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School of Self-Reliance


©1990 Christopher Nyerges

Not long ago, I visited some of the campsites in the upper elevations of the Angeles National Forest. It had been many years since I'd traveled beyond Red Box Station, so I decided to spend the day exploring.

From La Canada, I drove north up the Angeles Crest Highway. Red Box is less than 20 miles from Foothill Blvd. in La Canada, and it's the point where you turn to go to Mount Wilson.

A little over 10 miles beyond Red Box Station brings you into the Charlton Flats picnic area. No overnight camping is allowed here, but it's a great place to spend the day. It's a rather large area that is relatively flat for the mountains, which makes it easy to walk around and explore.

Five miles up the Angeles Crest Highway is Chilao, where overnight camping is permitted. When I entered, the ground under the tall pines was covered with cones, and I counted at least a dozen grey squirrels eagerly chewing the cones for their seeds. During the 1860s and 1870s, Chilao was the site where the bandit Tiburcio Vasquez hid many of the horses he and his men stole from ranches in the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys. As you drive or hike through Chilao, you'll observe that the long somewhat narrow canyon would have made a great hiding place in the old days

Just beyond Chilao is a little store and gas station at a place called Newcomb's Ranch. The place is named after Louie Newcomb who was one of the original homesteaders in the San Gabriel Mountains. In 1890, he built his crude cabin just a quarter mile northeast of today's Newcomb Ranch Inn. If you neglected to fill your gas tank, you can fill up here, and perhaps you can buy a snack and enjoy it with the many motorcyclists who frequent this place.

Less than 10 miles up the road, beyond the ski area of Waterman, is Buckhorn Camp, where I'd been looking forward to visiting after nearly 15 years. I was just past the 7000 foot level, and it began to rain lightly. It was refreshing, but it was dangerous too. Just beyond the Sulphur Springs Road, the highway was temporarily closed. The sheriff asked me to wait while a tow truck retrieved a car that had slid off the highway and over the side.

After a while, I continued and drove into Buckhorn Camp, which is set back from the road. As you enter, you drive under tall trees, and the place feels secluded, out-of-the-way. Many of the trees had turned yellow for fall, and the river bottom was covered with ferns and thimbleberries, Shoshonean Indians once lived in this immediate area, collecting acorns and seeds, and hunting the abundant game. Many years later, hunters in the late 1890s nailed two extremely large buck horns to a tree, and the name Buckhorn stuck.

At the east side of Buckhorn is the beginning of the Burkhart Trail, which is a pleasant hike. For all of your options on this hike, I recommend you consult either a topographical map of the area, or John Robinson's Trails of the Angeles.

By the time I got to the Burkhart Trail, the rain was coming down steadily. Cassius Clay (my male American Pit Bull Terrier) and I headed down the trail for a while. But the rain just got harder, so eventually we turned around and ran back to the car, and drove back down the highway.

Cassie is Purple Ribbon,
which means he was bred NOT to fight

As we descended in elevation, the rain was behind us. In the west, the clouds were brilliant red with the setting sun. It was a spectacular site -- it looked like the sky was on fire. I had about an hour of daylight left, so I decided to explore Bandido Camp, up the Sulphur Springs Road. You'll see a few private camps as you travel down the Sulphur Springs Road. Bandido Camp is located perhaps a quarter mile off the Sulphur Springs Road, and it is adjacent to a place called Horse Flats. The campsite is nestled in a relatively large flat area between the hills, and I could see how it would have been an ideal hideout in the old days. There are a few hiking trails that you can take from Bandido, and the many permanent horse corrals tell me that this is a place to go if you have a horse.

If you look at a map, you'll see that Bandido is located directly north of Chilao. Though it is a long drive from Chilao to Bandido, the walk is under three miles and is moderately easy.

Finally, I traveled back down the highway to the city, passing Red Box, Switzer's, and Clear Creek Station. The sky was grey now. As I entered the final home-stretch -- those last nine miles before I'd be back to the 210 freeway -- I entered some of the thickest fog I'd ever seen. I had to slow down to about 10 m.p.h. to drive safely. At times, I could not see more than one or two car-distances ahead. Fortunately, there were just a few other cars on the road that night as I slowly made my way through the thick fog. During the bottom three miles, the fog had cleared and I felt safer.

Overall it had been a good day and a great adventure. Cassie (kinda silly nickname for a pit bull) had such a good time that, worn out, he had rolled himself into a ball and was trying to sleep on the car seat.

"Don't forget to take
a good sweater, even if it is summer!"

Local Hiking Trails
The CCC Road
The Switzers Area
The Falls
Millard Canyon
Mt. Lowe
Garbage: Good Enough to Eat?
Scoutleader Landry