Through the Grapevine Bus Tour
Merging With Streams of Transit

169 The bus ordered for the trip was from the Nada Bus Company, a white bus marked “Nada” on the side, a word that, in Spanish, of course, means “nothing.” All aboard! CLUI photo

A DAY-LONG BUS TOUR was organized as part of the exhibit Through the Grapevine: Streams of Transit in Southern California’s Great Pass. The CLUI tour, on August 12, 2010, took visitors to the many points of interest in the region covered by the exhibit. It was a tour of a road, conducted on the road. A tour about transit, and conveyance, a tour about a road to nowhere, and back. But it was also a tour about a place, a place known for its betweenness, a region between here and there. About what was lost to the road, passed by, eroded, removed, submerged, torn down, intentionally buried, or meant to be unnoticed. What was important, but hidden in the plain sight of the ordinary.

We headed up the road to the end of the roadwell, by no means the end, but the end as far as the tour was concerned. The bottom of the Grapevine, two hours away, in one straight shot without stopping. Then we worked our way back, like a pinball bouncing from one post to the other, until returning to where we started.

The journey traversed from the Southland to the middle-land; from urban to rural; consumer-land to production-land. Los Angeles is a city notorious for its dependence on remote resources, like power plants 600 miles away, and water delivered from elsewhere through 400 mile long aqueducts. These mountains, where we were headed, are the space between, where the linkages between these things bear themselves in the barren hills and dales of the ridge. But all nonplaces, are of course, places, even if they are places dominated by passage through them. And that is where we were going.

The mountains of the Ridge are extreme. The collision of faults and plates has made for what some geologists call “an epic mess.” In a sense, we were driving through a wall, a really thick one, that has been built up from below, and simultaneously melted down from above. Through this terrestrial pillage lies the ribbon of road, cresting at the Tejon Pass. Where we are going is a most unlikely, and most inevitable, passage through the connective spine of California.

Zone of Transition to Transition Zone
At the beginning, heading north on the 405, connecting to the 5, we are still making our way through the city. We pass the gateway for Los Angeles’s infrastructure at the northern end of the San Fernando Valley, where the water of the Owens Valley via the Los Angeles Aqueduct can be seen flowing down the Cascades into its terminal reservoir, next to the Van Norman Complex, where water is purified before entering the city’s distribution pipes; where power via the Owens Gorge electrical transmission lines comes in to the city from the power plants along the aqueduct, and is stepped down to distribution line voltage in electrical cages next to the highway.

Here, across the highway, the longest, highest voltage DC line in the country brings almost half of the electricity consumed by the city from the dams along the Columbia River of the Pacific Northwest. It is converted to AC current here, at the Sylmar Converter Station, across from one of the city’s busiest dumps, the Sunshine Canyon Landfill, which has been compacting the city’s trash into a canyon next to the highway for more than 50 years.

We continue onward through Newhall Pass, one of the largest pieces of highway spaghetti in the Southland, where truck-lanes split off and around the terminus of Highway 14 and Interstate 5. Construction to expand and replace the spans continues, as it was here that the highway collapsed in the Northridge earthquake of 1994, forcing all traffic entering the city onto surface streets, for months.

After passing Valencia, CalArts, and Six Flags Magic Mountain, we enter the beginning of the Ridge Route zone. At the intersection of Route 126 is Castaic Junction. This community was swept away when the Los Angeles Aqueduct’s San Francisquito Dam broke in 1928, sending a wall of water down the Santa Clara River Valley to the coast at Ventura, forty miles away, killing hundreds of people along its path.

In the hills on the right side of the highway are a collection of prisons, the Pitchess and the North County facility, where nearly 6,000 prisoners are held: marginalized population on the margins, another indication we are passing through the fringe of the city. Next to the prison is the Honor Ranch Gas Storage Site, a repurposed oil field where wells are now injected with natural gas, coming via pipelines from the north, for storage before being distributed through the urban grid. This is the terminus for another of the lines of conveyance we will be following up and down the Ridge Route corridor.

At Castaic, yet another, Castaic Lake, the terminal reservoir for the West Branch of the State Water Project, where water from the northern Sierras pools up behind the Castaic Dam, one of largest earth fill dams in the countrynearly a mile wide and 425 feet high. It was built to supply water to Los Angeles in case of an emergency shut down of the California Aqueduct, and to be the cooling water for a nuclear power plant that was never built. The Castaic Valley Siphon emerges from the base of the dam, and flows into Los Angeles’s water supply system.

We are finally now at the settlement of Castaic, after which the housing peters out, and where the streets are lined with panting trucks taking a break from going up and down the grade. We are at the base of Five Mile Grade, in Marple Canyon, the first real climb up the Ridge Route. Here, curiously, the lanes of Interstate Highway cross over one another: northbound traffic to the left, southbound on the right. When the interstate was built, a more gradual slope on the east side of the canyon was constructed for the benefit of truck brakes, and the hazards that come from their failure. The west side of the canyon, now the northbound lane, occupies what used to be the north and southbound lanes of Highway 99, the road constructed in 1933 to replace the old Ridge Route of 1915. The old Ridge Route at this point heads out of Castaic, and up into the hills to the east, following the ridge top for much of its meandering journey northward.

170 The highway crossing over itself. CLUI photoHeading up the old Highway 99 road surface on the west side, up the five miles of Five Mile Grade, the space between the two inverted lanes of the highway is an empty wide divide with a deep wash running down its middle. The rolling ground resembles frozen ocean waves, where a number of gas and oil pipelines periodically emerge, spanning the troughs, diving back under the crests, and on top of which power lines coming from points north heading to the city create their own undulating waves between the crests of support towers. In the midst of this flowing vista between the lanes is a curious patch of private property developed into the Warped Paintball Park. It provides a splash of color in the dry grass.

The lanes cross back to normalcy at the top of the grade, at a point where the unstable ground of the ridge wreaks havoc on the surface of the highway. The undulations in the roadbed are because the ground, made up of alluvial clay, absorbs moisture and gains weight. After rains in 2005, the hill next to the Interstate here got so heavy, pressing on the ground beneath it, that the land next to it was forced upwards. To address this problem, in addition to installing a network of drains and pipes into the ground, much of the hill itself has been removed and dumped in the adjacent canyon. The amount of earthmoving done to create a roadbed through these mountains is staggering. Instead of building bridges over the canyons and washes, soil was mounded to construct land bridges through the rolling terrain. Cut, and fill.

At the Templin Highway exit, old Highway 99 emerges from underneath the Interstate, and veers west, following a separate right of way, eventually enters a valley, and plunges towards Pyramid Lake. Highway 99 was made obsolete by the Interstate, and then buried under the dam that was built a few years later. As the reservoir filled the four lanes of old Highway 99 became submerged, and still rest on the bottom today. The old roadbed emerges from the water at the north end of the reservoir, in the form of a boat ramp. It curves back towards the Interstate a few miles north of the lake, and disappears under the Interstate’s asphalt again. The conjoined roads run parallel and adjacent to the Peace Valley segment of the California Aqueduct, a submerged pipe that connects to a power plant at Pyramid Lake.

Cresting the Ridge
The bus drives over the buried aqueduct as it crosses under the Interstate near the intersection of Highway 138. Then the Interstate curves westward and enters the San Andreas Fault for a few miles. After Gorman, the road crests, subtly, over the highest point of the pass, at 4,144 feet above sea level, and turns eastward again, at the intersection of the Garlock Fault, coming in from the east. This was the site of the largest earthquake in California’s recorded history (so far)
8.0 in 1857. From here the San Andreas fault continues through Frazier Park, and northward on its own path to San Francisco. The Interstate is now, and for the rest of the trip north of this point, in the realm of the Tejon Ranch, the largest privately held piece of real estate in the state of California.

After passing historic Fort Tejon and the headquarters for the ranch, the road enters Grapevine Canyon, the steep walls of which rise thousands of feet above the road, a road that is increasingly at the bottom of a massive V. Around the bend of the steepest downward part of the grade the expansive San Joaquin valley becomes visible: a flat grid to infinity, framed in the symmetric diagonals of the canyon walls. Two runaway truck ramps, one on the right, built in 1983, and another on the left, built in 2000, indicate the steepness of the grade.

Visible ahead in the valley below is the point where Highway 99 emerges again from underneath Interstate 5, this time for a few hundred miles. Highway 99 goes straight up the valley, the backbone of the great Central Valley, merging again with Interstate 5 at the valley’s north end, 400 miles away. In the distance, I-5 curves west off the straight line of Highway 99, and heads up the western edge of the San Joaquin, hardly hitting any towns at all.

The I-5/Hwy 99 split marks the northern limit of the CLUI exhibit, and of the tour area. So we exit at Laval Road, at the new Tejon Industrial Center, and pause to consider that we are at the furthest point, the apogee, 100 miles from where we started. We are now at the southern fringe of the greatest agricultural valley in the country, and the northern end of the Ridge Route. Now the tour really begins.

The Various Grapevines
The industrial center at the Laval Exit is the latest incarnation of the Grapevine settlement. This Grapevine is the one related most to the present and future version of this transitory place. It was built over the last ten years by the Tejon Ranch Company, owners of the land, as a highway services and logistics center. It has the latest generation of roadway food for passenger cars (Starbucks, Panda Express), and a large truck stop. Though there can be more than a thousand people here at once, nobody lives here. The structures that dominate this place are four huge new warehouses, with room for more. The largest of them is IKEA’s Western North America Distribution Center, a building that has 1.7 million square feet of enclosed space. It is one of the largest and newest in the fleet of IKEA’s 28 distribution centers worldwide.

Though it seems like its far from everything, and in the middle of nowhere, the warehouses are located here because it is in the middle of everywhere the company wants to be. This place is a day’s truck drive, round trip, to 97% of the population of Californiafive hours or less to San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, and the 15 million people in the Los Angeles area. It also is balanced between two major shipping ports. 80% of IKEA’s product comes through the port of Los Angeles (mostly from China), which is two and a half hours from this location. Another 20% comes via the port of Oakland, four hours away. If there is a disruption at either port, due to a strike, terrorist threat, or some other event, the flow of goods can be diverted from one port or the other with minimal stress on the company’s logistics. Another advantage to this location is that without any residents here, the facility can operate 24/7, and can therefore take advantage of the Port of Los Angeles’ off-peak (late at night) savings incentives.

The logistical advantages of this location was enough to convince the Tejon Ranch that a warehouse center, way out here, would be recognized by companies operating in the global arena. This new Grapevine station is a global, not a local place. It may be a bit ahead of its time though, as one of the tenants, Oneida, has already moved in, and out. Two entire buildings, 2 million square feet, are completely empty. Rent on the 650,000 square foot warehouse, owned by the industrial logistics company ProLogis (which has a half a billion square feet nationwide), is $91,267 per month.

The bus drives around these massive spaces while this is all being explained to the group on board, by the bus tour guide and narrator, Matthew Coolidge, director of the CLUI. After rambling on about the corporate history of the Oneida Company (a flatware company that was started by John Humphrey Noyes, utopianist, perfectionist, and free love polygamist from Putney, Vermont, who established a famous commune in Oneida, in upstate New York, in the 1800s), as well as that of IKEA (the privately held Swedish furnishings company, started by Invar Kamprad, in 1943, which has grown to 315 stores, and 127,000 employees, worldwide, and how the “IK” of IKEA are his initials, and the “EA” is from Elmtaryd Agunnaryd, the name of his farm and parish in Sweden...) the bus finds its way to the exit and southbound on Interstate 5 again.

Before the next exit, we decide to stop at the California Highway Patrol weigh station, where all trucks entering the Grapevine Canyon are weighed and inspected (another station performs the same function for northbound trucks, at Castaic Junction.) The scale display shows us the weight of our fully loaded tour bus: 40,563 pounds.

The next exit is the second of the three Grapevines and the one actually labeled Grapevine. It represents an earlier era of roadside services. A smaller-scale, less truck-friendly loop provides access to gas stations, Denny’s, Jack in the Box, and a rarely visited loungy Mexican restaurant that smells of rat urine. It is at this Grapevine where the split lanes of I-5, coming down the canyon, converge. It is also here that a side road heads east towards the Edmonston Pumping Plant. We head that way.

The road leads along the base of the Tehachapi Mountians a few miles to the last of a series of pumping stations that bring California Aqueduct water to the Southland. This one lifts more water, higher, than anyplace in the world. On the way there we watch a video about the state water project, and once at the gate we meet Don Anderson, chief hydroelectric plant operator. He explains how the system works.

The California Aqueduct carries up to 2 billion gallons of water a day to Southern California from the watersheds of northern California, hundreds of miles away. It also provides water for the farmers of the Central Valley. The aqueduct was built in the late 1960s, a project spearheaded by Governor Edmund Brown (father of former and present Governor Jerry Brown). It is still the largest publicly built and operated water project in the world, by most ways of measuring such things. As the aqueduct reaches the base of the Tehachapi mountains, four pump stations begin to carry the artificial river over the pass. The first three pump stations, west of the Interstate, lift the water 470 feet. This one, the last one, pumps it 2,000 feet further up. Some states in the USA consume less energy than California uses just to move its water around.

The forebay, where water pools before going in the pumps, is 70 feet deep. Two arms of the building embrace the forebay, and contain the fourteen pumps that do the work. The water travels up the ridge in a series of tunnels inside the mountains, passing an exposed surge tank, and through a number of siphons on Tejon Ranch. It travels in separate tunnels as it goes through a major earthquake zone, the Garlock Fault. Important redundancy. The water emerges from underground ten miles south of the pumping station, at the Tehachapi Afterbay, where it splits into two aqueducts. The East Branch heads through the Antelope Valley and to the Inland Empire, terminating at Lake Perris. The West Branch enters the Oso Pumping Plant, where the water is lifted another 237 feet, then flows for another 2.5 miles and collects in Quail Lake, then flows through the Peace Valley pipeline into Pyramid Lake, and from there through a seven mile underground pipeline to Castaic Lake, the terminal reservoir. Quite a journey.

This and more is explained, along with the fact that our briefer has to talk to us on the bus, idling outside the gate, even though inside the pumping plant is an overlook and interpretive plaques built for visitors. It can no longer be visited by the public, due to security issues.

On the way back down Pumping Plant Road, we pass over and under southbound energy lines we will encounter as we head south over the Ridge Route: a series of electric lines from dams in the Sierras, including one line built in 1913 for Huntington’s railway that connected to the Eagle Rock substation in Los Angeles; and a 34” Southern California Gas Company pipeline, exposed at a pipeline maintenance “pig” insertion point at the base of the mountains, that connects the network of gas lines extending up to Alberta, Canada, and to the Honor Ranch storage site in Castaic, for local distribution in the Southland.

