A smattering of wildflowers in Walker Canyon near Lake Elsinore, taken during the Spring 2019 Superbloom.
"L.A. has no seasons," goes the mantra of The Typical Transplant. But ah, why then are our mountain ranges green and not brown during the 2nd quarter of the year? Why are the stands of Dodger Stadium awash with blue again? And why does the sight of wildflowers attract people of all ages from young Instagram influencers to elderly grandparents?
It's wildflower season. It's the time when our native flora is present and alive. It's when humans go wild over the sight of countless plant genitalia. And we're blessed to have many areas that are not so far away from us where we can appreciate their ephemeral beauty. Do enjoy them now, for in a few months' time, the summer heat will dominate, the flowers will wither away, and the green will give way to golden brown. It's the Circle of Life, Simba.
The record winter rains have made our local wildflowers not only abundant, but have extended their season well into late April and perhaps May. The California Golden Poppy is the big star of the springtime show in this state, but other petals of red, white, purple, blue and yellow persuasions also make their presence known.
And so, The Militant has made a handy Google Map of the confirmed wildflower locations in Southern California - from San Luis Obispo County to San Diego County. All locations are based on personal, word-of-mouth and photographically-documented online observations. Do note that the addresses are based on the general publicly-accessible location (i.e. a park, nature preserve or hiking trail) and not necessarily the exact location of the blooms. But when you get there, the presence of the blooms should be obvious.
This map only includes areas where these flowers grow in the wild (hence, wildflowers - duh) and not any botanical gardens. Nothing against organized gardens, but it's more fun to see fish swim in the sea than in an aquarium, right?
This map is also continuously updated by The Militant several times a week, and certain locations known for wildflower blooms have not appeared on the map yet, because either the flowers have not yet bloomed, or The Militant has not yet seen or received reports of the bloom.
If you want to contribute to the map, shoot an email to The Militant (militantangeleno at gmail dot com) or send him a DM or @ on Twitter with a name and address of the location. If you're a wildflower-spotter and can ID the flowers, great! If you want, you can submit a photo and you'll get credit.
One more thing: Don't Doom The Bloom! Respect the marked trails and any property lines (if there are restricted areas). Don't step on the flowers! Nature is the main attraction here, not you! And Don't pick the flowers! They're not souvenirs, and they will quickly wilt anyway. Also, do note that not only have the flowers awoken from their winter hibernation, but so have the rattlesnakes. It's their home, not yours! Don't intrude on their area and they won't mess with you.
"But wait, Militant," you might ask, "Aren't you making things worse? These are closely-guarded secrets! They'll be ruined now that you're listing them all!" But au contraire - while the mainstream media only focuses on one location (as Lake Elsinore's Walker Canyon was back in 2019 - now it's currently closed to the public), the purpose of this map is to emphasize the fact that wildflowers are EVERYWHERE, and instead of focusing on one over-hyped location, The Militant is spreading out the crowds to other locations so that those other unsung locations can be appreciated and the handful of hyped-up "hot spots" won't be overloaded with crowds. You'll also notice that some areas, like the Antelope Valley and the southern Inland Empire have clusters of wildflower locations. You're strongly encouraged to make a day of it and visit them all! The Militant is doing a public service here!
The sights of spring! The seasonally verdant San Gabriel Mountains overlook a gated subdivision and the San Gabriel River uncharacteristically rushing down below.
Friday, March 24 was a bright and clear day - high winds the night before blew the last remnants of the previous rainstorm away and Angelenos awoke to a sky of blue. Though the Vernal Equinox came and went earlier in the week, today was surely the unofficial official First Day of Spring, if the fully-opened California Golden Poppies on the grounds of The Militant's Compound was an indication.
The Militant headed east by car (he wasn't quite ready for a Metro + bike adventure just yet for an unspecified reason) to the 626. Though the 210 is normally a breeze, it slogged with 405esque slowness for most of the journey from the Rose Bowl onward. The destination: Azusa Canyon! The Militant looked forward to the northernmost reaches of State Route 39 to As Far As He Could Go.
