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GETAWAYS : Blue Skies, Mountain Highs : During summer, Wrightwood becomes a peaceful retreat where urban dwellers can fish, hike and enjoy the air.

June 23, 1995|REBECCA HOWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Rebecca Howard writes regularly for The Times

For most people, the name Wrightwood probably conjures images of snow, understandable considering the town's proximity to Mountain High ski area and the fact that icy flakes flew as late as mid-April this year.

But once the snow melts, Wrightwood is revealed in a different light--as a peaceful mountain getaway where urban dwellers can rise above the smog and sweltering temperatures of summer and revel in the town's blue skies at 6,000 feet.

"The air is so clear, and it never gets hot," said Barbara Van Houten, who runs a campground in the area and a village gift shop. "It's a nice place to come in spring and summer because there are things to do everywhere if you like nature."

The winding drive along California 2 into Wrightwood features towering pines and crisp air. Before reaching the town, hikers, bikers, fishermen and campers can find a wealth of outdoor activities.

At least six campgrounds are nearby or accessible from the highway. Van Houten's Table Mountain Campground, with 115 spaces, sits at 7,000 feet, offering beautiful views of the Antelope and Victor valleys. Spaces are almost always available in the summer months, Van Houten said.

Nearby Jackson Lake looks small from the highway, but up close, it resembles a giant mirror. Stocked mainly with trout, the lake is enjoyed by fishermen and those who just want to picnic or hike around its approximately 2 1/2 miles of shoreline.

At the Big Pines Visitor Center, a short distance up the highway, brochures and information point out the area's many natural sites, such as the Blue Ridge Trail, which begins across from the center. A steady incline carrying hikers up through the forest, the Blue Ridge Trail links up to the well-known Pacific Crest Trail after about 2 1/2 miles.

Bikers also can take advantage of the mountain trails, and in recent years have even been able to use the ski slopes to test their downhill skills.

All this before even reaching the peaceful village of Wrightwood, population 4,000, which was named for the Wright family homesteaders, who arrived in the area between 1886 and 1926 and eventually owned two-thirds of the valley.

"With the way it's situated, everything is so close together and within walking distance," said photographer Helga Wallner, owner of the Four Seasons Art Gallery, which features her work and a variety of work by others. "It's a friendly community. We're all like a big family."

Events such as the town's Mountaineer Days in early July, the Mid Summer Art and Music Festival in mid-August and the Mountain Classic Car Show Sept. 9 bring residents and tourists together.

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"The Mountaineer Days is a really big event celebrating the heritage of the area, drawing crowds of people with a hometown parade and food booths," said Debi Gott, press and public relations secretary with the Wrightwood Chamber of Commerce.

Wrightwood's quaint shops and restaurants are primarily on Park Drive, a wide, sloping street, as well as some small side streets. Antique stores flourish here, and for three years the town has held an antique show and sale in late April. Next to Van Houten's gift store is what is probably Wrightwood's--if not the country's--smallest antique shop. Audrey Priest, along with her daughter, owns and runs Desdemona's Antiques and Gifts in a tiny building that was once a washroom for the community in the 1920s. A miniature quilt depicting clothes on the line hangs inside the shop to commemorate the building's original purpose.

Each day Priest readies her shop by hanging the signature antique aprons she sells on a clothesline outside. She also sets up her "teddy bear tea party," and hangs wreaths and other items outside.

The fairy-tale feel of Desdemona's is reflected in a number of Wrightwood shops, including Apple Ann's, a three-store business with a Christmas shop open from July 4 through Jan. 1, a gift shop and a candy shop with homemade fudge and such unique coffee flavors as snickerdoodle cappuccino.

Even Wrightwood's bed and breakfasts, such as Ogilvie Manor, a Tudor-style home decorated in English country and hunting decor, and The Golden Acorn have been developed to reflect a storybook charm.

Gott, owner of The Golden Acorn bed and breakfast and a clothing and gift store of the same name, helped plan the manor-style home her husband finished building about a year-and-a-half ago.

"I liked the elegance of the English style," said Gott of the home, which is decorated in jade and mauve and features four-poster beds and deep bathtubs in the guest rooms.

"People come up here for the peace and quiet. Some even come up to write books. When they stay here, they don't even have to see cars drive by because of the way we are situated on the street," Gott said. "They can take a book outside and read in a hammock without any distractions."

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