Back at the second Grapevine, we turn up a dead-end road between the two lanes of the Interstate. The road, known as the 17 Mile Tangent, was the stem of the old Ridge Route as it entered the canyon. After all the switchbacks of the mountains, the original road landed at the base of Grapevine Canyon, and finally straightened out here, at the edge of the San Joaquin Valley. In 1926, this perfectly straight 17-mile road was paved in cement, as if to make up for all the curves it took in the hills, forming the longest, straightest road in the state at that time. Today, it leads through a plot of commercial grapevines, planted anonymously here by the Tejon Ranch Company, perhaps symbolically, as this is the base of the Grapevine. Beyond the grapes are two petroleum pump stations where Kern County crude is pumped up over the mountains.

This is the site of the first community of Grapevine, called Grapevine Station, where a service station and café supported the original Ridge Route travellers, as far back at least as 1915. It’s a historical point of beginning, and there are several things to look at. So we get off the bus and are led around the site by the only historian who ever really cared about this place, someone who in fact is the expert on the history of the Grapevine, someone we were honored to have on board the bus to help out with the historical elements of the tourHarrison Scott.

Scott is the author of Ridge Route: The Road that United California, a history, primarily, of the 1915 highway that first came through the region, connecting northern and southern California directly for the first time. He is a retired telephone company engineer who got interested in the old Ridge Route decades ago, and became its champion. He lobbied to have its historic significance understood and appreciated, eventually getting eighteen miles of the old road on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

Harrison explains what used to be herethe small community, and its denizens. We walk over to the remains of Arco’s old pumping station, and the last remaining house of the pump station workers, which is still occupied by a family. We walk to the current petroleum pumps, recently installed when the pipeline was upgraded by its new owners, PXP, out of Houston, Texas. PXP operates two petroleum lines that go over the Grapevine, bringing crude oil from the fields of Kern County to the refineries in southern Los Angeles. Line 63 is a 16” pipe, with a 110,000 barrels per day capacity, that brings light crude from the Kelly Pump Station in the valley to the Hynes Terminal in Long Beach. Line 2000 is a more recent 20” pipeline, with a 130,000 barrels per day capacity, built over the last few years, that carries heavy crude 130 miles, connecting through the Emidio Pump Station in the valley to a refinery in Los Angeles. Kern County is the largest domestic source of crude that is consumed in California. We gaze at the pumps, and contemplate the flow.

171 Harrison Scott leads the group through the remains of Grapevine Station. CLUI photoUp the hill a few hundred yards, ExxonMobil operates a pump station for its pipeline through the ridge. The first petroleum line over the mountains, an 8” line from Kettlemen Hills, pumped from here to a small refinery in Lebec as early as 1911. Lines later extended from that refinery to Los Angeles. After a few other generations of pipes, including the M1 and the M55, ExxonMobil now operates the 16” M70, from here to Los Angeles. We will see these pipes poking out of the ground occasionally on our way back.

Onwards and Upwards
The group gets back on the bus, leaving the original Grapevine community at the base of the Grapevine with its eponymous grape vines, tucked between the lanes of the descending interstate, to continue its slow disappearance amid brake dust. We head up the Interstate now, southbound, into Grapevine Canyon, in the slow lane. On the west wall of the canyon a cluster of wild cimarron grapes, the true source of the name of the Canyon, are visible still.

We are lumbering up the southbound lane of Interstate 5, which originally was both lanes of Highway 99. This was the steepest and most dangerous part of Highway 99. Before the lanes were divided, cars barrelled down the canyon immediately adjacent to cars heading up it. If they collided, which was especially common in the 1930s when the road was three lanes wide (one up, one down, and a passing “suicide” lane in the middle) it could be with a combined speed of over 120 mph. The upslope speed differential (still significant today) with trucks going as slow as 20 mph, and cars going 70, provoking lots of sudden moves and passings, added to the chaos. And, often, vehicles would lose their brakes, overheated by the end of the long descent, and would careen over the side, or into oncoming cars.

We pass the slab of an old gas station and motel, McLarty’s, which moved here from Grapevine Station after the Alternate Ridge Route (later named Highway 99) replaced the old Ridge Route, in 1933. McLarty’s was located at a disadvantageous curve next to the downward-lane side of the highway. Out of control vehicles crashed through the service station on a number of occasions, and it was rebuilt at least four times. The buildings are all gone, and the remains of the old Unocal 76 sign lies in a pile of scrap, behind the old gas pump slab. Harrison Scott points out several other sites of café’s and service areas as we climb the grade, visible only as faint turn-outs now, and old water tanks in the hills. When the Interstate came through, all of these places were removed.

This stretch through the canyon was the first portion of the Ridge Route’s Highway 99 to be widened to four lanesit was done during WWII. Soon after the war, much of the rest of the highway was widened too. But even with two lanes up and two lanes down, the Grapevine canyon portion continued to be dangerous. The transportation department built a wooden guardrail between the lanes, but this proved insufficiently strong. In 1946, they replaced the wooden divider with a sloped, segmented concrete barricade system, which worked. This is generally understood to be the invention of the now ubiquitous concrete divider known as k-rail. On the East Coast the structures are called Jersey barrier, so named because the New Jersey Highway Department thinks they invented it when they used it for the first time in 1949. The debate rages on.

We soon pass Deadman’s Curve, where the old Ridge Route’s thin cement road surface still rings a hill with a tight curve, now cut-off from the new highway like an abandoned oxbow. Above it is the Christo Umbrella death site where, in 1991, at the full flowering of the artist’s project, over 1,700 25-foot wide umbrellas covered the hills and dales around Grapevine Canyon and Gorman, with another set simultaneously installed in Japan. One of the umbrellas became uprooted in a wind on the bluff above Deadman’s Curve, and knocked a woman against a rock, killing her. It was a tragic end for one of the most ambitious landscape art projects ever.

Past it is another crude oil pumping station, the Tejon Pump Station, with tanks and several buildings behind a chain link fence. This was part of the Arco line, now owned by PXP. With new pumps installed at the bottom of the Grapevine, this pumping station is obsolete, and is used as a maintenance yard. We exit the Interstate after the pump station, and pass the site of Fort Tejon, which has been rebuilt and maintained as a historic site and small museum.

172 Dead Man’s Curve and Interstate 5 viewed from the Christo Umbrella death site. CLUI photoThe Tejon Legacy
This was the fort established by Edward Fitzgerald Beale, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for California, in 1854. Beale later became Surveyor General for the state, and acquired much of what he surveyed, amassing a giant ranch that passed from him to his son, and later to the Chandler family of Los Angeles, which managed it for years as Tejon Ranch, the aforementioned largest contiguous piece of private property in the state.

Beale’s story is remarkable, and central to the origins of the Grapevine and the Ridge Route. Downslope, covering 8,000 acres near where the Edmonston Pumping Plant is now, was the Sabastian Indian Reservation, set up by Beale in 1853, and occupied by 2,500 Yokuts from the valley. Fort Tejon was established to manage and protect the reservation, and served generally as an outpost for the Federal Government in this very remote region. The platoon of 135 dragoons at the Fort was supplemented by 28 camels that Beale brought in, expecting them to adapt well in the hot climate of the San Joaquin.

After being appointed surveyor general and amassing his empire, word of Beale’s excesses reached Washington DC, and he was relieved of his post. President Lincoln commented that he “could not have a surveyor who becomes monarch of all he surveys.” Beale returned east, and continued on with a life befitting a formerly heroic Naval officer, government official, and well respected businessman. He held on to Tejon Ranch, which was over 270,000 acres in size. It was eventually sold in 1912, by his heir, his son Truxton Beale, for $3 million. The buyers were Harry Chandler, the notorious editor of the Los Angeles Times, and Harrison Gray Otis, the paper’s publisher, and Chandler’s father-in-law. The ranch stayed in the Chandler family until just a few years ago, when the company’s ownership was restructured, though they are still involved in its management.

The bus heads past Fort Tejon, over the highway, and past the elegant headquarters building of the Tejon Ranch Company, under stately oaks, past the El Tejon School, back over the highway, past the mostly torn-down old Lebec refinery, and through the small settlement of Lebec, all the while on the original Ridge Route road, which now serves as the service road next to the Interstate. We stop at a wide spot in the road, near a historic plaque, and get off the bus to listen to Harrison Scott explain where we are.

This is the site of a number of interesting buildings, now all gone. One was the once legendary Lebec Hotel, a glamorous spot for Hollywood and business types in the 1920s and 1930s. By the late 1960s the Lebec Hotel fronted a major highway, and was abandoned. The Tejon Ranch Company bought it and burned it down in 1971. Next to it, for a number of years, was an unusual modern building called the Florafaunium, which was reconstructed here as a kind of attraction, following its presentation in the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco. Inside it contained “the only complete collection of California birds, animals, and wild flowers.” It closed after being damaged in an earthquake in 1952, and is now also gone. Next to it was a roadside coffee shop that also disappeared, though its broken metal sign is rusting away in a nearby field.

173 Comparing the Lebec Hotel site with an image in Harrison Scott’s book Lost Hotels on California’s Historic Ridge Route: A Pictorial History. CLUI photo Back on the bus, it’s a brief hop back over the interstate to the main gate of the Tejon Ranch, where we are met by Barry Zoeller, Director of Corporate Communications, who lets us through the electric gates onto the ranch, and guides us through a significant portion of it.

Today Tejon Ranch is a public company, listed on the American Stock Exchange, and grows cotton, alfalfa, grapes, walnuts, cattle, and extracts oil, cement, and real estate. There have been many plans for major developments on the ranch over the years, but the latest version, endorsed by the likes of ex-Governor Schwarzenegger and the Sierra Club, is for two separate villages, and the continued development of the industrial park at the bottom of the Grapevine. The proposed Tejon Mountain Village would be an upscale settlement of around 3,500 homes, with a golf course and a shopping center, scattered on the hills of the ranch, in the area north of Castac Lake, and on the east side of the Grapevine. A larger in numbers, but smaller in area, development called Centennial, is planned for the flatter part of the ranch along Highway 138 and the western end of the Antelope Valley. Centennial would be a major new community, built from scratch, with a proposed 23,000 homes, as well as schools, business parks, shopping centers, and a transit system. Though the ground is yet to be broken for it, the first phase is slated to begin in 2013.

