Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sitting on the Devil's Throne

Snow Dusted San Gabriel Mountains Towering Over the Devil's Punchbowl
The sky was a steely gray and the wind was gusting as I jumped into the car and started for the Devil's Punchbowl on the high-desert, not really knowing whether it was a good idea or not. Getting out was a good idea, of course, but given the darkening skies and the winds buffeting my car, I was having reservations about site selection as I made my way up the Antelope Valley Freeway.

But as I crested Soledad Pass and veered east onto the Pearblossom Highway, the clouds broke, the winds mellowed, the outside temps stabilized in the mid-50s, and conditions became optimal for a day in the devil's playground. Arriving at the parking area, it was evident that lots of other folks thought the conditions perfect as well for the lot was completely full except for one last spot that I was fortunate to nab before the other folks right behind me could.

I didn't really have an objective in mind other than to see and experience this place. So with that non-plan as a starting point, I began up the dirt road the leads to the junction of the Burkhart and High Desert Trails. Along the way I passed crimson-barked mazanita that was as beautiful, healthy-looking, full, and luxuriant as any I have ever seen in the San Gabriels.  

About 0.9 miles up the road, the path split, the east branch going to the Devil's Chair and beyond, the west branch ascending to Burkhart Saddle and then, ultimately, to Buckhorn Campground along the ACH. Here, my natural, sinful state took over and I instinctively went east along the High Desert Trail toward El Diablo's throne.

From the trail junction to the spur to the Devil's Chair is about 2.6 miles along a very scenic, well-maintained, easy-to-navigate, and relatively flat trail. To the north are expansive views of the high desert; to the immediate south, is the oftentimes dramatic northern escarpment of the San Gabriel Range. Of particular note is rugged Holcomb Canyon which climbs steeply and dramatically up the back side of Mt. Williamson.

I'll refrain from giving a further blow-by-blow and just let the images speak for themselves. But I will say this about about the whole area. Going in, I had preconceived ideas about what this side of the San Gabriel range was and wasn't. Those preconceived ideas involved mostly juniper, sage, and other assorted lowland scrub. They did not include much in the way of flora and geography that is typical of a more mountainous, higher-alpine environment. And while the area does have many of the attributes of a transition zone between desert and mountains, it also offers snow-dusted peaks, fragrant evergreens, narrow, shaded canyons, and streams playing lovely water music. It's enough to make me want to drink from Satan's punchbowl again and again. And I will.

Ascending the Burkhart Trail
High Desert Views from the High Desert Trail
Looking Toward Big Pines from the High Desert Trail
View North Across the High Desert
Rugged Holcomb Canyon
Fenced Devil's Chair
Sitting on the Devil's Throne
Light, Shadows, Color
Alpine Scenery
Water Trickling Down Punchbowl Canyon
The Devil's Funhouse
Last Look

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