Upon exiting Azusa Avenue, he headed due north, past the Metro station, reminding himself that he hasn't been around These Here Parts since the Gold Line Foothill Extension's grand opening some seven years ago this month. Has it really been that long?
Why Azusa Canyon? Though a light frosting of snow on the upper reaches of the middle San Gabriels (which overlook Pasadena) greeted us down below, the warm, sunny temperatures meant some of that snow was melting already, as well as some of the rainwater that came down during the past few days. The canyon is where the San Gabriel River begins upon its descent down to the San Gabriel Valley and on to its terminus in Seal Beach. After all, Azusa was named after the Tongva village of Asuksagna (later called "Rancho El Susa" by the 19th century Mexicans), which means, "Place of the water." So there you go.
The Militant's plans were slightly dashed when an orange Caltrans road condition sign trailer was set out on Highway 39 bearing the words, "AZUSA CANYON CLOSED." Booo! But The Militant still wanted to see how far he'd go.
It wasn't long until he saw a set of cones on the road and two CHP vehicles blocking the way. The Militant took a U-turn onto a dirt lot on the side of the road, parked The Militant Mobile and heard the sound of rushing water. The dirt lot was conveniently set on a cliff overlooking the raging San Gabriel River down below. And was it raging. There was water alright, LOTS OF IT.
Not far from where The Militant stood, there was a bicycle/jogging trail that ended in a small cul-de sac. Guess The Militant could have biked up here after all. Noted for next time. After marveling at the sight of blue sky, green mountains and tan-colored rushing water, he made his way back southwards for a bit before crossing the river on a bridge leading to a gated community. But he was able to park on the un-gated street just west of the bridge and walked up to it.
The raging San Gabriel River as seen from the Mountain Laurel Way Bridge.
Though The Militant went as far as he was able to, he didn't want the day to go to waste. He realized that he wasn't too far from Glendora, so he made his way down Azusa Avenue and took a left on Route 66 to get his kicks. In The Militant's Lil'Mil days, Glendora was a familiar place, being where a family friend once lived and owned a business (no longer there). But back then he was not yet attuned to the legendary appeal of the one they call The Donut Man.
The Militant is almost embarrassed to admit that he never partook in the culinary wonder known as The Strawberry Donut, and even though TDM opened a location three years ago that was much, much closer to The Militant Compound, to be initiated into the sacred Strawberry Donuthood rite at a Donut Man location that wasn't the O.G. spot just didn't feel right. So he bought a few of them, as well as their almost-as-legendary Tiger Tail - a delightfully twisted chocolate-with-honey-glaze splendor. The Militant couldn't wait, so he opened the box on the trunk of The Militant Mobile and sank his teeth into the jelly-slathered strawberry wonder sandwiched between two horizontally-cut donut halves. OMG. The hype is real.
Now The Militant has finally earned his right to get one of these at Grand Central Market.
The Metro Rail Glendora station. Coming 2025. Or 2026. Or 2027. One of those.
Though the rails were in place, there was little to the station but its concrete foundation and a couple installed-but-non-functioning railroad crossing signals. Seems as though they have a ways to go. But for those of you already making your Foothill Extension Opening Day plans, The Donut Man is a 1 1/4-mile walk to/from the Glendora Metro station (great way to work off those carbs!). Just so you know!
The marquee of the old Azusa Foothill Drive-In Theatre (1961-2001).
Heading back to Azusa, the sight of the Azusa Foothill Drive-In Theatre marquee caught his eye. The drive-in, built in 1961, was, at the turn of the 21st century, the last remaining drive-in theatre along Route 66 west of Oklahoma. It closed in 2001 but the sign was declared a historic monument and was saved. The drive-in location is now the parking lot for APU (no, not that one).
A is for Asuksagna.
The Militant also caught sight of a white letter "A" on a mountainside overlooking The Canyon City. Yes, Azusa has a Hillside Letter (or a Mountain Monogram), a western U.S. phenomenon of placing the initial of a city, town or educational institution on the side of a mountain.