The bus travels on the main road into the core of the Ranch, Bear Trap Road, which will no doubt be renamed by the time the road becomes the central artery through the proposed Mountain Village community. For now, the road shows rolling hills, studded with oaks, dotted with occasional cattle pens, and crossed by power lines and pipelines bringing energy and water to Los Angeles. The bus proceeds to a maintenance laydown area for the California Aqueduct, which runs through the ranch in a tunnel underground. Further up the road, a half mile section of the aqueduct emerges as a double-barreled siphon, and beyond that is the surge tank. Then the road descends down to the pumping plant we visited earlier. But it is too rough for the bus, so we turn around at a point where the aqueduct is directly underneath the bus, and head back towards the gate. The landscape is majestic. It is clear why so many car companies film their advertisements on the scenic, paved, but untraveled roads of the ranch. We pass Castac Lake, with its aerators spraying, a semi-natural lake, formed in a depression in the Garlock Fault escarpment which runs through the Mountain Village site. The lake is owned by the ranch, which has renamed it Tejon Lake, to avoid the confusion that comes with the similarly named, and much less tranquil, Castaic Lake, further down the aqueduct.

Despite all the proposed development, we are assured that 90% of the land of the ranch will be preserved as open space, albeit open space that will be next to developments. But the northern end of the ranch, overlooking the valley, will be left alone, mostly. We leave our briefers at the gate, and head to our next stop, next door, at the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) Lebec maintenance yard. This is the base of operations for the highway department that maintains this treacherous stretch of Interstate. Here, guardrails are replaced when cars crash through them, and here the plows are kept for clearing the winter snowfalls that can shut the pass down. We pick up Dennis, who has worked at the site since the 1970s, and he explains what Caltrans does as maintainers of the modern Ridge Route.

We head out the gate and engage in a curious loop, stopping at the rest area on the southbound side of the highway, then crossing over and visiting the rest area on the northbound side. While the differences between them are subtle, the rest stops are emblematic of the Interstate phenomena. They are places disconnected from the land they are inthey are only for, and accessible by the Interstate, the through-way. The thousands of people who stop in to use the rest rooms linger a bit around the shaded walkways and vending machines, almost in a dream it seems, as if inertially still in motion, on their way, but static, briefly. They are somewhere, on the ground, in a vista, sort of, but really not anywhere at all. Interstate rest areas are heavy duty pit stops along the road, but are a non-place place. It seems we could loop this loop all day, going from one rest stop to the other, back and forth across the Interstate, back and forth, without going or being anywhere, a locked groove of pure transit. But we resist the temptation, and drop Dennis back at the maintenance yard. Then we head south on Lebec Road.

Gorman: Downhill from Here
At Frazier Park Road, people on the bus are reminded that we are entering the San Andreas Fault again. Heading south on Peace Valley Road, though next to I-5, we are on the old Highway 99 road bed. Off to the right, at Falcon Road, Harrison Scott points out a cut-off loop of the old Ridge Route road, which we are also paralleling. We crest the pass once again, 4,144 feet, and begin our inevitable descent, slowly, and head into the small town of Gorman. Here the three phases of the Ridge Route roads converge.

Entering town, we pass the third location of the house of Mary Ralphs. As a long time resident of Gorman, her house has been bought by Caltrans and torn down twice before, for successive expansions and realignments of the Ridge Route. This house, on a hill next to the historic Gorman School, seems safe for a while. Mrs. Ralphs is the oldest remaining member of the Ralphs family, which has owned Gorman since buying it from the Gorman brothers in 1898. Several members of the Ralphs family, the same one that started the Ralphs grocery store chain now prevalent throughout the Southland, have large old ranch style homes in the hills around Gorman, though much of the town site itself, and the rest of the 2,866 acres of the Ralphs ranch, was sold by the family in 1997 for $4.2 million.

We turn left, past a relief valve for the 20” PXP petroleum pipeline, and go under the Interstate. A Chevron gas station has been here since at least 1923, when it was operated by Standard Oil of California, Chevron’s precursor. Early on, because of its remoteness, including its isolation from railways, this gas station had to operate more autonomously, needing large storage tanks, supplied periodically by tanker trucks. This was unusual in the 1920s, as roadways tended to follow railways through remote regions. Soon, as highways expanded outward and reached further into the land, this type of station became the norm. We turn right and pull in to the Ranch House Restaurant, known to some locals as the “former Sizzler.” A late lunch, as it’s 2:30PM.

