Sierra Highway


Looking north on the Sierra Highway from Mojave, Ca.

The Sierra Highway is a road in Southern California, United States, with a rich history. Here’s an overview:

  1. Early Beginnings: The history of the Sierra Highway can be traced back to the early 20th century. It was initially part of the state highway system established in 1910 under the State Route 4 designation. This route was part of the Midland Trail, a transcontinental route established in the early days of automobile travel.
  2. Ridge Route Connection: In the 1910s, the Sierra Highway was connected to the Ridge Route, a significant engineering achievement that connected Los Angeles to the San Joaquin Valley. This connection made the Sierra Highway a vital link in Southern California’s road network.
  3. U.S. Route 6: In 1937, the Sierra Highway became part of U.S. Route 6, a transcontinental highway that at one point stretched from Provincetown, Massachusetts, to Long Beach, California. This made it one of the longest highways in the United States.
  4. Changes and Decline in Importance: Completing the Interstate Highway System, particularly Interstate 5, led to a decline in the importance of the Sierra Highway as a major through route. Much of its role was supplanted by these newer, faster roadways.
  5. Modern Era: The Sierra Highway still exists today, but it functions more as a local road than a major thoroughfare. It passes through or near towns such as Santa Clarita, Palmdale, and Mojave, and it offers a scenic alternative to the faster interstate highways.
  6. Cultural Significance: Beyond its practical use, the Sierra Highway holds a place in California’s cultural and historical landscape. It represents an era of early automotive travel, the state’s infrastructure development, and Southern California’s growth.

The Sierra Highway, like many historic roads, tells a story of technological progress, changing transportation needs, and the development of communities along its path.




Braided Trails

Braided wagon trails become braided due to a variety of factors, primarily stemming from the behavior of the travelers and the physical environment they traverse. Here’s an overview of how this process occurs:

  1. Multiple Path Creation: Initially, a wagon trail starts as a single path. As more wagons follow the same route, the trail becomes more pronounced. However, when a part of the trail becomes difficult to traverse due to obstacles, mud, steep inclines, or other challenges, travelers may start to create alternate paths to bypass these difficult sections.
  2. Environmental Conditions: Factors like weather conditions (heavy rains creating mud, snow, etc.), natural obstacles (fallen trees, rockslides), or changes in the landscape (river course changes, growth of vegetation) can render parts of the original trail less passable. Wagon drivers then seek easier or safer routes, leading to the creation of parallel tracks.
  3. Heavy Use and Erosion: With heavy use, the main trail can become deeply rutted and eroded, making it increasingly difficult for wagons to pass. This encourages travelers to forge new paths alongside the original one. Over time, with many wagons choosing different routes to avoid these ruts, a braided pattern of multiple trails emerges.
  4. Avoidance of Conflict or Danger: Sometimes, the creation of braided trails is also influenced by the travelers’ desire to avoid conflict with other groups or dangerous wildlife. This could lead to detours that contribute to the braiding.
  5. Search for Resources: In some cases, particularly during long journeys, wagons might veer off the main path in search of resources like water, grazing land for livestock, or better camping spots, which further contributes to the braiding of trails.
  6. Lack of Central Coordination: In many historical contexts, there was no central authority planning or maintaining these trails, so they evolved organically based on the immediate needs and decisions of the travelers.

This phenomenon was particularly notable in the era of westward expansion in the United States, where many trails, like portions of the Oregon Trail or the Santa Fe Trail, exhibited this braiding due to the heavy traffic of wagons over decades, all facing various environmental and practical challenges.

Mountain High North

Wrightwood Ski Resorts

Mountain High North, previously known as Ski Sunrise, is part of the Mountain High Resort in Wrightwood, California. This area of the resort has its own unique characteristics and offerings. Here’s an overview:

Ski Sunrise – 1996

Mountain High North, previously known as Ski Sunrise, is part of the Mountain High Resort in Wrightwood, California. This area of the resort has its own unique characteristics and offerings. Here’s an overview:

  1. Location and Terrain: Mountain High North is located in the San Gabriel Mountains near Wrightwood. The terrain at Mountain High North is generally known for being more beginner and family-friendly compared to the other areas of Mountain High. It’s an excellent place for those new to skiing or snowboarding.
  2. Integration and Development: Mountain High North was integrated into Mountain High Resort following the acquisition of the Ski Sunrise area. This integration expanded the overall capacity and variety of terrain offered by Mountain High, making it one of the largest ski resorts in Southern California.
  3. Facilities and Services: Mountain High North typically offers various services, including ski and snowboard lessons, equipment rentals, and food and beverage options. The facilities are designed to cater to families and beginners, focusing on creating a welcoming and accessible environment.
  4. Snow Play and Tubing: One of the unique features of Mountain High North is its emphasis on snow play and tubing. This makes it a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders, and those looking to enjoy the snow in other ways.
  5. Operating Schedule: Mountain High North sometimes has a different operating schedule than the West and East resorts, often opening later in the season and closing earlier. This is due to its specific focus and the varying snow conditions across the different areas of Mountain High.
  6. Events and Activities: Mountain High North hosts various events and activities throughout the season aimed at families and beginners. These can include special holiday events, beginner workshops, and family-friendly competitions.
  7. Contribution to Mountain High: The addition of the North resort has allowed Mountain High to offer a more diverse range of experiences to visitors. It complements the more advanced and diverse terrain in the West and East resorts, making the combined Mountain High Resort appealing to a wider range of winter sports enthusiasts.

Mountain High North, with its focus on beginner-friendly slopes, snow play, and tubing, plays a crucial role in the overall appeal of Mountain High Resort. It caters to a segment of visitors looking for a more relaxed, family-oriented snow experience in the proximity of Los Angeles.

Mountain High West

Wrightwood Ski Resorts

Blue Ridge (Mountain High West)

The Blue Ridge Ski Resort in Wrightwood, California, is a historical part of the region’s skiing heritage. However, it’s important to clarify that Blue Ridge Ski Resort is the former name of what is now known as the West Resort of Mountain High.

  1. Early Beginnings: Blue Ridge Ski Resort was among the earliest ski areas developed in the San Gabriel Mountains. Its origins trace back to the 1930s and 1940s when the potential for winter sports in the Wrightwood area was first realized.
  2. Development and Growth: The resort grew in popularity through the mid-20th century. The development of ski lifts and other infrastructure helped establish Blue Ridge as a notable destination for Southern California skiers.
  3. Transition to Mountain High: Blue Ridge Ski Resort evolved and expanded over time. It eventually became part of what is known today as Mountain High. This transition involved a change in name and significant upgrades in facilities and services. The West Resort of Mountain High, the direct successor of the original Blue Ridge Ski Resort, retains much of the historical charm and ski culture from its early days.
  4. Terrain and Features: The area that was once Blue Ridge and is now Mountain High West Resort is known for its varied terrain, catering to skiers and snowboarders of different skill levels. It features a mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced runs.
  5. Modernization and Improvements: After becoming part of Mountain High, the former Blue Ridge Ski Resort saw substantial improvements, including the installation of more modern and efficient lifts, enhanced snowmaking capabilities, and the development of terrain parks.
  6. Cultural Impact: The history of Blue Ridge Ski Resort is deeply intertwined with the development of skiing culture in Southern California. It was crucial in introducing and popularizing winter sports to a region more commonly associated with beaches and sunshine.
  7. Legacy: Today, while the name Blue Ridge Ski Resort has faded into history, its legacy continues through the West Resort of Mountain High. It remains a testament to the early days of skiing in Southern California and the region’s growth in the sport.

This brief history highlights the transformation of Blue Ridge Ski Resort from its early days to its modern incarnation as part of Mountain High, underscoring its significance in the development of skiing in Southern California.

Mountain High East

Wrightwood Ski Resorts

Holiday Hill Ski Resort, located in the San Gabriel Mountains near Wrightwood, California, has a significant place in Southern California’s skiing history. While less known today, Holiday Hill played an important role in the region’s winter sports scene. Here’s a brief overview of its history:

  1. Early Beginnings: Holiday Hill Ski Resort started in the mid-20th century. It was part of the burgeoning ski industry in Southern California, which capitalized on the region’s mountainous terrain and winter snowfall.
  2. Location and Accessibility: Situated near the town of Wrightwood, Holiday Hill was easily accessible to the growing population of Southern California, especially those in the Los Angeles area. This accessibility contributed to its popularity as a ski destination.
  3. Facilities and Attractions: The resort offered skiing and snowboarding opportunities, with various slopes catering to different skill levels. It was known for its family-friendly atmosphere and was a popular choice for beginners and intermediate skiers.
  4. Transition and Development: Over the years, Holiday Hill underwent several changes, including ownership transitions and developments in its infrastructure. These changes were part of the broader evolution of the ski industry in Southern California.
  5. Integration into Mountain High: Eventually, Holiday Hill became part of the larger Mountain High resort. This integration was a significant step in consolidating the ski areas in the Wrightwood region. The once Holiday Hill area is now part of the expanded Mountain High complex, specifically the East Resort.
  6. Legacy and Modern Era: Today, the legacy of Holiday Hill lives on as part of Mountain High. The East Resort of Mountain High, which encompasses the former Holiday Hill area, continues to offer skiing and snowboarding, emphasizing varied terrain and scenic views.
  7. Cultural Impact: Holiday Hill contributed to the growth of the skiing culture in Southern California. It played a role in introducing many Southern Californians to winter sports and helped establish the region as a destination for skiing and snowboarding.

