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Devil's Advocates


When Randy Graves is stressed out at work, frazzled by his daily commute or worn down by the smog and crowds and general strain of living in Los Angeles, he always returns to the same quiet refuge--Devil's Punchbowl County Park.

Among the park's attractions are the mountain vistas and remote hiking trails that give visitors a retreat from the tumult of the city.

But what makes the park in the northeastern edge of the county so unusual is the stunning topography created by a spectacular anomaly of nature.

The San Andreas and Punchbowl faults have eroded, squeezed, uplifted and shattered the layers of pink and tan sandstone to such an extent that they have created a remarkable series of formations. There are jutting rocks that tilt at improbable angles. There is Punchbowl Canyon, a deep ravine surrounded by towering shafts of tan and pink sandstone. There is Devil's Chair, a narrow, chalk-white rock promontory that looks down over Devil's Chair Canyon, a bowl two miles long and almost a mile wide, wedged between two parallel earthquake faults.

"I feel as if I'm a world away from Los Angeles," said Graves, a Santa Clarita computer programmer, who had just finished a seven-mile hike. He stood at the edge of Punchbowl Canyon, watching a raven glide across the divide and listening to the wind rustle through the pines.

"When I'm here, all the little pressures of city life are put in perspective. This is the best place I know of to completely relax."

Visitors go to the Devil's Punchbowl to get away from the city, but they are finding that the city is encroaching on the Devil's Punchbowl.

"Graffiti," park ranger Dave Numer said with distaste, shaking his head. "It's getting so bad that every weekend people are out here spraying the rocks."

Numer and the other rangers have to grind off the graffiti using power drills with wire brushes and grinding stones, in the process killing the microscopic plant life that grows on the rocks. Rangers will soon install a large metal gate at the entrance that they will lock after hours to discourage vandals.

The Devil's Punchbowl, 24 miles southeast of Palmdale, attracts a wide range of visitors. There are the solitary hikers like Graves, who seek respite from the city. There are the rock climbers who are challenged by the sheer sandstone precipices. There are the families who enjoy brief nature hikes and barbecues in the picnic area.

The county park is within Angeles National Forest and ranges in elevation from 4,000 to 6,200 feet. The crystal-clear mornings and pungent smell of pine trees, Graves said, are a refreshing change from smog-choked city streets and jammed freeways.

Hikers enjoy the change of flora and fauna as they climb toward the higher elevations. The park is also popular year-round because it offers hikers four distinct seasons, a rarity in Southern California.

"Back in the city, it doesn't matter what month it is . . . it all seems the same," Graves said. "But here, each season offers something different to appreciate, something different that makes the trip here worthwhile."

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