174 The tour bus waits for the group to finish a well-earned lunch at the Ranch House Restaurant, in Gorman. CLUI photo After lunch we head south through town on Gorman Post Road, veering away from the Interstate for a while. (While it is conceptually possible to travel the entirety of the Ridge Route from Grapevine to Castaic without being on the Interstate, there would be moments where portages over land would be necessary). We cross over buried Line 63, PXPs 14” petroleum line, visible on the surface as a swath of slightly disturbed ground. At a small electrical yard, Edison’s Gorman Substation, we pass under one of the electric lines that follows the Ridge Route, the Kern River Power Plant # 1 line, which dates back to 1908 and is still in service.

The road follows the San Andreas Fault, and is dotted with fault line pools known as sag ponds. It is part of the original Ridge Route from 1915, and Harrison Scott points out a few of the old service stations, cafes, and motels, such as Holland’s Summit and Caswell’s, now gone entirely.

175 The southern end of Gorman Post Road curves to join the newer Highway 138, while the old Ridge Route surface continues straight into a dead-end. CLUI photo Gorman Post Road ends at Highway 138, near the California Aqueduct’s West Branch, where for two miles the water is contained in an open trench (the Lower Quail Canal) between Quail Lake and the Peace Valley Pipeline. From here we head east on Highway 138, passing through the area slated to become Tejon Ranch’s 11,700 acre Centennial development, north and east of the aqueduct’s Quail Lake. For now, the region feels remote, and open. A large and prominent white house on the southern side of the lake is the Kinsey Mansion, owned for years by General Petroleum (later Mobil Oil). They operated a petroleum pipeline through the area, and used the house as a duck hunting club. Now the building is privately owned, and is quite a sight, modeled after George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and with a long white limousine perpetually parked out front.

We veer southward, off 138, heading up into the hills, along the original Ridge Route. Harrison Scott points out some of the features along the way. Near where we turned off are some old rusty tanks, which were part of a General Petroleum pipeline which came over the ridge from the Kern County oil fields. Oil was heated and pumped from here to the railway at Mojave, where it went by train to refineries in Los Angeles. Later the pipeline was extended through the Ridge Route all the way to the city, and this facility became obsolete. Next to it is a former telephone company booster station, built in 1929 to amplify the signal on the long distance line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Due to the remoteness of the station, workers lived on the premises. The complex is now occupied by artists associated with CalArts. Across the highway is a large cement operation on the grounds of Tejon Ranch. We head up higher into the hills, leaving the floor of the Antelope Valley, and enter the most remote and intact section of the old Ridge Route.

Climbing upward, we arrive at the ruins of Sandberg’s Lodge, once a famous and popular place to stay for people traversing the old Ridge Route. At an elevation of 4,170 feet, it was known as a high class mountain resort, with 25 rooms in the main lodge and cottages, built as the road was being completed in 1914. It was one of the few old stops along the old Ridge Route to remain long after the route was bypassed by the much faster Alternate Ridge Route, built in 1933 (and following, roughly, the route of the Interstate today). Sandberg’s eventually burned down in 1961. We get off the bus here and wander around the ruins.

The Road continues southward into the mountains, along the top of the ridge, soon reaching the highest point, 4,233 feet, and then winding down the mountains to Castaic, 26 miles away. The road is up there all by itself, with occasional turn-outs and historical plaques erected by Harrison Scott and his team from the Ridge Route Preservation Organization. They meet the second Saturday of every month at the Ranch House in Gorman, and head up to this stretch of the route to perform maintenance on the road, as it is no longer maintained by Caltrans, or the forest service, whose land it passes through. It is mostly used by the oil companies that access pipelines that run through the area, and kept passable as a fire road. Heavy rains in 2005 washed out parts of the old Ridge Route up here, and the forest service closed the gates on a ten mile stretch. Though the road was eventually repaired, the gates remain closed, so visitors can no longer drive all the way through on the old Ridge Route.

Even if we could get through the gate, or at least to the tumbled-down ruins of the Tumble Inn, just before the gate, we could not do it in a full sized tour bus. If we proceeded any further up the rundown old road, we would soon bottom out, and with no place to turn around, we would have to back out, with precipitious drops and sharp curves the whole way. So we turn the bus around here, at Sandberg’s, and go back down to Highway 138, and head westward.

Just before I-5, we pass under familiar electric lines, the 1913 Pacific Power and Light lines from Kern River, still held aloft with the original metal towers, and we see the Gas Company’s 34” natural gas line, on its way to the Honor Ranch in Castaic, coming out of the ground like a worm to cross over the Aqueduct channel.

Going with the Flowing
The roads merge where the Aqueduct’s Lower Quail Canal ends and the water enters the 12-foot diameter Peace Valley pipeline, following the Interstate for five miles, and dropping 750 feet in elevation before entering the Warne Power Plant, on the northern arm of Pyramid Lake, where it generates electricity before spilling into the lake. On the way, just past Smokey Bear Road, we see an isolated suspension bridge to the west, carrying the PXP petroleum pipelines over a steep-sided creek between Hungry Valley Road and Hard Luck Road.

