By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST
You‘d be hard-pressed to find two more perfect runs anywhere than the main roads through Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains. The longer, more celebrated route, running for 66 miles from La Cañada to Big Pines, is Angeles Crest. First surveyed in 1919, this twisting highway of banked turns and dazzling vistas wasn’t fully completed fully completed until ‘61, at a final cost of about $1 million a mile -- and to this biker, it’s worth every penny. Only a couple of curves out of La Cañada the last of the Valley‘s tract houses fall away, leaving nothing but blue sky, rugged cliffs, deep valleys and 65 more miles of smooth pavement. Twenty minutes later the air’s suffused with pine, L.A.‘s a distant memory and you’re on the lookout for bighorn sheep. What more could a rider want?
The other main route, the Angeles Forest Highway, branches off Angeles Crest about 15 miles in, cutting a shorter, more directly northern path through the San Gabriels to Palmdale, beginning with a full 18 miles of constant bends, curves, dips and dives. Palmdale itself isn‘t much, all heat, dust and faux-Mexican strip malls, but beyond it there’s a terrific 25-mile backroads run to Saugus and Santa Clarita: Start northwest up the N2, past a working vineyard and a bison ranch, then cut between hot desert hills down Bouquet Canyon Road, sliding around glittering Bouquet Lake before plunging into the cool, oak-shaded canyon itself. Near its southern end you‘ll find the Big Oaks Lodge (33101 Bouquet Canyon Road, Saugus; 661-296-5656), a century-old roadhouse with a dark, wood-paneled bar, red Naugahyde booths, an outdoor boxing ring -- heavyweights come up here to train -- and shots of Dylan and Sinatra in the dining room. Feel free to stop for a little surf and turf (there’s a great lobster tail on the menu), even if it‘s getting dark; service is quick, and, hey, you’re only 45 minutes from town.
Finally, south of L.A., the Ortega Highway winds for 20 joyous miles from San Juan Capistrano to land-locked Lake Elsinore. After a hot 10 miles of choppy, chaparral-covered hills and horse ranches with hawks and vultures circling overhead, you hit one light before the road abruptly dives into the Palomar Mountains, swerving for another 10 miles through the shaded lanes of Cleveland National Forest. Then, bursting out of the woods, you lean through several curves and are suddenly faced with a jaw-dropping view of the spring-fed lake from the dusty edge of a 2,000-foot-high cliff. Just up the road is the 50-year-old Lookout Roadhouse (32107 Ortega Hwy., Lake Elsinore; 909-678-9010), serving country-style wood-smoked barbecue ribs and breakfast all day (try the Hog Break, a tortilla wrapped around scrambled hash and eggs) on its outdoor deck. After that it‘s all downhill, literally -- four miles of steep switchbacks and sheer drop-offs as you wend your way down the side of the mountain to the narrow shores of the sprawling lake. As always, ride safe; this last stretch of road is particularly unforgiving, and you’ll definitely want to make it to the bottom -- so you can turn around and do it all over again.
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