Better late than never. After skipping our annual fall color trip to the Eastern Sierra, we instead squeaked in a short trek in the Angeles National Forest in late October. Fall color in the San Gabriel Mountains is a sad substitute for blazing aspens in the Sierra, but you gotta take what you can get. And for all you non-SoCal doubters: yes, there are trees with leaves that change color here.
We headed into the Angeles High Country to hike the Blue Ridge Trail, an easy 4.4-mile roundtrip right near Mountain High Ski Resort (doubters: yes, there are ski resorts in Southern California. See the runs in the Google Earth image below?) that provides some of the best views in the San Gabriels. And, for those who think SoCal’s only wildlife is black bears lounging in suburban swimming pools, keep reading.
Sandwiched between Mountain High East and West, the trailhead is across the Angeles Crest Highway from the forest’s Big Pines Visitor Center — which is usually closed due to budget constraints.
The path winds along a slope covered with oaks and Jeffrey pines, which transitions to white fir and lodgepole pine as you climb higher. It’s an easy hike, but you’ll notice the 7,000-foot elevation.
A bench marks the halfway point of the trail:
The ground was littered with leaves that had already fallen, but some shrubs and oaks still held color. Two miles and 950 feet of gain later, the trail ends at a campground where it bisects the Pacific Crest Trail. A stroll along the fire road leads to one of Mountain High’s lifts, and you’re treated to glorious views of Mt. Baldy and Mt. Baden-Powell.
But the best part of our day in the Angeles happened on the way home. We’ve always wondered why so many rocks litter Angeles Crest Highway at this far eastern end of the forest, and now we know. As we passed Dawson Saddle, we were treated to two bighorn sheep skittering down a near-vertical slope, which rained loose rock onto the road.
We’d heard there’s a good chance of seeing these guys in that area, but had never seen them until then. At one time, the San Gabriel population of desert bighorn numbered 740, the largest in California. They took a big hit from mountain lion predation, along with other stresses, and now number about 400. The two we saw appeared to be a male and female, who trotted back up the slope when they saw us, then back down over a ridge, across Highway 2, over the guard rail and onto the next canyon.
A nice sunset with fog moving in completed our happy fall day in the Angeles: