Monday, July 06, 2009

Ascending Old Saddleback

A local historian should personally familiarize himself with the key landmarks within his "beat." It's one thing to read about a place, but it's quite another to put boots on the ground. It was in that spirit that my lovely Orange Correspondent and I headed up Old Saddleback on Independence Day. The twin peaks of Santiago (5,687 ft.) and Modjeska (5,496 ft.) are the highest points in the county. Today's first photo, (above), is a view down from Santiago Peak looking toward Modjeska Peak and Long Beach.
The Indian people believed that god-in-human-form Chinigchinich lived atop Santiago Peak and looked down over his people. They called the mountain "Kalawpa," meaning "a wooded place." Historian Don Meadows wrote, "In the east was a double-domed mountain called Kalawpa and there, the god said, he would sit in judgment and if any of his subjects failed to obey his teachings he would send down rattlesnakes and grizzly bears to punish the offenders. For centuries Old Saddleback has been held in reverence."
Cabrillo undoubtedly noticed Old Saddleback as he sailed past Orange County in 1542.
Portola's 1769 overland expedition camped near the mountains on St. Anne's Day, and named the entire range "La Sierra de Santa Ana" -- The Santa Ana Mountains. As they traveled north, they also extended the "Santa Ana" name to a river that seemed to flow out of the mountains.
In fact, these mountains, and especially Old Saddleback, have been the iconic backdrop for Orange County's entire rich history. Geographically speaking, it is the elephant in the middle of the room.
We began our trek by driving to the very end of Silverado Canyon Rd, where we stopped at the Ranger Station. The Ranger on duty was effusively helpful, giving us a ton of advice, road maps of the Cleveland National Forest, packets of Tecnu (for poison oak), and a handy guide to identifying and removing various types of ticks. (Luckily, we didn't need the latter two.)
From there, we took Maple Springs Rd until we ran out of pavement, and then kept following the dirt road, which eventually merged with Main Divide Rd. The farther up we climbed, the narrower and rockier the road became. The scenery was beautiful, but I was concentrating on my driving too much to appreciate it. I began to wonder if my decidedly non-offroad vehicle was up to the challenge. But then we reached the top of Modjeska Peak. Once we'd gotten that far, how could we not go on to Santiago Peak? I certainly wasn't going to make this trip again.
The image above is a panoramic view (badly cobbled together) from the top of Santiago Peak. The image below is a similar panorama from the top of Modjeska Peak. (Click on them to embigulate.) In spite of the haze, the view from each of the peaks was amazing. We could see five counties: Everything from Downtown Los Angeles to Mt. Palomar, and from Catalina to March Air Force Base and points east. For more photos, see my photostream on Flickr.
I'm a flatlander from the flatest and possibly best-paved part of Orange County, so this was a new experience for me. The drive up involved white knuckles, but by the drive down I was getting used to it. Still, I warn my fellow city slickers to think twice before tackling Old Saddleback. Nature -- in the form of nasty critters, poisonous and prickly plants, and boulder-shedding cliffs -- makes it very clear that she doesn't want you up there. When Chinigchinich went looking for a place to separate himself from humans, he chose wisely.


Barry said...

Chris, Great set of photos from Saddleback and environs. I used to hike often in that area in the 70's. Thanks so much.

Doug said...

Thanks Chris for venturing out. This appears to have been an outstanding field trip. I am really big into documenting and photographing bench marks. Glad you photographed this historical Bench Mark.
Our family did the same trip in 4th of July 1977. When we got to the top, there was a crowd of boys scouts. Good memories.
Do you see any marine fossils on top?

Travis said...

Great story, thanks. Saddleback is a cool place to explore right in our own backyard. Go up for a sunset view next time, you won't regret it.

Colleen said...

Nice article and photos, Chris! I too have been venturing into the outdoors to experience our local history a bit more, with hikes to Robber's Peak and Holy Jim.

Hmmm... I think we need to plan some group local history hikes. :-)

Steve Johnson said...

I used to drive my truck up to those peaks when I lived in OC, and then would drive down the other side to the I-15, and could still see the rattlers Chinigchinich kept there.

Chris Jepsen said...

Doug: I didn't see any fossils up there, but then I don't begin to have your keen eye for such things. (I'm convinced that archeo and paleo folk have some kind of sixth sense.)

Travis: That sounds good on paper, but I sure wouldn't want to make the trek back down the mountain in the dark. Again,... I'm a flatlander.

Colleen: Local history hikes are a great idea. Email me and we'll brainstorm a little. I know others who would also be interested in such field trips.

CoxPilot said...

Steve: About 1961, I took that same drive, and down the other side, in my Dad's Renault Dauphine. It was a funny little car, and the french answer to the VW. However; being very light and quite responsive, it made the trip with ease. We spent about 2 hours at the ranger station at the top talking with the rangers. They seemed to really appreciate the visit.

Unknown said...

Hi Chris - Great story. It would be rather difficult to find fossils at the top of the peak - its mostly volcanic rocks. Further down the west side there are lots of good sedimentary rocks for finding fossils - even dinosaurs! Some time we should chat about the geologic history of the OC. Cheers!

Chris Jepsen said...

Kelson: If you want to park your car on National Forest land you'll need an Adventure Pass. I got mine for $25 or so at REI, but a lot of places sell them. (A second pass is much cheaper, if you want one for another vehicle.) I don't know if they check passes for people who just drive around up there, or if it's just for parking purposes.

Mike: Sounds good!

CoxPilot: We didn't see any ranger stations this time. Just a lot of antennas.