Kirsten Anderberg's URBAN ADVENTURES:
Ridge Route Above Castaic, CA

"Nowhere else in the world can you encounter more scenic thrills than traveling the Ridge…" - L.A. Times, April 30, 1922

Ridge Route above Castaic, CA (ribbon of highway is in left of picture) - Jan. 2010 (Photo: K. Anderberg)

"A twisting road along the scenic Castaic Mountains, that boasts of 1136 turns in the 28 miles of its length, offers a ride that for sheer beauty and magnificence cannot be equaled in the United States. The feature of this trip…is the beautiful view which is enjoyed from the winding highway on the crest of the Castaics…For the entire length of the range, one may enjoy scenic vistas, panoramas, and broad sweeps of mountain majesty which will live forever in the memory. Only a light sagebrush covers the desert Castaics. The mountain formation is volcanic and the rich colorings of deep reds, purples and yellows are greatly enhanced by sunset." - L.A. Times, April 30, 1922

Ridge Route above Castaic, CA (that small ribbon on the right in the photo is the actual Ridge Route highway...) - Jan. 2008 (Photo: K. Anderberg)

To reach the Ridge Route, you must travel to Castaic, CA, north of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County. Take the Lake Hughes Exit off of I-5, or the "Golden State Freeway," and then head east towards Lake Castaic, but right before the Lake itself, turn north (or left) on Ridge Route at the intersection of Lake Hughes Road and Ridge Route. Traveling north on Ridge Route, you will pass what is now a large housing project, which has only been put up in the last 10 years, and you will come to the end of the road, where you can turn left to go to the Castaic School headquarters or you can go forward on the road, keep going straight, past civilization on Ridge Route. The road will turn to your left quickly once past the last houses, and then you begin onto the old route...this road can be taken all the way past Templin Highway until it dead ends in a small hamlet with a few houses in the middle of nowhere (as of Jan. 2010).

Ridge Route above Castaic, CA - Jan. 2008 (Photo: K. Anderberg)

Twisted Rocks of Ridge Route geology... (Photo: K.Anderberg, Jan. 2008)

The old Ridge Route, pictured above, was given a budget for a survey of the route in 1895 (L.A. Times, Oct. 23, 1895, p. 8), and then it was built in 1915 (L.A. Times, Oct. 30, 1933, p. A1). It was a travel route from the Santa Clarita Valley north, that was widely used in the 1920's and 30's. A trecherous road, full of windy bends and blind curves, straddling high hilltops, the route is novel and historic today. When you begin to drive up Ridge Route today, heading north from Lake Hughes Road in Castaic, you will soon find yourself alone in a quiet land. The hills go on and on, and when it is really quiet, you can hear cows mooing as they graze far across the valley. The Ridge Route is still quite a spectacular drive, with many of the original sights that lured in traffic long ago. The I-5 interstate now runs the route that Ridge Route used to with more efficiency, so Ridge Route is virtually empty most of the time now. (Photo: K.Anderberg, Jan. 2008)

Another photo of Ridge Route today...(Photo: K.Anderberg, Jan. 2008)