A piece of public art built in 2021 is based around the poem, "The Stone, The River, The Door," by Krystal Chang.
A tiny cap of snow sits atop Monrovia Peak, as seen from Downtown Azusa.
Housing in Azusa - future and past.
The Union Station-bound L-Line train leaves the Azusa Downtown station with some snow-capped San Gabe peaks in the background.
The Militant wanted to walk around Downtown Azusa for a bit, so he parked off of Azusa Avenue on 6th Street - coincidentally, also in front of a USPS Post Office. He passed a playground that what was once the Azusa Theatre (1926-1972) and a modern mixed-use development a block up the street that features a facade that pays homage to the old theatre. There was also much public art in the form of wall murals, utility box art and a steel public art structure which bore the words of a poem. He went as far as the Metro Station and Target before walking back on the other side of the street. He also happened upon the Azusa outpost of Congregation Ale House, conveniently just three short blocks from the Metro Rail station. Hmmm...noted.
Heading west on the 210, The Militant exited in Doorty, parked at Encanto Park and visited an old friend he had not seen since September 2015 - the 1907 Puente Largo Bridge, one of the featured surviving Pacific Electric remnants on his Pacific Electric Archaeology Map. It carried the Red Cars between Downtown and Glendora until 1951 and was renovated to its modern purpose as a pedestrian and bicycling path in 1989. The 1,019-foot bridge (the U.S. Bank Tower in Downtown Los Angeles could rest on the bridge end-to-end in its entirety with a foot to spare each side) spans the normally dry banks of the San Gabriel River - but not this day! The river was rollin' and raging! He was just a few miles south of where he was previously, and this water was well on its way to the spreading grounds in nearby Irwindale, where it will enter the groundwater table to be later used by the MWD and some of the local municipal water utilities.
The Puente Largo Bridge in Duarte. Not bad for a 116 year-old.
The riverbed was so much greener than when he was last there - the banks of the river also had small basins that caught excess flow from culverts. The basins also functioned as vernal pools, with wild (though invasive) mustard flowers popping up nearly everywhere. There was also a bike bath along the east bank of the river that reminded The Militant that he should take on this river path via two wheels sometime.
Vernal pools past the east bank of the San Gabriel River, with the bike path to the left.
The Militant continued on westward on the 210, but he wanted more. While searching for a place to eat, he saw a sign along Altadena Drive that read, "Eaton Canyon Natural Area Park." Hmmm. So he followed the signs up the road, past New York Avenue and entered an area right at the foothills with bushes and wildflowers galore. As soon as he got out of his car, he heard it: The sound of rushing water.
Eaton Wash is alive!
The Militant got so excited, he climbed down into the creek bed, crouched down and scooped up a handful of cold, clear water that made its way down the San Gabriels. It was this hardcore city boy's little moment with nature and it was quite awesome.
Wild Bush Sunflowers were in bloom.
Back on the trail, he was surrounded by rows and rows of native Bush Sunflowers in bloom. There were some prickly pear cacti in the area. A couple that was hiking asked him where the waterfall was. Though unfamiliar with the trail, he knew that it went in a roughly straight-line direction northward, so he pointed to the mountains. But he was curious about it now that the topic came up. So he kept walking towards the San Gabes. Several yards ahead, the trail dipped down in elevation slightly and the sound of rushing water grew louder. He saw another couple (one of them carrying a baby) walking across the shallow, yet fast-moving Eaton Wash, the water whitened as rapids by nearby large rocks. He didn't think crossing the water was a smart idea, but he watched vigilantly and at the ready while The Adventure Family was reaching the other bank, just in case there was a potential emergency. Fortunately, Adventure Family made it across safely, but The Militant didn't want to get his boots soaked, so he just stayed on the south bank, taking pictures and video.
Heading back, he stopped by the little Nature Center that had a small exhibit on the water table in the area. Eaton Canyon's watershed is part of what is called The Raymond Water Table, by which the cities of Pasadena, Altadena and other nearby municipalities pump for use in their respective water supplies. So no, this water doesn't go wasted out to sea. It is part of the greater Los Angeles River watershed, as it flows into the Rio Hondo, which meets the Los Angeles River in the South Gate area. There was also a cool California native plant garden outside of the Nature Center building.