We exit at the Vista del Lago, a visitor center overlooking Pyramid Lake, built by the state of California to describe the State Water Project. The hexagonal building is a veritable casino of interpretive mechanisms. Interactive and static displays range from the general (“How much water does it take to make a cheeseburger?”) to detailed three-dimensional models of the state’s water infrastructure. Gary Moore of the State Water Project meets the group in an auditorium and describes the role of Pyramid Lake in the state water supply system. The lake filled in 1974, and was built to generate electricity, as well as be a reservoir for water bound for Los Angeles. The lake is a holding tank for one of the largest pumped storage power plants in the nation. A 7.5-mile long, 30-foot wide tunnel through the mountains of the Ridge Route connects this lake to Castaic Lake. The drop between the two is 1,000 feet, so the water at the end has plenty of energy in it. Water flows through the tunnel during periods of peak energy demand (generally during the day and evening), when electricity costs more to buy – and is therefore worth more. At night, the same turbines that generate electricity in the power plant reverse, and become pumps, moving the water back up the tunnel to Pyramid Lake. Obviously, in terms of energy, there is a net loss, as it uses more energy to pump the water up then is created by letting it fall down. But the fact that there is less demand for power at night, and that electricity costs less, is enough to create a net gain financially, and enough to justify the massive expense of the operation.

176 Visitors pass through a doorway at the Vista del Lago visitor center which demonstrates the circumference of the Aqueduct. CLUI photoThe group heads outside to the veranda overlooking the lake. Interpretive plaques indicate where the water drops into the tunnel, invisible on the surface. Beyond it is the Pyramid Dam, where a 15-foot diameter stream release tunnel in the dam is the only other way for water to leave the lake (it lets water into Piru Creek, where it is collected another eleven miles downstream in Lake Piru, another reservoir). Inside the dam structure is the pyramidal rock structure that gave the lake its name. This was not a natural formation, but one made by blasting the alternate Ridge Route through the valley in 1933. The fact that the artificial lake gets its name from an artificial geographical landmark is, at least, fitting. Pyramid Rock is now hard to see, as it is integrated into the dam’s structure. Another pyramidal blasted rock escarpment is clearly visible though, which was made for the construction of the dam. This, perhaps, can be the new Pyramid Rock.

The road, later designated as Highway 99, followed the creekbed. It was abandoned in 1970 when the Interstate opened. The dam was built on top of the roadway pass at the original Pyramid Rock, so looking across the lake we imagine the four lanes of Highway 99, still with their striping, travelling across the bottom of the lake, passing by the visitor center, between the dam and the boat ramp at the northern end.

We leave the visitor center and head south on the Interstate, pulling off into a truck brake check area, where a gap in the fence allows the bus to take a short cut to old Highway 99, heading north towards the lake. This is the ghost highwaya four-lane paved and graded road that until 1970 carried all the traffic of the Ridge Route. Today it goes nowhere, and serves no communities, it simply heads north through an empty valley for seven miles then plows directly into the base of the Pyramid Dam. There is, however, a gate, two miles shy of the dam, preventing cars (or tour buses) from approaching the dam, for “security reasons.” (It is possible and permissible to bicycle most of the way to the dam though). We turn the bus around at the gate and head back down the ghost highway. Along the way, we stop to admire an access portal for the Angeles Tunnel. There are several of these along the 7.5 miles of the tunnel, to allow maintenance crews to get inside the 30-foot diameter shaft. These are, of course, gated and locked too.

We cross under the Interstate at the Templin Highway exit, cross over the by now familiar gas petroleum pipelines, visible crossing over washes, and, up the road, hit the old Ridge Route where it comes down from its lonely and closed off mountaintop journey, and descends further a few miles into Castaic. If we were to go straight at the intesrection, down the Templin Highway, we would get to the gate of the power plant where the Angeles Tunnel terminates. Beyond that, the highway stops abruptly, at the edge of a vast mountain wilderness, spared because the Templin Highway was never actually built. But we turn right and join the old Ridge Route for its final leg. Along the way we can see the Angeles Tunnel surge tank, looking like a massive soda can on a hilltop. The tank is really a steel tube, 120 feet wide and 400 feet deep. It extends deep under ground, connecting to the tunnel, and serves as a shock absorber, holding excess pressure and water if necessary, relieving stress that could rupture the tunnel. Visible below in the valley is the Elderberry Forebay, the reservoir that holds the water from Pyramid Lake, until it is pumped back up, in the darkness of night, and on weekends.

177 The Angeles Tunnel surge tank. CLUI photoDescending towards Castaic Lake, the original Ridge Route goes through what is now the Castaic Brick yard, and is degraded and off limits. We meet up with the original roadbed south of the brick yard, in the midst of the new Northlake housing development. We are back in the sprawl. On the Interstate southbound through the suburbs and into the city, we watch some videos (about Christo’s umbrella project, water, Norman Bel Gettes on the Futurama, and part of a 1970s TV movie called Smashup on Interstate 5) and we contemplate the various meanings and interpretations of this day on the road.