not much left. A staircase to nowhere at the site of the National
Forest Inn. Stone walls and a staircase with the words Tumble
Inn carved into it. Foundations buried beneath years of dirt at
the Sandberg's Summit Hotel. They are all that remains of a historic
portion of the Ridge Route that snakes through the mountains high
above Interstate 5 between Gorman and Castaic.
1913 and 1915 and paved in 1919, the Ridge Route was the first
mountain highway built in California and carried traffic until
1933. Considered an engineering marvel of its day, the road opened
up travel and commerce between Los Angeles and the San Joaquin
Valley and spawned a cottage industry of inns, gas stations and
restaurants along its twists and curves.
spawned hundreds of tales from those who traversed its often treacherous
hairpin turns and visited its compelling lodges and eateries.
The stories, the remains, the road itself — even in its current
dilapidated state, all captured the imagination of Jack and Sidney
Kelley, so much so that today they periodically offer free motor
tours of the Ridge Route's passable portions.
fell in love with that old road," said Jack Kelley, 71, wearing
a button, as he always does, proclaiming "I drove the ‘Old' Ridge
wear my button everywhere I go. People are always asking
me about it. I start telling them about the highway and the curves
and pretty soon you've got a person who wants to go on a trip."
upon the Ridge Route quite by accident a number of years ago,
Jack and Sidney have made the 27-mile trip on the old road probably
45 times, not counting the trips he may have taken as a young
told me I had been on the road, but I just don't remember," Jack
said. "I had to be under 5 years old."
are a tag-team effort. Sidney takes care of the graphic elements
— the map, old photographs and articles on the route. Jack's the
storyteller, spinning yarns about the history of some of the places
that dotted the route. He tells so well, the old buildings seem
to come to life.
Sidney embellish their stories with little facts: They tell tourists
that the service stations on the route were mostly Richfield stations
with beacons. Pilots followed the beacons when they flew night
flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
out the spot on the road where old Model T tire prints can still
be seen. They were left in the still-wet cement when the road
A few spots
along the desolate, windy route offer spectacular and even poignant
views, including one or two of Interstate 5 hundreds of feet below.
It was, of course, I-5 that replaced the Ridge Route. The second
version of the Ridge Route opened in 1933 as the swift, modern
passage to the L.A. Basin.
absolutely gorgeous views," Sidney said. "Even if you're not a
history buff, the view is tremendous."
rockhounds, Jack and Sidney crossed paths with the Ridge Route
while scoping out some interesting rock formations near Templin
sign labeled an intersecting road near the rock formation as the
Ridge Route. Jack asked Sidney if she wanted to take the drive
and she was all for it.
"We go on
any little trail we see," Sidney said. "We'd often seen cars up
there on the Ridge Route and wondered what it was and why they
were up there. We were thrilled to find out we could drive it."
and sometimes dirt road led them along the ridge of a small mountain
range to Highway 138 just east of Quail Lake, about eight miles
27-mile trek intrigued Jack and he started asking around. His
queries led him to members of the Ridge Route Communities Museum
& Historical Society in Frazier Park, who in turn guided him to
Harrison Scott, a self-taught Ridge Route historian in Southern
instrumental in getting a 17.6-mile portion of the Ridge Route
listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, which
means its remaining structures cannot be damaged and nothing can
be taken from the route.
the road has a form of protection as a resource heritage," Scott
Ridge Route measured more than 48 miles between Castaic and the
near Lebec and Fort Tejon paralleled what is now I-5, but employed
numerous switchbacks to enable early cars and trucks to make the
steep climb. The section of the Ridge Route that is on the national
register is in the Angeles National Forest, under the jurisdiction
of the U.S. Forest Service.
filling the Kelleys in on the volumes of history he had collected
on the Ridge Route. The facts he shared with the Kelleys whetted
their appetite to learn even more. What they learned they now
share with their tour guests:
went to Europe to study the mountain highways there before building
the Ridge Route.
is named after Cimarron grapes that grew so thickly between the
valley floor and Fort Tejon that early wagoneers had to hack their
way through them.
697 curves along the route, roughly adding up to 110 full circles.
Club of Southern California posted hundreds of warning signs at
the curves and speed limit signs on the route between sunup and
sundown of one day.
group meets at Highway 99 and Panama Lane before traveling the
64 miles to Templin Highway. The Ridge Route intersects a few
miles east. There begins an odyssey into the past.
north on the Ridge Route, a small community of homes gets left
behind as the road gets narrower. The road is a combination of
black asphalt and an almost pale-pink concrete. Years after the
road was paved in 1919, an attempt was made by engineers to reduce
the severity of many of its turns. Evidence of the original layout
is still quite visible on the shoulder of the road.
tour visits 20 sites along the 26.9-mile trip. in the 1950s, the
Forest Service destroyed any buildings left standing along the
route, leaving only foundations and a few cement or stone walls.
At the site
of the old View Service Station, a stand of lush green bamboo
is the only reminder that the station existed. National Forest
Inn, Reservoir Inn, Kelly's Inn or Half Way Inn, Liebre State
Highway Camp, Sandberg's Summit Hotel — these buildings now exist
only in photographs and people's memories. Maintenance on the
Ridge Route was abandoned in 1933 when the alternate highway was
"It was a
terrible thing," Sidney said of the demolition project. "I thought
it was a terrible thing to do to our history. It was a shame.
Now we'd give anything to have those buildings there and protected."
policy is to destroy buildings that are abandoned or in a state
of decay, as a safety precaution, said Robert Brady, public affairs
assistant for the Angeles National Forest.
transients, whatever, get in them and they have a fire that may
escape," he said. "There's always an off-chance that an old structure
could fall or we could have one of our little earth shakers."
of the 20 points of the tour focus on the torn-down buildings,
the other 10 feature feats of engineering or views of the road
Cut — that's where the road cuts through the mountain. It's the
only place that power equipment was used to build the Ridge Route.
Granite Gate, a sandstone — not granite — rock, sits at the edge
of the cliff.
point, I-5, old Highway 99 and the Ridge Route can be seen at
once. At each spot, there's another story to tell and Jack and
Sidney know just about all of them. Their willingness to share
their enthusiasm for the Ridge Route is limitless. Well, almost
do it in the dead of winter or in the rain," Jack said. "But other
than that, we'll go anytime people want to go."