I woke up last Sunday and took a Sunday drive. I haven’t done that in years. I chose Angeles National Forest because it is close by, gorgeous, and I knew I was going to tell you all about it.
With over 650,000 acres, the park covers nearly one quarter of Los Angeles County. It is, without a doubt, the best neighborhood playground ever!
There are so many things you can do in the forest — so many that I can’t possible address them all. I challenge you all to discover the forest and find what it is you like to do. For myself, I took a drive.
With gas prices at the lowest rate in years, and the work-a-day world at the fastest pace ever, the imperative to slow down and even stop and smell the roses are two excellent reasons to take a Sunday drive.
I didn’t find any roses, but I did see sagebrush and wildflowers dripping down the sides of the mountain. The clouds were fluffier, the skies bluer, the air cleaner.
I set my trip odometer to zero at the end of the freeway offramp (the 210 at Angeles Crest Highway) and jotted down some things you might need to know if you decide to take a Sunday drive yourself.
2.6 miles: a pullout with a nice view of the city you are leaving behind you.
5.8 miles: another beautiful view.
6 miles: Grizzly Flat Trail Head at 3,000 feet elevation.
7.2 miles: yet another gorgeous view.
9.2 miles: go left toward Palmdale or continue straight toward the Mt. Wilson cutoff. Stop in at the Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center for a fresh cup of coffee and an informative chat with any of the friendly and knowledgeable staff.
13.7 miles: go right to Mt. Wilson (just five miles off the main road), or continue straight for nine miles to Charlton Flats.
15 miles: stop here for yet another gorgeous view.
18.1 miles: take a left to explore Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road.
22.9 miles: Charlton Flats (bathroom break).
25.1 miles: turn left onto Chilao Road or continue up the road for about a mile to the Chilao Visitor Center, picnic area and campground.
26.5 miles: is as far as I went. I pulled my classic 280Z into the parking lot right smack dab in the middle of about 50 sport bikes. My window was down and two rough-looking fellows were standing by their bikes, right in front of me. I smiled and said, “I guess I found the party, eh?”
And then it happened. They smiled, introduced themselves and told me their own 280Z stories. We talked about old cars, new bikes, mountain road etiquette and the color of the blue in the sky. Mike Cekalovich and Andre Thalmann have been riding motorcycles on Angeles Crest Highway for 25 years. The goal is pleasure and the destination is Newcomb’s Ranch. They told me they try to come up every weekend.
When I told Mike and Andre that I was writing an article about taking a Sunday drive, they took me inside and introduced me to Darren Martinelli, who has been working on the mountain in one capacity or another since 1984. Today he is tending bar.
Darren became a permanent resident of the mountain community in 1991 and admits that he loves the life. The clientele at Newcomb’s is about 80 percent motorcycle riders or “two-wheelers.” Darren says the regulars are “really great people” and told me every time he turns around the regular clientele are hosting charity events such as Toys for Tots and other fundraising rides. I didn’t observe any very inebriated customers and asked Darren about drinking and driving down the mountain. He said, “On the drinking side, people police themselves pretty much.”
My mom remembered being intimidated by the parking lot at Newcomb’s Ranch back in the 1970s. “We never stopped there!” she exclaimed when I asked her about it. “We had you kids and there was no way…” she trailed off.
Newcomb’s Ranch is a destination and it’s a mistake to pass it by because of the bikes in the parking lot. The business features a bar front, dining rooms, outdoor dining, two fireplaces, one pool table and a baby grand piano that guests are welcome to play. The regulars are incredibly nice, and more sociable than I’ve encountered in suburbia. A full and reasonably priced breakfast and lunch menu makes this a great place to head for on a Sunday drive.
I challenge you to put down the video game controller, the cell phone and other trappings of “civilization” and take a Sunday drive into the Angeles National Forest. You will be glad you did.