The Militant headed out and back to Altadena Drive, being in awe that the Eaton Wash's rapids were just a few hundred yards from the streets of Pasadena. He proceeded south on Altadena Drive and west on Washington Street and found a place called Baja Cali Fish & Tacos.
Baja Cali's #3 combo with two Baja Cali Tacos, fries and drink for $11.99
The tacos had grilled fish and shrimp. Nothing mind-blowing, but it was pretty good. The restaurant seems to be a local chain with locations in the San Gabriel Valley, as well as in Long Beach and Highland Park. He'd definitely try out the other items next time (the potato and birria taco selections sound appealing).
He made his way back to the Militant Compound as the sun was setting on the first clear evening in a long-ass time. Here's to spring, here's to watersheds and wildflowers!
A few weeks ago, while en route to the February 2023 CicLAvia, as The Militant drove up the not-that-congested 405 into the San Fernando Valley, the sight of snowcapped mountains surrounding The 818 made him gasp in a Huell Howsereque, "WHAAAAW!!!" It also reminded him that the various amounts of snow on the mountains emphasized the individual ranges, whereas if he saw the same view on a hot August day, the mountains would all have a uniform brownness to them, as if they were all the same range. But not on that day. The well-frosted San Gabriels loomed in the background, while the lightly-powdered Verdugos stood to the east, and the similarly thin white veil over the Santa Susanas towards the west offered some contrast.
Which got The Militant thinking, "Hey! How 'bout an Epic Militant Post about our local mountain ranges?"
It was then he started work on This Here Post, hoping to churn it out in a couple of days, but the task seemed tougher than hiking Mt. Baldy in the winter. But alas, finally, here it is, take it. A few things though:
First of all, The Militant is going to be covering the mountain ranges that can be seen within the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area. This covers everything from The Grapevine in the north to Camp Pendleton in the south, and from Vandenberg in the west to the Coachella Valley in the east. No, we are not going to cover the mountains over San Diego -- you'll have to consult the Militant San Diegan about any of that (Stupid-punk-ass Padres fan that motherf...but anyways...). And as a bonus, the Sierra Nevada Mountains will get covered - we'll talk about that later.
Second, you might ask, "What about the Baldwin/Puente/Chino/Etc. Hills?" The Militant will cover the local hills in a separate, similar post in the not-too-distant future...stay tuned!
Third, you might want to know, "What's the name of that mountain?" The Militant was going to label every one of them. But since there's so many mountains, and to mark them all would be a herculean task in itself (not to mention become very messy, presentation-wise), The Militant will instead share you one of his Militant Secrets: Now, The Militant's primary objective is to inform, educate and enlighten all Angelenos, and not be such a stingy knowledge gatekeeper influencer-type just for the sake of making himself look all bad-ass. So here's one really, really, really awesome resource to learning the names of mountains: peakfinder.org. Just 1) Visit the site; 2) Click on the pin/map icon to the right of the search bar; 3) Move the map until your preferred location is in the circle; 4) Click on the "bird" icon on the lower-right to "fly" to your preferred location; and 5) Scroll left or right to the desired direction to see the mountains you want to view (it will also show you the exact location and time of the sunrise and sunset appropo to your selected locale - cool, huh?). Voila! There's also a Peakfinder app for iOS and Android.
Fourth, a little geology 101 here: There are three kinds of rock classifications (no, not classic, hard and soft):
1. Igneous (borne of fire), like basalt or granite;
2. Sedimentary (comprised of sediments), like sandstone or limestone;
3. Metamorphic (a rock that begins as one of the other types but evolves like a Pokémon due to friction and heat), like the pun-tastic gneiss or schist The Militant may or may not throw these terms around going forward. He just wants to make sure you know your schist. You will be quizzed at the end of class!