In summary, Holiday Hill Ski Resort was a key player in developing the skiing industry in Southern California. Its integration into Mountain High Resort has allowed its legacy to continue, contributing to the region’s rich history of winter sports.

Lake Cahuilla

Ancient Lake Cahuilla, or Lake LeConte, was a prehistoric lake in California and northern Mexico. This lake was significantly larger than the current Salton Sea in the same region. It existed in the Salton Basin, a low-lying area of the Colorado Desert.

Salton Sea

The formation of Lake Cahuilla was due to the Colorado River changing its course at various times in history. The river flowed into the Salton Basin, creating a large freshwater lake. The size and existence of the lake fluctuated over centuries, depending on the river’s course and the climate.

Lake Cahuilla was significant in several ways:

  1. Ecological Impact: As a large freshwater lake, it supported a diverse ecosystem and was an important habitat for various species.
  2. Human History: The lake significantly influenced the indigenous peoples of the region. Tribes such as the Cahuilla, Quechan, Mohave, and others lived around its shores and relied on its resources for survival. The lake’s presence and subsequent disappearance influenced their cultural narratives and settlement patterns.
  3. Geological Interest: The rise and fall of Lake Cahuilla have been of interest to geologists and other scientists in understanding the region’s geological history and the behavior of the Colorado River.
  4. Archaeological Significance: The areas that were once under the lake have been rich in archaeological findings, providing insights into the life of the indigenous peoples who lived there.
  5. Influence on Modern Issues: The history of Lake Cahuilla has been studied in the context of understanding modern issues related to the Salton Sea, such as environmental and water management challenges.

The remnants of Lake Cahuilla, like beach ridges and other geological features, are still visible in the landscape, providing a glimpse into this prehistoric body of water’s vastness and significance.

Timeline for Lake Cahuilla

The timeline of Lake Cahuilla’s existence spans several thousand years, with filling and drying periods corresponding to changes in the course of the Colorado River and regional climate conditions. Here’s a general overview of its timeline:

  1. Early Formation (Prehistoric Times): The formation of Lake Cahuilla dates back to prehistoric times. It is believed to have formed and disappeared multiple times over several thousand years. The exact dates of these cycles are subject to ongoing research and interpretation.
  2. Evidence of Multiple Cycles (Several Thousand Years Ago): Geological and archaeological evidence suggests that Lake Cahuilla filled and dried up multiple times. These cycles were driven by the Colorado River’s changing course, alternating between flowing into the Gulf of California and the Salton Basin.
  3. Last High Stand (About 1300-1600 AD): One of Lake Cahuilla’s most recent and well-documented high stands occurred between 1300 and 1600 AD. This period is particularly interesting to archaeologists and historians as it coincides with the flourishing of indigenous cultures in the region.
  4. Final Drying (Around 1600 AD): The lake is believed to have dried up completely around 1600 AD, following the Colorado River reverting its course away from the Salton Basin and back towards the Gulf of California. The desert environment of the Salton Sea area as we know it today began to take shape after this event.
  5. Modern Times (20th Century Onwards): The current Salton Sea was created in the early 20th century due to accidental flooding from the Colorado River in part of ancient Lake Cahuilla’s basin. This event is unrelated to the natural cycles that created and dried up Lake Cahuilla but occurs in the same geographic region.

The timeline of Lake Cahuilla is a subject of ongoing scientific study, with new research continually refining our understanding of its history and the factors that influenced its formation and disappearance.

Mines in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Eagle Cliff Mine

Mines in Joshua Tree National Park are remnants of the region’s rich mining history. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the area now Joshua Tree National Park saw a mining boom. Prospectors were drawn to this part of the California desert by the promise of gold, silver, copper, and other valuable minerals.

  1. History of Mining in the Area: The mining era in the region began in the 1800s and continued into the early 1900s. Miners established several small mines throughout the area, extracting various minerals. The most sought-after were gold and silver, but there were also operations for copper and other minerals.
  2. Impact on the Landscape: The mining activities left a significant mark on the landscape. You can find old mine shafts, ruins of miner’s cabins, and remnants of mining equipment scattered throughout the park. These historical artifacts provide a glimpse into the harsh conditions miners faced.
  3. Preservation and Safety: Many of these mines are now part of the cultural heritage protected within Joshua Tree National Park. However, they can be dangerous, with unstable shafts and toxic substances. Visitors are generally advised to admire them safely and not enter mine shafts or tunnels.
  4. Popular Mines to Visit: Some of the more well-known mines in the park include the Lost Horse Mine, one of the area’s most productive gold mines, and the Desert Queen Mine. These mines and others are accessible via hiking trails and are popular spots for visitors interested in the area’s history.
  5. Educational and Recreational Opportunities: The park offers educational programs about the area’s mining history, and many visitors enjoy hiking to these historical sites to learn about the past.
  6. Conservation Efforts: The National Park Service works to preserve these historical sites while ensuring visitors’ safety and the natural environment’s protection.

