Friday, February 22, 2019

SR-2, Angeles Crest Highway, is Littered With Colorful Folklore

SR-2 (Angeles Crest Highway), a scenic roadway in the San Gabriel Mountains, has been hammered this winter with on-and-off closures because of heavy snow and rain, triggering numerous mud and rock slides in recent weeks. But pinpointing road closures on the curvy mountain pass is challenging because of the highway’s quirky history.

We receive in-house reports such as: “(Angeles National Forest) NB and SB Route 2 (Angeles Crest Hwy); from Red Box Rd to Upper Big Tujunga Rd and from Kratka/Snowcrest ski area to Rte 39. Both directions of Rte 2 are closed. …  Duration is unknown.”

Um, where is that?

Fortunately, we can rely on that displays little barrier icons. But nagging curiosity prompted us to dig a little deeper.

Odd names tied to colorful forklore and characters dot the 55-mile corridor from La Cañada Flintridge to the Mountain Top junction at SR-138 in San Bernardino County.  

Running parallel to San Gabriel Canyon Road (SR-39) until the two highways intersect at Islip Saddle in the Angeles National Forest, SR-2 — as it’s now known — started as a fire access road.

Later, it was conceived as the Angeles Crest Scenic Byway — with the goal of becoming the most “picturesque mountain rode” in California. Construction on the highway began in 1929, with a five-year pause during World War II, and completed in 1956. It was designated a California State Scenic Highway on March 12, 1971, and a National Forest Scenic Byway on Oct. 5, 1990.

Over the years, many turns, dips and valleys along the highway were designated with head-scratching names:

Red Box (elevation 4,623’): Named for the large red box that contained Forest Service fire tools as early as 1908.

Upper Big Tujunga (elevation 4,614’): Tujunga is taken from Native American language Tongva and means “place of the old woman.” The Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe was indigenous to the Los Angeles Basin, including the San Gabriel Mountains. 

Dawson Saddle (highest elevation on highway, 7,986'): Named for R.W. Dawson, who was an early miner from San Gabriel Canyon. He later operated Sycamore Camp in 1876, now called Coldbrook Camp. (Saddle: A point along a ridge between two peaks where the topography resembles the seat used by a horse rider.) 

Islip Saddle (elevation 6,661’): Named for George Islip, who ran Orchard’s Camp from 1850s to 1879. Historic trade route intersection of Highways 2 and 39.

Jarvi Memorial Vista (elevation 6,783’): Named after Simeri Jarvi, supervisor of the Angeles National Forest, who died of a heart attack while hiking on the trail to Mt. Waterman in 1958.

Switzer’s Picnic Area (elevation 3,569): Named after Perry Switzer, a Pasadena carpenter who built a resort here in 1885. Damaged by fire in 1905, the resort was rebuilt in 1911 — only to be ruined by flood in 1938. The remnants were demolished in the 1980s.

Vincent Gap (elevation 6,580’): Named after Charles “Tom” Vincent, a local character known as a recluse, prospector and hunter. Founder of several mines in the forest, Vincent was known in the area for slaying a grizzly bear. 
Little Jimmy's (elevation 7,257’): Named for James Swinnerton, a cartoonist who camped and painted landscapes during the early 1900s. In 1909, he painted a life-size color caricature of one of his cartoons, “Little Jimmy,” on a tree stump near the present-day campground.

Chilao Campground (elevation 5,298’): This land was historically used by Native Americans as a summer home. The origin of the name Chilao is unknown for certain, but there are many stories. One legend notes it came from bandits who earned the nickname “Chillia.” Another tale attributes the name to Chilao Silvas, a rancher known for lassoing bears.  

Newcomb’s Ranch (elevation 5,335): Forest Service Ranger Louie Newcomb was an early homesteader who lived in a cabin frequented by William Sturtevant, another historic character. While working as a ranger for a few years, Newcomb built trails and cabins. Griping the Angeles Crest Highway ruined the area, Newcomb sold his property in 1929 to his cousin, Lynn Newcomb Sr. Newcomb’s Ranch Inn was established in 1939, but destroyed by fire in 1976. It was later rebuilt as a restaurant by Lynn Newcomb Jr.

Devil’s Canyon (elevation 5,303’): Mystique swirls around this location. One story describes how four young hunters ventured into the canyon but became confused and lost. Two made it to Pine Flats two days later without food and weapons. The other two ended up at a hunter’s camp in Bear Canyon several days later without food, guns and clothing.

Many more unusual names line the roadway, not to mention nearby landmarks like Mt. Disappoinment, so named because a United States Geological Survey team believed it was the highest point in the forest in 1894 only to learn later that San Gabriel Peak — a half mile east — was 167 feet higher.

Sources for this article are below. For more interesting tidbits, check out these links:

Angeles Crest Highway Roadway Guide

Angeles Crest Scenic Byway

Angela Crest Highway (Mountain Hardware)