Fifth, The Militant is not a geologist by training or practice, only as a hobby. If you are an actual geologist and find any massive errors in his explanation of geological terms or processes, please let him know! His email: militantangeleno [at] gmail [dot] com.
Oh yeah, you might want the interactive Google map version, so here it is:
To start with, all y'allz need to know that we got two types of mountain ranges in Southern California: The Transverse Ranges and the Peninsular Ranges. So here we go yo: Transverse Ranges
The Transverse Ranges are a family of mountain ranges that include the Santa Ynez mountains in Santa Barbara County, the Topatopa and San Emigdio mountains in Ventura County, the Tehachapi mountains in Kern County, the Sierra Pelona, Santa Susana, Santa Monica, Verdugo and San Gabriel mountains in Los Angeles County and the San Bernardino and Little San Bernardino mountains in San Bernardino County.
Whatup with the name? On the North American continent, generally every mountain range runs from north to south: The Sierra Nevadas, the Cascades, the Rockies, the Appalachians. You name it - they mostly all run north-south. But there are only a few places where exceptions exist: Alaska (Brooks Range), eastern Utah (Uinta Mountains), Oklahoma/Arkansas (Wichita and Ouachita mountains) and Southern California. The position of our local mountains greatly influence our climate, our air quality, our watersheds, and our human-built geography. The dozen or so east-west major mountain ranges in SoCal are called the Transverse Ranges, being that they run sideways contra to the usual trending direction of mountain ranges.
So why are they "transverse" like that?
The offshore subduction of an ancient tectonic plate, the movement of the San Andreas Fault and the influence of other major adjoining faults made it happen. Without going into a big-ass geography lesson tangent, let's just say that some 20 or so million years ago, our mountain ranges actually did run north-south (technically northwest to southeast), but good ol' Plate Tectonics actually rotated this little section of the Pacific Plate 110 degrees clockwise!
This video will break it down for ya:
Little San Bernardino Mountains
The Little San Bernardino Mountains, as seen from Highway 62.
the same as their bigger counterpart, but with radically different
flora and climate, are the lower-profile Little San Bernardino
Mountains. The easternmost and southernmostof the Transverse Ranges, they
are considered part of the desert as opposed to an alpine range on the
edge of a desert. Spanning over 40 miles between Morongo Valley in the
west and the Salton Sea in the east, they separate the Mojave Desert in
the north from the Coachella Valley and the Colorado Desert towards the
south and overlook the Palm Springs area from the north. Like their bigger counterpart,
they too are greatly influenced by the San Andreas Fault, which runs
along their southern side. Their highest peak is Quail Mountain (5,813
feet). The LSBs are home to Joshua Tree National Park and the native environment of the California Fan Palm (Washingtonia filfera). A notable geologic feature is Joshua Tree's eroded granite Skull Rock formation.
Mt. Pinos Formation
Mt. Pinos, as seen from the Wind Wolves Preserve.
even a mountain range, yet still part of the Transverse Ranges is the
Mt, Pinos Formation. Located in far northeastern Ventura County, just to
the west of the I-5, it's the highest peak in the county (8,847 ft) and
was once considered part of the San Emigdio Mountains. But further
geological research concluded that not only is it separated from the San
Emigdios by the San Andreas Fault, but it's made out of igneous granite
rock, as opposed to the mostly-metamporphic rock of the San Emigdios.
Mt. Pinos is the extreme southern part of what geologists call the Salinian Block, a big-ass piece of granite stretching from Bodega Head
in Sonoma County all the way down to here. And the Salinian Block just
so happens to rest on the western edge of the San Andreas Fault north of
where the fault intersects with the opposite-moving Garlock Fault (the
mountain itself is likely the result of the interaction between the two
opposing faults). Pinos' shorter neighbor, Frazier Mountain, is part of the same formation. A popular location for hiking, skiing and stargazing, Mt. Pinos is both remote from city lights, yet accessible by The 5.