Thus, Joshua Tree National Park is a natural reserve and a historical archive of the American West’s mining era.

Overview of Mining


The Mastodon Mine


The Mastodon Mine in Joshua Tree National Park has history dates back to the early 20th century. In southeastern California, Joshua Tree National Park is renowned for its stunning desert landscapes, unique vegetation, and geological features.

Mastodon Mine

The Mastodon Mine was primarily a gold mine, reflecting the broader gold mining activity of the California Gold Rush era. However, it occurred later than the initial rush of 1849. Mining in this region was fueled by the discovery of gold and the potential for profitable mining operations.

The mine was established in the early 1900s. The Mastodon Mine was not one of the region’s largest or most productive mines during its operational years. Still, it was significant enough to draw workers and contribute to the local mining history. The miners would have used traditional hard-rock mining techniques to extract gold from the quartz veins in the area.

Over the years, the mine changed hands and eventually ceased operations. Like many abandoned mines, it was left with remnants of its mining past, including shafts, tunnels, and debris. These remnants are historical artifacts, providing insight into the mining techniques and life during that period.

In 1994, the area encompassing the Mastodon Mine became part of Joshua Tree National Park, established to protect the region’s unique desert ecosystem and cultural heritage. The National Park Service manages the site, balancing preserving historical resources with protecting the natural environment.

Today, the Mastodon Mine is a point of interest for Joshua Tree National Park visitors. It offers a glimpse into the area’s mining history, with trails leading to the mine site and interpretive signs providing information about its history and impact on the region.

As with many historical sites, the information about the Mastodon Mine is based on historical records, archaeological evidence, and ongoing research. The National Park Service and historians continue to study such sites to understand the region’s past better.

Joshua Tree National Park

Mines & Mills

Saltdale – Koehn Dry Lake


Koehn Lake and the nearby ghost town of Saltdale have a rich history intertwined with the salt industry in California. Koehn Lake, situated in the Fremont Valley of the Mojave Desert in eastern Kern County, California, is a dry and seasonally endorheic lake, occasionally becoming a closed basin without outflow. The lake is approximately 5 miles long and 3 miles wide at its widest point.

Saltdale, founded in 1915, owes its origins to the salt harvesting operations from Koehn Dry Lake. The town had a post office operating from 1916 to 1950. The history of salt production in the area began in earnest in 1914 with the operations of the Consolidated Salt Company. This was further expanded with the involvement of the Fremont Salt Company from 1919 to 1927, which also utilized solar evaporation of surface brine for salt production.

The salt industry in this region has undergone several changes in ownership and production methods over the years. In the early 20th century, salt production fluctuated considerably, largely dependent on rainfall and storm runoff to supply water for brine formation. Modern techniques involve pumping brine from wells and channeling it to ponds for evaporation, a process that takes about four months to form approximately 6 inches of salt.

Saltdale, during its peak, had a diverse community, including managers, skilled workers, and their families, as well as common laborers, often Latino Catholics. The town had facilities like a company store, a post office, a school, and a service station. Saltdale’s school, under the guidance of notable teachers, played a significant role in community life, including efforts towards “Americanization” by encouraging English language use and cultural integration.

However, Saltdale faced challenges due to its remote location and the fluctuations in the salt industry. The town experienced isolation, difficulties in accessing law enforcement and medical care, and was impacted by the economic conditions of the time, including the Great Depression.

The decline of Saltdale was marked by the eventual abandonment of the town by the 1970s. The salt operations also evolved, with less need for manpower due to modernization. Today, Saltdale stands as a ghost town, with the remnants of its past slowly eroding away in the salty landscape.

Koehn Lake, apart from its salt mining history, has also been used for various other purposes. At its northern end, there are evaporation ponds from the salt mining operation, and the rail siding at the former townsite of Saltdale has been used for offloading explosives. The area around the lake has also been used for testing by the Reaction Research Society and for a desert test track by Honda Motors. In 2014, it was notably the area where Virgin Galactic’s experimental spaceship disintegrated.

The history of Koehn Lake and Saltdale provides a unique glimpse into the industrial and community life of early 20th-century California, highlighting the challenges and adaptations of a community built around a natural resource.