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3-Hour Tour

On the Desert Highway : A drive along the Pearblossom offers a slice of quaint country life, including cafes, produce stands, novelty shops.

July 15, 1994|REBECCA HOWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Rebecca Howard is a regular contributor to The Times

Artist David Hockney immortalized the Antelope Valley's Pearblossom Highway in a 1986 photographic collage, a somewhat surreal fragmentation of road, road signs, trash and the desert landscape of Joshua trees that seem to define the remote desolation of this area.

As you head north on the Antelope Valley Freeway from Santa Clarita, the change in landscape and mood begins to match Hockney's work. It feels a bit like time traveling--the land is open and mostly undeveloped. A mix of rolling hills covered with grasses, rougher areas with jutting rock formations, and flatter desert landscapes covered with scrubby flora surround the road.

Those who travel Pearblossom Highway are most likely using the road as a means to elsewhere--hiking at Devil's Punchbowl, skiing at Mountain High in Wrightwood or journeying to Las Vegas. To many travelers, dodging tumbleweeds may be the most exciting driving here.

But those who take the time to pull off the highway and take notice of the tiny towns of Littlerock and Pearblossom will find a strip of country desert culture, including quaint, cracker-box cafes, produce stands, novelty shops and antique stores.

For this tour, hit the shops on the right side of Pearblossom Highway as you travel east, turn around in Pearblossom and visit shops on the other side as you head back.

10 a.m.: Driving along Pearblossom Highway toward Littlerock, you will immediately notice DeZert BiZarre on the right. A bright yellow building touts "Gifts for Loving. Gifts for Touching." Animal knickknacks and toys in every stuffed, ceramic and carved version imaginable fill the place. The store has several rooms occupied with curious curios, including "nut and bolt people." Country items seem to dominate.

DeZert BiZarre, 7178 Pearblossom Highway, is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. (805) 944-3233.

10:30 a.m.: Fruit stands and country markets are bountiful in Littlerock. Farmer's Mart features local produce, local honey, homemade pies and other baked goods. Up the road is H-R Ranch, an outdoor produce stand that features peaches, one of the area's big crops.

10:45 a.m.: You reach the tiny town of Pearblossom (four miles from Littlerock), named for the pear orchards that were once bountiful but were eventually wiped out by blight. Bobbie's Nursery & Grocery is on a small lot with two buildings, one containing gardening equipment and supplies, the other a little produce stand. In the back is a small greenhouse and rows of desert landscape plants, flowering shrubs and aloe vera sprouts.

Next up the road is a small store, looking more like a cabin, called the Bottle Shop Market, which sells everything from moccasins to homemade popcorn balls to Cajun gumbo mixes--but no bottles.

11 a.m.: The scent of smoldering sage permeates the Country & Indian Store. Owner Mary Rodgers says she burns sage to bless the place. Rodgers said Native American enthusiasts from all over the country visit, looking for authentic art and craft items. Bruce Springsteen even patronized the store once, purchasing a buffalo head and strapping it onto his motorcycle, she said. Rodgers carries a wide range of items, from incense ($2.50), smudging sticks ($5.50) and healing stones ($3) to such higher-priced Native American art as wooden cradle boards ($80), ceremonial pipes ($35 to $145) and hand-woven rugs ($200 to $400).

The Country & Indian Store, 12822 Pearblossom Highway, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. (805) 944-5449.

11:30 a.m.: Make a loop on Pearblossom Highway and head back. On the right (formerly the left) is a wooden building called the Orbit Antiques in Littlerock. Inside is a dusty chaos of disorganized antiques, from old typewriters to refrigerators to books. Next door is Handcrafts, specializing in handmade quilts, from small baby quilts ($50) to large quilts (94 inches by 94 inches for $185). Quilted animals and dolls ($5 to $10) and hand-painted wood knickknacks ($4 to $10) are also sold.

11:45 a.m.: Charlie Brown Farms, painted barn red, in Littlerock is probably the most versatile of the stores in the Littlerock/Pearblossom region. The business features four buildings and encompasses a snack bar that serves more than 100 types of shakes (about $1.83 each with tax), including date shakes, praline shakes and Dutch apple pie shakes; a selection of local produce and homemade candies, including chocolate-covered grapefruit strips; a shop full of local honey, including flavors of avocado and coffee; a section of toys and gifts, including dollhouse furniture; an outdoor patio of pottery and ceramics; a pottery barn that features a perpetual Christmas shop; a shop devoted entirely to ceramics for the bathroom, and a building called Serenity & Bookshop with pamphlets, books and gifts focusing on recovery themes, such as co-dependency, alcoholism and other addictions.

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