertical stabilizer. Kramer Junction is just east of Edwards AFB the landing site for the shuttle. So th! e logo is appropriate. One other and very minor highlight is the giant solar power farm just a bit north of Kramer Jct. Several acres of those silver half cylinders focus the sun's energy on center tubes holding water. The energy in the heated water, i.e. steam, is converted to electrical energy. It's one of the very first solar power experimental projects put into place back when the government helped with funding such projects. Now that the government funding is gone I really wonder if the farm is cost effective. Also, I suspect the much newer photovoltaic solar cells are far more efficient and cheaper.
It was a long, tiring ride to the town of Adelanto, some 70 plus miles, where we hoped to find a place to spend the night. Standing at the corner gas station we were approached by a man dressed in casual clothes but driving a very fine car. He asked, "You're not planning to spend the night, are you? You're more than welcome, but I wouldn't advise it. There's some very bad folks in this town." Great. Just what had we gotten ourselves into. We were beat, not wanting to ride another mile, and here's someone telling us this is a town of many problems. He warned us that if we tried to camp anywhere nearby it'd be highly likely that we'd have our belongings stolen and might even wind up in a far worse situation than that. Bodies show up in the desert with regularity and shoot outs are common. This information was confirmed by 2 more people and even the police. In fact, as we rode into town we noticed at least 4 police cars within a few minute's time. For a small town thi! s is a huge number. We were to learn later that Adelanto is a major druggie hang out. They all go out into the desert to hide and get high. Anyone unsuspecting of the danger who stops at night is a prime target for theft by these druggies. And some people say drug use doesn't hurt anyone but the user. I'd have to disagree. For this night we had to ride on an extra 8 unwanted miles to the town of Victorville where a pleasant, and safe I might add, KOA awaited us..
My knee throbbed, my heart pounded, my chest heaved as I gasped at as much air as I could gulp in. Glaring in bright yellow and black right in front of us was a sign that said, "Warning trucks. 8% to 16% grades, sharp curves next 7 miles." I thought, "No way, I can't do that for so long." We'd left the Victorville KOA where we'd spent 2 nights right next to I15 getting a little rest prior to finishing our north to south route in the mountains. We headed inland along fairly level roads to Lucerne Valley and then turned toward the mountains. It started getting steep, steeper, and steepest and we hadn't even made it to the large Mitsubishi cement plant just a few miles up the road. "Go this way, it's less steep.", "I wouldn't go that way." the lady at the KOA had warned us about our original planned route. Yet, we had to wonder if she really knew. A winding road that seems to climb up a vertical cliff actually isn't so steep due to the many switch backs. Yet a nearly stra! ight road will most assuredly be much, much steeper. Brian kept complaining, "Never, never listen to a car driver. Why do we keep doing that. When will we learn." It's true. We've discovered that when a car driver says it's flat, it's got 200, 300, even 600 ft rolling hills. When they say it's not steep, it's straight up. When they say it's X miles it's usually 2 times X. They're almost always wrong. But they don't always underestimate. Everyone said Rt. 395 past China Lake was narrow, winding, steep, with no shoulders. Yet it wasn't any of these. So, we keep trying to learn the lesson, multiply the distances by 2 and assume hard climbs no matter what a car driver says. In this case we knew we'd gotten ourselves into something we simply couldn't complete before dark. Out came Brian's thumb as the next beat up pick-up went by and we got a lift up to Big Bear Lake.
Big Bear Lake is one mountain area in and around the LA and San Diego region that we had not spent much time exploring. So we thought we might stay for a while, take a few hikes, wander through the hills a bit. That was not to be. Stocking up on groceries at the store we proceeded around the lake looking for camping. The book we had claimed there were at least 2 forest service campgrounds and one private. We passed by Sorreno, not even listed in the book. It was closed either because it was off season or there was a sign saying something about the plague. Squirrels in the park must have tested positive for the plague and the Forest Service officials didn't want to chance anyone catching it. We kept going toward the next campground listed in the book. It was no more, gone, turned into a picnic area. It was getting dark and we were getting desperate. We continued around heading back to the store and the next FS campground. It too had been turned into a picnic area. P! edaling like crazy we rushed into Holloway's Marina and RV park and gasped, "We sure hope you take tents." "Sure" the check in girl said "For $18" Ouch! Expensive. We decided right then and there staying in the Big Bear Lake area for more than one night was absolutely out of the question. We expected prices to be high in San Diego, so we'll save our camping budget for then.
In addition, we discovered that the Big Bear Lake town we remembered from our aborted ski trip of about 15 years ago isn't the same as what we found there now. We'd come up for a one day ski trip with a friend of ours, holding advanced purchase tickets in our grubby little paws, on what proved to be one horrible day. It was cold, wet, and raining. We managed to make exactly one downhill run when all three of us concluded this was not to be. We gave up our tickets, wasted the money, and went home. From that trip we recalled Big Bear Lake town just being a small mountain town hosting small motels, cabins, a few shops. Today it's virtually a city with probably over 20,000 inhabitants. There's new luxury hotels in addition to the old cabins, two huge grocery stores, 2 huge drug stores, and even a K-Mart. What a shock. It's no longer the little town of our memories. Well, maybe, just maybe our memories are flawed. Nah couldn't be.