San Bernardino Mountains
The San Bernardino Mountains, as seen from Beaumont.
over the Inland Empire and located in their eponymous county are the
San Bernardino Mountains - the tallest mountain range in Southern
California. Spanning some 60 miles from the Cajon Pass near Hesperia to
the Morongo Valley, these mountains rise high above the
Inland Empire to their south and the Mojave Desert to their north. Like
their neighbors the San Gabriels to the west, the San Bernardinos were
uplifted by the San Andreas Fault. which runs like a backslash between
the two ranges. At one point, millions of years ago, the San Gabriel and
San Bernardino mountains were all one mountain range; the San Andreas
Fault sliced them into two. Looking at any relief map, the split is
obvious. The mountains are the origin of the Mojave River and (most of) the Santa Ana River watersheds. The range's highest point is Mt. San Gorgonio (11,503 feet),
which is also the tallest peak in Southern California. Named after the land grant Rancho San Bernardino, the San
Berdoos are home to Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear Lake and Silverwood Lake (all artificial reservoirs), Baldwin Lake (natural) and the San Bernardino National Forest. An aquifer in the southern part of the range above the city of San Bernardino bore the mountain spring water which gave a popular regional bottled water company its name. Speaking of which, a notable geologic formation of the San Bernardinos is the natural granitic Arrowhead formation near Arrowhead Springs (then again, it may not be).
San Emigdio Mountains
The San Emigdio Mountains as seen from the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley near Bakersfield. The white line against the side of Grapevine Peak is the pipeline segment of the California Aqueduct.
A familiar sight to travelers who pass through the I-5's Grapevine, the San Emigdio Mountains form the southwestern corner of the San Joaquin Valley. As you leave Los Angeles, these mountains would be on your left (the Tehachapi Mountains are on your right) just after you cross the San Andreas Fault and as you descend northbound towards Bako or Frisco. Located within southern Kern County and stretching some 30 miles, the metamorphic and igneous San Emigdios ride just north of the San Andreas Fault and are situated between the Tehachapi Mountains to the east and the non-transverse Temblor Range to the west. Their highest peak is San Emigdio Mountain (7,492 feet). Named after Rancho San Emigdio, which is part of the Grapevine today, the San Emigdios are home to Fort Tejon State Historic Park, the California Aqueduct's Ira J. Chrisman Pumping Plant and Wind Wolves Preserve. San Gabriel Mountains
The familiar central San Gabriel Mountains, with Mt. Wilson (5,699 feet) on the right. The highest peak pictured towards center left is San Gabriel Peak (6,162 feet).
Located primarily in Los Angeles County (with the extreme eastern end within San Bernardino County), and stretching 68 miles bookended by the Newhall Pass in Santa Clarita and the Cajon Pass in north San Bernardino, The San Gabriel Mountains are the largest and most important mountain range in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. We may be going ga-ga over the snow cover this time of year, but they really do play a huge role in our daily lives: They help trap the inversion layer, giving us smog, haze and fog. They aid in funneling the notorious Santa Ana Winds in from the east and north. They shield us from the dry heat and monsoon storm humidity of the Mojave Desert (...well, at least most of the time). The sediment that flowed down its creeks and rivers created the alluvial plans that became the fertile farmlands of the San Fernando, San Gabriel and Pomona valleys. Even our leisurely lives are affected by the San Gabes: Our radio and television signals are transmitted from there, and they provide the picture-perfect backdrop every summer evening whenever we attend a Dodger game. Their highest point is Mt. San Antonio, a.k.a. Mt. Baldy (10,064 feet). The mighty San Andreas Fault forms the northern end, and the Sierra Madre (which produced the M6.4 Sylmar Earthquake of 1971) and Cucamonga faults form the southern end that faces us. The mountains are the origin of the San Gabriel River and Santa Clara River watersheds, as well as a secondary contributor to the Santa Ana and Los Angeles river watersheds. Named after Mission San Gabriel, the San Gabes are home to the Mt. Wilson Observatory and broadcast transmitter farm and the Mountain High, Mount Waterman and Mt. Baldy ski areas. Most of the Angeles National Forest is contained within the San Gabriels. Notable geologic formations include Devil's Punchbowl near the Antelope Valley and the pillow-like Mormon Rocks in the Cajon Pass - both located along and formed by the San Andreas Fault. Santa Monica Mountains
The familiar Santa Monica Mountains overlooking Central Los Angeles.
