Angeles Crest Highway – After The Station Fire

Lower elevation burn area

It’s strange to realize there’s a beautiful forest right in our backyard here in Los Angeles, but it’s there.  Thanks to Angeles Crest Highway, anyone can enjoy the fresh mountain air and beautiful views in the heart of the Angeles National Forest.  It’s also a legendary road for motorcycle riders thanks to its snaking mountain curves and Newcomb’s Ranch, the mile-high biker-friendly restaurant/hang out in the midst of the pines.  A huge portion of our forest was tragically destroyed in last autumn’s devastating Station Fire, closing Angeles Crest Highway for months and turning vast wooded areas into empty dirt.  The road was reopened on November 30, 2009 but the forest is not the same.

If you’re a new or aspiring motorcycle rider anywhere near southern California, you probably know about Angeles Crest Highway.  “ACH” or “The Crest,” as the local motorcycle riders often refer to it, probably sees more motorcycle traffic on a nice weekend than any other road in Los Angeles except Pacific Coast Highway.  From its base in La Canada you can ride 26 miles to the aforementioned Newcomb’s Ranch to hang out with all the other bikers, or go the full 58 miles (when open) to Wrightwood, a cool little ski town in the mountains.  It’s an awesome getaway but not without its fair share of danger.  There are countless horror stories (I’ll let you Google those on your own) but I still ride it regularly albeit carefully and nowhere near my limits.  The majority of accidents I’ve seen up there, and I’ve seen plenty, were single-vehicle crashes; the riders just going too fast for their own good.

Dangers aside, it was good to see the road reopen.  What wasn’t good was seeing the destruction from the fire up close.  There are entire mountains, formerly full of brush and oaks, that are bare now.  Other areas that had dense pine groves now look  like cemeteries; the dead burnt trees serving as gravestones.  All is not lost however; it was encouraging to see that big patches of trees have survived in the burn areas.  Even some of the burnt trees survived and are still sprouting new green stuff.  The forest will recover eventually, though it will be a really long time.  The good news is that the fire didn’t do too much damage past Newcomb’s Ranch; all looks well just a few miles down the road heading east.

Bare, burnt mountains at the lower elevations
Some patches of trees were saved in the lower elevations
Mt. Wilson, a major communications hub, was saved
The foreground hills in this area burned, but the eastern forest was saved
A burned pine tree hangs on, sprouting new needles
Not so green anymore
This section used to be beautifully green and shady
Near Chilao, heading east, things start to look better
Newcomb's Ranch was crowded with returning bikers
Not sure AAA covers that
One of the last burn areas heading east from Newcomb's Ranch
All looks well in the eastern part of the forest

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