Leaving Big Bear Lake we climbed up over a 1700 ft summit and descended thousands of feet into the brown, wretched LA smog. It's blown from the LA basin area up through the low valley between the San Jacinto and San Gorgonio mountains, following the freeway past Banning out into the desert toward the city of Palm Springs. It's awful, awful, awful. From the floor of the valley you can't see the mountains surrounding you much less more than a few blocks down the street. I suffered from a raspy deep lunged cough. My lungs hurt and every breath felt like I was drowning. People live in this stuff their entire lives. I couldn't do it, I just couldn't stand it. Give me the clean air of Wyoming.
Back up 4000 ft. we climbed, from Banning to Idylwild, back into familiar territory. We'd spent many a weekend roaming the mountains around Idylwild, hiked almost every single trail, eaten lots of pizza at the Idylwild pizza Co., camped at almost every campground. Now this is our idea of the quiet small mountain community. What we had expected to find in Big Bear Lake we found still exists in Idylwild. There are just a few small motels, a few restaurants, two campgrounds within walking distance of town, a descent grocery store that's not too large, 2 small gas stations one of which really is a true service station, and many but not too many small to large cabins tucked out of sight among the hills and trees. The buildings do have some of the imitation Alpine flavor, but it's not over done as it is in such places as Estes Park in Colorado. Idylwild has always been our favorite LA area mountain town but I'd always assumed it was because it's so close and accessible. Now a! fter seeing Big Bear we now know we were right all along.
The mountains around Idylwild are what I'd call dry mountains. They reach 8,000 to 11,000 ft in altitude and are somewhat rocky in appearance due to the sparse vegetation rather than glacier scouring. The main trees consist of small to huge live oak, manzanita bushes, and pines and the undergrowth is usually dry and brown except during the wet winter and spring months. Live oak is an odd form of oak in that the leaves are oval shaped rather than having the large lobes of a more normal oak tree. If it weren't for the annual acorn production I would never have guessed they were members of the oak family. They produce tons of acorns each year, a main staple for the natives before white man's arrival. I actually tried cooking some of these acorns one time. Sour. I hadn't realized that you need to flush water through the acorn mash several times to get rid of the bitter tannic acid. Manzanita bushes, meaning little apple in Spanish, actually have no relationship to apple t! rees at all. They're short bushes, reaching perhaps 10 ft high at most, have red barked trunks, gray/green leathery leaves, and put out these little berries that actually to look a bit like tiny sticky apples. Natives and pioneers used to make a hot drink, sort of a tea, from the berries. I was surprised to learn that there are actually some 8 different varieties of manzanitas in California alone. I had always thought there was only one. Finally, one of the predominant pine trees is the Jeffery. These are magnificent trees that can reach heights of 200 ft or more and diameters over 5 ft. Their bark breaks into deep furrows as the tree ages and they develop a kind of reddish orange tint in the bark. Most unique for these trees is if you put your nose in one of the furrows and sniff you can get the distinct smell of vanilla. If you're ever wandering around the mountains near LA and San Diego and see people looking like they're kissing the big pine trees, these are not e! xtremist tree huggers gone totally nuts. They're just smelling the vanilla.
Idylwild to San Diego is a route which we've actually ridden before, at least most of it. You quickly drop down from the town past the one store and cafe intersection known as Mountain Center, below the level where the huge pine trees dominate into a long flat valley filled with large ranch houses and some hay farms. A right turn and another drop of 1500 ft brings you to the level where only the live oak and manzanita grow. You ride up and down 1000 ft rolling hills past an old Butterfield stage station that recently was renovated and turned into a museum, past one of the old Spanish missions that dotted the California coast back in the 1600s, and the reservoir known as Lake Henshaw. Finally the last drop brings you to the green because it's watered San Diego metropolitan area which has been rapidly spreading out of the coastal flat lands into the hills surrounding Poway and Romona. The route brought back vivid memories as we cruised past Dudley's bakery in Santa Ysabel ! famous for its fresh baked breads and long lines, through the antique shop filled town of Ramona, past our former home in Scripps Ranch, and down to Mission Bay along one of our former favorite biking routes. Some things had changed. There were new housing developments in Ramona and Scripps, a new 4 lane road between Romona and Scripps Ranch, and a major housing rejuvenation project was completed in the formerly run down neighborhoods of Linda Vista. Much was still the same. As we glided down Linda Vista Blvd getting our first view of the blue waters of Mission Bay, the sun glinting off the small waves giving it a silvery appearance, multicolored sails scattered around, I felt a sudden pang of homesickness. Even after spending 3 1/2 years traveling around, exploring many different places on our continent, San Diego still feels like home. I suppose that until we decide to settle down in some other spot, such as the mountains of Wyoming, it will always feel that way.
Appendix A - Route
California Rt. 395 to Adelanto, back roads to Victorville, Rt. 18 to Big Bear City and Rt. 38, Rt. 18 around the lake, Rt. 38 to intersection to Yucaipa, backroads to Banning, Rt. 243 to Mountain Center, Rt. 74 to Rt. 371 to Aguanga, Rt. 79 to Santa Ysabel, Rt. 78 to Ramona, Rt. 67, Scripps Poway Parkway and backroads to Mission Bay in San Diego
Appendix B - Campsites or hotels
California Yucca Inn Motel at Ridgecrest ($), Victorville KOA 2 nights ($), Holloways Marina and RV Park in Big Bear Lake ($), Stagecoach RV Stop in Banning ($), Mt. San Jacinto State Park in Idylwild 2 nights ($), Oak Grove Campground in Cleveland NFS ($), Dos Picos County Park near Ramona ($), Campland on the Bay in San Diego ($)
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.