When Ridge Route opened, it was heralded as a shorter route from Los Angeles to Bakersfield, but navigating Ridge Route's sharp turns and blind corners proved too much for many a traveler. The L.A. Times archives hold many stories of people who died from crashing off the cliffs of Ridge Route. In 1924, John Straight, a wealthy businessman from Oregon was killed when his car "ran off a 150 foot embankment on the Ridge Route, two miles north of Castaic." (L.A. Times, May 22, 1924, p. A1). In 1931, a 17 year old girl and her mother were injured when they plunged 400 feet off of Ridge Route at 8 PM. In the morning, the girl climbed the embankment up to the road to get help. (L.A. Times, Aug. 30, 1931, p. A1). In 1932, a woman and two men died "when their automobile plunged 400 feet off the Ridge Route just north of Castaic." (L.A. Times, Aug. 24, 1932, p. A5). Excessive speed was blamed for their deaths. On Sept. 3, 1932, the L.A. Times wrote, "Marking the fifth automobile fatality in the same vicinity in a 10 day period, a man and his wife were killed yesterday morning when the automobile in which they were riding ran off the Ridge Route north of Castaic, and fell about 75 feet down an embankment." Again, excessive speed was blamed for the accident. Most of the accidents happened when people were traveling too fast to negotiate the sharp curves, and either fell over the cliffs or hit the rocks on the side away from the cliffs, then bounced over the cliffs out of control. Other factors for the high death tolls on Ridge Route included the pitch darkness at night on the road, and also driving rain which would prevent visibility. In Nov. 1933, a United Airlines pilot flying from L.A. to San Francisco reported seeing a flaming crash at the bottom of a canyon below Ridge Route, summoning help. Apparently a truck and trailer filled with acetylene gas was traveling 75 miles an hour on Ridge Route and then on a sharp curve, he hit a truck and trailer loaded with electric ice machines, and in the end, 3 men were dead, 3 were injured and 5 trucks and trailers were wrecked and burned in the Castaic canyons below. (L.A. Times, Nov. 9, 1933, p. A1). In Nov. 1934, 2 people died on Ridge Route when they crashed into a truck carrying scrap iron at night. "They were traveling at a moderate speed," he said, "but Ellison apparently did not see the truck ahead in the semidarkness." (L.A. Times, Nov. 14, 1934, p. A5). In Nov. 1935, a truck carrying 15 people, 11 of them children, raced out of control on Ridge Route and flew over an embankment then turned over on descent. (Nov. 9, 1935, p. A3). In Nov. 1938, a man was killed and traffic was tied up for two hours on Ridge Route when 2 cars and 3 trucks collided when one of the truck's brakes failed, once again "two miles north of Castaic." (L.A. Times, Nov. 11, 1938, p. 13).

In Oct. 1933, E.E. East, chief engineer for the Automobile Club of Southern CA was asked "why did engineers build the Ridge Route Highway along its winding course when it could have been placed through Piru Canyon?" East answered, ""the creek was at that time being considered as a source of water supply for the lowlands and that engineers were considering the placing of a dam that would have flooded the present road site," thus the road was built through the Tehachapi Pass instead. (L.A. Times, Oct. 30, 1933, p. A1). In 1933, once the water project was abandoned, construction on I-5 began from Gorman to Castaic, to replace the dangerous Ridge Route, as the major thoroughfare. Yet Ridge Route remains, stoic and strange, and continues to fascinate me with its twists and turns and amazing, sweeping views.

Even today, the cliffs loom and fences and railings do not exist on the whole. One must pay attention when driving Ridge Route, even today, yet most people take I-5, and thus very few people travel Ridge Route, making it safer than the early 1900's when it was heavily traveled. Many areas on Ridge Route have crumbling asphault on the road now and the road does not even have paved road much past Templin Highway heading north.

In Oct. 1948, the L.A. Times speaks about improvements to "Ridge Route" saying "They're changing old "Slaughter Stretch," as some have dubbed U.S. 99 near Castaic, into the finest mountain highway in the nation." From what I can tell, the "Old Ridge Route," was the one there now, and U.S. 99 was where I-5 is now, I THINK, I am not sure yet as I read the history of this area. It seems the articles are talking about "Old Ridge Route," and "New Ridge Route," and the New Ridge Route they speak of as a 3-4 lane highway so there is no way that is the Ridge Route that remains above Castaic now in 2009.

More Castaic history...I love going through old archives to find local history. Castaic's Wild West history is pretty crazy!

There is a wonderful story of a hermit names Frances Forjes, who lived in Castaic Canyon in the late 1800's and then died in the hills in 1904. I will post more of his story shortly.

In Jan. 1938, Wayside Farms Rancho, containing 2051 acres, "located on Ridge Route near Castaic" was leased for a "prison farm" for 700 misdemeanor prisoners. (L.A. Times, Jan. 5, 1938, p. A1). This prison camp was named Wayside Honor Rancho, but due to its inmates' drinking habits, it was nicknamed "Wayside Drunk Farm." (L.A. Times, Oct. 25, 1998). Today, this rancho is part of the Peter Pitchess Detention Center, which now contains two high-security and two minimum-security jails run by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Dept.

Burnt Peak in the Sawmill Mountains north of Castaic on Ridge Route, was named "as the result of a major forest fire 30 years ago (1919) which denuded the area." (Nov. 4, 1949, p. 2).

In Sept. 1905, Mrs. W. W. Jenkins shot and killed, by herself, a 23 pound "wildcat" that had been harassing her hens in Castaic. (L.A. Times, Oct. 15, 1905, p. III3).

