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Traveling to the Past

History buffs, scenery lovers can enjoy the little-used Ridge Route.

October 20, 2000|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For a chance to see Southern California as it used to be--beautiful, uninhabited mountains and valleys suggestive of mystery and adventure--take a drive on the Old Ridge Route.

The 17.5-mile stretch of little-used two-lane road was built with picks, shovels, wagons and dynamite in the mountains between Castaic and Gorman during the waning days of the Wild West. Its purpose was to connect Los Angeles commercially to the San Joaquin Valley and Northern California.

In 1955, historic preservationist Harrison Scott, now a retired telephone company worker, made his first trip into the area. Subsequently, he embarked on a one-man crusade to get the stretch of U. S. Forest Service property that the road traverses listed on the National Register of Historic Places. He succeeded in 1997.

Since then, history buffs and natural scenery lovers have been visiting, documenting and conducting tours of the route. One will take place Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m. Participants will meet in a parking area near Templin Highway and the Golden State Freeway, six miles north of Castaic.

Jack and Sidney Kelley, husband-and-wife history enthusiasts from Bakersfield, will lead a caravan of cars along the route to Gorman, with stops at historic sites. There's no fee for the trip, but since there is a limit of 15 vehicles per trip, preregistration is required. When too many folks are interested at one time, which the Kelleys say is often the case, new trips will be scheduled.

Sites on the route, an avenue for commerce and tourism from the early 1900s to the 1960s, bear romantic names such as Tumble Inn, Granite Gate, Summit Cafe, Sandberg's Lodge, Swede's Cut and Serpentine Drive.

With the prompting of the Kelleys, it's easy to imagine what happened at these locations, now restored to nature but once the location of cliff-hanging rustic hotels and restaurants, all-night dancing and gambling, "booze squad" raids during Prohibition, even rumored clandestine radio transmissions by Nazi spies during World War II.

Now these settings are disturbed only by the hum of occasional electric power lines overhead and the distant sound of the freeway way down the mountains to the east of the Ridge Route.

The Kelleys' excursions are sponsored by the Ridge Route Communities Museum and Historical Society, located east of Frazier Park in the community of Lake of the Woods. Its informative small facility is open to the public Thursdays through Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. For information, call (661) 245-7747.

There you can pick up printed historic guides to the Ridge Route and other sites in the area. Or you can simply drive along the route on your own. But if you want to park your car to camp, picnic or photograph the scenery, you must acquire an "Adventure Pass" parking permit from the U. S. Forest Service for $5. Call (626) 574-5200 for where passes are sold.

Participants on the Kelleys' guided trip will be covered by a prearranged general pass from the Forest Service and will not need to provide their own.

BE THERE

Old Ridge Route trip meets Sunday at 10:30 a.m. where Interstate 5 crosses Templin Highway, six miles north of Castaic. Free. Reservations required. Call (661) 831-8488.

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