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VALLEY LIFE | jaunts

Out in the Open

Long a well-kept secret, desert park now draws crowds.


If you want to make one final summer excursion, consider Saddleback Butte State Park in the Antelope Valley east of Lancaster.

Situated on a mountain plateau covered with Joshua trees, the park suffers from a bit of an identity crisis because for many years it was often confused with a more famous destination whose name it once shared.

Until 1975, widely distributed road maps identified the park as Joshua Tree State Park, which many people inadvertently confused with then-Joshua Tree National Monument (which is now a national park) 100 miles to the east.

The area near Lancaster was made a state park in 1960 to preserve the native Joshua tree woodland and desert rock formations from suburban encroachment, according to veteran State Park Ranger Robert McAdams.

For a long time, though, some people drove to Lancaster expecting the larger national monument or arrived at the monument in Riverside County expecting Lancaster to be nearby. The state park finally changed its name to Saddleback Butte in 1970.

"My first year at the park, I was writing Rand McNally and others to tell them to change the name," McAdams said.

Folks in Los Angeles County became aware that a long schlep to Twentynine Palms was not necessary if they wanted to camp, picnic or ride horses undisturbed and, by the 1980s, Saddleback Butte State Park had become a well-kept secret.

"But the secret is out now," he said.

A craving for unspoiled desert scenery is something McAdams has in common with park visitors. He took the assignment 25 years ago because no one wanted to transfer to the desert and it was a one-ranger post. McAdams said he will retire this year with the feeling it is getting a bit crowded in the 3,000-acre park, which no longer employs just one ranger.

McAdams said he has become more of a peace officer dealing with parking citations and other symptoms of crowds.

Although the park includes a campground with 50 sites, hiking trails and a 10-mile round-trip horse trail, the park is more of a day trip destination, McAdams said.

The park is also getting to be known around the world--a French company recently made an elaborate commercial for cosmetics at Saddleback Butte. But McAdams is ambivalent about the park's having been "discovered." Sometimes he wishes it could have remained a secret.



Saddleback Butte State Park, 20 miles east of Lancaster on Avenue J, east of 170th Street. Day use $2, camping $10. For general information and horse trail reservations, call (661) 942-0662. For group camping reservations, call (800) 444-PARK.

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