The Ridge Route
One thing I love about Southern California is that there is a decent amount of modern history around. I’m not talking about the obvious famous locations or buildings, but my kind of history - the off-the-beaten-path, lesser-known yet significant places that most people don’t even know about.
To make the most of my day off, I would either A.) install the heated grips I’ve been staring at for three months now, or B.) I would do some mild exploring of some historic sites. I chose to explore.
Today I planned to visit three places. First would be the Grand Central Airport Terminal in Glendale – the base of a historic airstrip built in 1923 and closed in 1959. It still stands, although it is somewhat abandoned today. Unfortunately I forgot exactly how to get there and I didn’t want to backtrack, so I just kept riding. I’ll check it out another time.
Second on my list was the Ridge Route – a narrow highway connecting LA to Gorman over the Tejon Pass, way before the Interstate 5 was put in. Built in 1915, it was rendered obsolete in just a few years and was replaced by an alternate route in 1933.
Finally, I would visit the St. Francis Dam. It collapsed in 1928, killing 450+ people and ruining the career of LA water guru William F. Mulholland. I had already been there a couple of times already, but it was on the way back so I thought I’d see it again. By the time I was close to it I was just too tired from a previous late night though, so I just went home instead. I’ll go back to see it again soon, but in the meantime here’s a before and after (all that remains at the base of the dam):
A brief history of the Ridge Route: The Ridge Route was graded in 1915, and paved over in 1919 with a twenty-foot wide section of 4” thick concrete. Although narrow and twisty, the paved highway was quite revolutionary for the time. Before long it became congested with traffic, and increasing speeds due to advancing auto technology meant that it quickly needed updating. The road was widened in sections, with the sharper corners straightened out, but the road was too dangerous for the amount of traffic it was carrying. An alternate route was in the planning stages by 1929, and was put into service in 1933. Although still in service, the Ridge Route had been rendered obsolete.
I took the I-5 to the southern entry of the route in Castaic, CA. The road went through town and then through a newer suburban area before quickly becoming narrow and winding up through the hills. Already I was surrounded by beautiful scenery. You can see I-5 off in the distance on the RH side:
Original sections of concrete were augmented by pavement in many spots. I had read that parts of the Ridge Route had fairly rough terrain, so I made sure to bring my mega-$$$ adventure moto for the trip.
Oh wait, I only have one bike, my 10 year-old SV. That’ll do.
I've got my GPS ready as well...
Before I knew it I had reached signs that said the rest of the Ridge Route was closed off. I had read online that it had been closed off – since 2005, when storms damaged the road. A shame, since the mile or so leading to the gate had obviously been done in the last couple of years. The gate had at least 5 padlocks on it to keep people out, all located inside the iron box above my bike in the pic – serious stuff, I guess.
My curiosity still intact, I backtracked to the 5 and rode north 20-odd miles to reach the northern entrance of the route off Highway 138.
The first landmark I came to was the Sandberg Inn, only a few minutes past the entrance sign. Built in 1914, it burned to the ground in 1961. There’s nothing left to see except for a couple of rock walls.
The road started out decent enough.
Beautiful views all along the way.
What is fascinating about the road is that you can still see the original concrete routing, which has quite a few sharp winding curves in it. A few years after the original concrete 20' wide paving was laid down, they had to “daylight”, or remove sections of mountain to straighten the road out so there weren’t as many blind curves in it. They filled in the new sections with asphalt.
This borrowed pic shows how narrow it was:
This particular section, called the “Granite Gate”, originally veered very close to the rock, and the sharp cliff next to it. If you look close in the photo you can see where the concrete veers to the right and disappears… and then reappears again a short distance down the road. If you can imagine a 20 foot wide section of road, with a mountain on one side and a sharp cliff on the other – you can see why the road was considered so treacherous.
Some sections of road were decent, but most were covered with sharp rocks, teeth-rattling pavement, or a nice soft blanket of dirt covering the whole thing. I puttered along in first gear for the majority of the ride, making sure to avoid anything that would puncture my BT023s and strand me out in the middle of nowhere.
The second landmark I came to was the Liebre Road Maintenance Camp. Not too much left to see here.
The third and final landmark I came to was the Tumble Inn, another Lodge on the route. Built in the 1920s, it was around until at least sometime in the 1940s. The rock foundation is all that is left today, and it has seen some preservation / rebuilding in the last few years.
I ate a peanut butter sandwich that I had brought along, and walked around the site enjoying the scenery.
After a few minutes, I could hear dirt bikes in the distance, coming closer – I suddenly realized that I was out in the middle of nowhere all by myself, on a heavy-ass street bike with street tires, and I hadn’t told anybody where I was going today. Paranoia set in, with images of Deliverance or something of that matter. I threw my helmet and gloves on, and turned around just in time to see two bikers rise over up the hill behind the ruins. One of them nodded at me, and then they went up the road. So much for being paranoid.
About 100 hundred yards up the road past the Tumble Inn sat another gate, closing off the section of road in between them.
Hopefully the road crew makes the necessary repairs at some point so the road can be opened to the public again. With that, I headed back home.
A short while later, I’m on the 405 puttering along in traffic at 10 mph. A real change from the quiet, beautiful scenery I had been experiencing less than an hour before.
Thanks for reading!
The Ridge Route
Nice report! Man, I miss riding out there. I live in NC and, for the last few years, business has taken me to the Golden State. I've been able to ride my bike, making it a month long adventure. This year, however, the "New Economy" has really hurt and many of my California dealers are simply gone. Your ride report sure helped fill "the void." Thanks for sharing.
Nice report. Love those old abandon roads and the history they told.
I enjoy seeing/reading about recent history, you did a good job on sharing some from your area Ron..... Thanks. :thumb
Thx, I have driven past on the I-5 my whole life and never stopped. I have always wanted to , this inspired me.
Thanks, I really enjoy these historical/ride reports....well put together
I looked for that route once when I was at the north end of it but I was on my Goldwing and I didn't want to get down on a narrow segment with a dead end and have to turn that bus around.
I remember a maintenance station next to the road off on the east side with several warning signs but that was about it.
Fine job! I'd like to see if I could squeeze around that gate and see whats down there.
My favorite kind of road. Thanks!
Great ride! Thanks for sharing the background history and pics :thumb
Nice pictures and report. We (SO and me) rode the Ridge Route in 2005 or so...I was hoping that it would be repaired so it could be ridden the whole length.
Thanks everybody! I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Loved it. Old roads are my favorites. I like the before and after treatment too. I hope you get out some more and show us some more
Great ride!!! Thanks! :thumb
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