You can watch a nice video about the history of Ridge Route by clicking here!

Ridge Route above Castaic after winter rains = lots of rocks and mud on the road, making it sometimes impassible... (Photo: K. Anderberg, Jan. 2008)

But for a period of high activity in the early 1900's, which catered to tourists and traffic along the route briefly, Ridge Route is more like a wilderness preserve due to its lack of use and the lack of population along it. Ridge Route looks out over an area that is relatively unchanged since the 1700-1800's. A feel of the old West, the Wild West, still resounds when you look over the quiet canyons up on Ridge Route, and one is more apt to find relics of a past heyday up there than current establishments. In 2010, for instance, from Castaic past the Templin Highway, until Ridge Route hits its southern closure due to storm damage, there is not one gas station, cafe or store. But in its heyday, this area along Ridge Route was plied with health resorts, tourist accomodations, gas stations, cafes, stores, businesses and residences. Eroding concrete foundations and driveways that lead to nothing now dot the highway like ghosts of the era gone by.

Ridge Route has CRAZY geology! Such as these visible folds in the rocks... (Photo: K. Anderberg, Jan. 2008)

Besides the abandoned ghost-town feel and sweeping views, Ridge Route offers an amazing field study in geology. Rock walls, twisted and uplifted layers of rock, ancient sea floor, marine terraces in what is now hot desert, faults, scarp, etc...the area reads like a thrilling geological novel the entire length of Ridge Route. Sculpted rock walls just past Templin Highway on Ridge Route, combine with amazing subversion zones of one plate under another, along faults, all through this route. During rainy seasons, the hills on Ridge Route and in the general Castaic area are known to "melt." This causes mudslides and rock slides that frequently close Ridge Route in winter months until the road is cleared, if it is. Mud and rock slides and slick roads without railings make Ridge Route dangerous in winter and also at night. They used to call the canyon floors beneath certain curves on Ridge Route "junkyards," due to the amount of wreckage in tumbled cars and trucks at the bottom of the cliff. Right now, in Jan. 2010, the upper end of Ridge Route from Castaic ends a few miles north of the Templin Highway due to storm damage from past years. After winter storms, one can find interesting rocks at the bottom of the areas that melted. There is a lot of gypsum, twinned white rock crystals that come from evaporated salty water...and even natural glass up on Ridge Route at the bottom of its hills that line the road. I have seen slabs of high pressure glass there amidst the gypsum and it seems when gypsum is heated and pressurized, it turns into glass. I could be wrong, but they always are found together when I have seen them. There are also clear geologic layers in the hillsides exposed by the road. Up on Ridge Route, not only do the San Andreas and Garlock Faults meet, but several plates of land are subducting along this area, causing the canyons and the surrounding mountains themselves. These canyons have long been used to landlock water for use as reservoirs, such as the immense Castaic Lake and Reservoir system visible below Ridge Route.

Ridge Route Wildlife - I saw this kit fox watching me from a cliff above Ridge Route north of Castaic... (Photo: K. Anderberg, Aug. 6, 2009)

The Los Angeles Times archives are full of stories about Ridge Route, with a predominance of articles written and published in the early 1900's. First came stories exhalting its grandeur, then came stories of repeated tragedies and deaths along the Route, raising public concern about the Route's safety and expediting the construction of what is now I-5 along Violin Canyon's floor, rather than following the steep ridge tops, which proved to be too harrowing. The "Grapevine" replaced the Ridge Route as the major transportation corridor north from L.A., but even the "Grapevine" which is a highly graded and engineered, modern road, is known for being a hard road due to its steep climb and extreme temperatures with heat in summer and snow in winter. It is common in the winter to see long lines of traffic backed up in Castaic due to closures of I-5 over the "Grapevine."

Ridge Route Wildlife - Road Runner up on Ridge Route 1/4 mile north of Castaic, CA (Photo: K. Anderberg, 2009)

In 1997, Ridge Route and the Old Ridge Route were placed on the National Registry of Historic Places and given number 97001113.

The views of the Tehachapi and San Gabriel Mountains from Ridge Route are stunning. The route goes through the Tejon Pass, and it is truly like taking a trip back in time up there...(Photo: K. Anderberg, Jan. 21, 2009)

Other Ridge Route Resources:

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