Bookended by Ventura County's Point Mugu in the west and Los Angeles' Atwater Village neighborhood in the east, the 40 mile-long Santa Monica Mountains are the closest mountain range to many in Los Angeles - and a number of people actually live in them. Colloquially referred to as "The Hill," they form the wall that geographically, geologically and culturally separates the Los Angeles Basin and the San Fernando Valley. They are also very influential to our local climate - they keep the Pacific Ocean breeze and marine layer within the Los Angeles Basin, which fuels the characteristic hotter and drier climate of The Valley. They are the source of the watersheds for Topanga and Ballona creeks, as well as one of the sources of the Los Angeles River (via Arroyo Calabasas). Formed primarily by the Santa Monica Fault, most of the Santa Monicas are made of sedimentary sandstone, but the far western end is primarily made up of igneous rock of ancient volcanic origin (Conejo Mountain, which overlooks Thousand Oaks, was once an active volcano). The highest peak is the ironically-dubbed Sandstone Peak (3,111 feet), which was actually also formed by volcanic activity. Geologists theorize that because the rock age and composition of the western Santa Monicas matches that of the Santa Ana Mountains down south, they were once the same mountain range some 20 million years ago until tectonic forces rotated most of what is now Southern California 110 degrees clockwise out towards the sea. And the northern Channel Islands - San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and Anacapa - are geologically considered to be an undersea extension of the Santa Monica Mountains. Named after the eponymous coastal city, the Santa Monicas are home to the Hollywood Sign, Hollywood Bowl, Griffith Observatory, Universal Studios, Los Angeles Zoo, The Greek Theatre, The Skirball Center and The Getty (both of them). They were also the domain where P-22 (R.I.P.) once roamed, and where his fellow P-numbered mountain lion relatives currently live. Appropriately, they contain a number of national, state and municipal parks, including Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Topanga State Park, Malibu Creek State Park and Griffith Park. Two major mountain passes cut through the Santa Monicas - Sepulveda Pass and Cahuenga Pass - both which were originally established as routes by the indigenous Chumash and Tongva peoples and are still used today as streets and freeways. Notable geologic formations include the volcanic Boney Peak in the west end of the range and Griffith Park's Bee Rock sandstone outcropping in the east end.
Santa Susana Mountains
A rare sight of the snowcapped Santa Susana Mountains overlooking the Valley in late February 2023. Oat Mountain, the range's tallest peak, is seen on the left.
Stretching for over 30 miles between Saticoy in Ventura County and Santa Clarita in Los Angeles County, and sandwiched between the Santa Clara River Valley in the north and the San Fernando Valley in the south are the Santa Susana Mountains. Separated from the San Gabriel Mountains to the east by the Newhall Pass, the Santa Susanas' highest peak is Oat Mountain (3,747 feet), which overlooks Chatsworth and Northridge. The mountains are secondary contributors to the Santa Clara and Los Angeles river watersheds. Named after the old railroad town of Santa Susanna ("St. Susan"), which is now the city of Simi Valley, the mountains are home to Six Flags Magic Mountain (the thrill capital of the world!), Grimes Canyon, Pico Canyon (site of the first commercially successful oil well in California), the notorious (and particularly gaseous) Aliso Canyon, Big Sky Movie Ranch, Rocky Peak Park (where Boba Fett showed up on 'The Mandalorian') and Michael Antonovich Regional Park. A notable geologic formation in the Santa Susanas is the Chatsworth Formation, a group of sandstone outcroppings (which also contain marine fossils) formed by sand deposits and underwater ocean currents over 65 million years ago, which can be easily seen in the northwestern corner of the San Fernando Valley. It also covers the adjacent Simi Hills to the west.
Santa Ynez Mountains
The Santa Ynez Mountains north of Ventura, as seen from the 101.
The Santa Ynez are to Santa Barbara what the San Gabriels are to Pasadena - You really can't escape them. Located between the Pacific Ocean and the Topatopa Mountains, and primarily within Santa Barbara County, the Santa Ynez Mountains are the westernmost of the Transverses. Both the Santa Ynez and Santa Monica mountains are the only Transverse Ranges that reach the Pacific Ocean. And just like the Santa Monicas, the Santa Ynez Mountains are mostly sedimentary rock, with ancient igneous volcanic rock on their western end. They are created by the uplift of the Santa Ynez Fault. Their highest peak is the unimaginatively-named Peak 4864 (4,864 feet - shocking!), located due north of Santa Barbara but nestled where it can't be seen from that city. Named after Mission Santa Inés (St. Agnes) near Solvang, the Santa Ynez Mountains are home to the Vandenberg Launch Complex (where all those local SpaceX launches originate), Santa Barbara Bowl amphitheater, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Gaviota State Park, Knapp's Castle, Cachuma Lake and Lake Casitas. Notable geologic formations are the Chumash Painted Cave - a sandstone cave above Santa Barbara that is adorned with 400+ year-old rock art made by the indigenous Chumash people and the Gaviota Wind Caves.
Sierra Pelona Mountains
The Sierra Pelona Mountains from San Francisquito Canyon, north of Santa Clarita.
Located northwest of the San Gabriels and south of the extreme western edge of the Mojave Desert and Antelope Valley, the Sierra Pelona ("Bald Mountain Range" in Español) Mountains have the San Andreas Fault slicing through their northern edge. They overlook the city of Santa Clarita and the 14 Freeway, both to the range's south. The highest peak is Burnt Peak (5,791 feet). Primarily composed of metamorphic rock, with some sedimentary and igneous zones, Gold was discovered in these mountains in 1842 (six years before that more famous gold rush up north) and was actively mined until the 1890s. The range was also the location of the ill-fated St. Francis Dam (designed by William Mulholland), which collapsed on March 12, 1928. Speaking of Mulholland, the Los Angeles Aqueduct runs through this mountain range via both underground tunnels and siphon pipes, which include two DWP hydroelectric power stations that run off the cascading water from the pipes. The Bouquet Reservoir (St. Francis' replacement) now stores water from the Aqueduct. Meanwhile, Los Angeles' other major water source, the California Aqueduct, has branches that run along the northern base of the mountains (heading towards the Inland Empire) and another through the western part of the range, with a hydroelectric plant and storage facility at Castaic Lake. Notablegeologic formations include the it-should-have-a-Hollywood-agent Vasquez Rocksin Agua Dulce (created by San Andreas Fault uplift) and Neenach Volcano, which last erupted 23 million years ago and was sliced in half by the San Andreas: the other half was moved by the fault over time some 200 miles northand now forms Pinnacles National Park in Northern California.
Double Mountain (7,981 feet), with wind turbines at its foothills, looms over the north end of the Antelope Valley.
The northernmost of the Transverse Ranges, the Tehachapi Mountains run some 40 miles between the Tejon Pass in the Grapevine and the Tehachapi Pass in the mountain range's eponymous city. Named after the native Kawaiisu word tihachipia ("difficult climb"), They separate the low-lying farmlands of the San Joaquin Valley to its northwest from the Joshua Tree-dotted Mojave Desert landscape of the Antelope Valley to their southeast. The mountain range is formed by the Garlock Fault, the second-longest tectonic fault in California and unique among faults as a "Left-Lateral Fault," meaning that if you stand in front of the fault line, the land on the other side is moving towards the left (whereas on the San Andreas and most others, the land moves towards the right). This quirk is one of the reasons why the San Andreas has a noticeable bend in Southern California and why the Transverse Ranges exist in the first place. The Tehachapis' highest peak is Double Mountain (7,981 feet), which overlooks the Antelope Valley to the south and the town of Tehachapi to the north. The Tehachapis are home to the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene, the Tehachapi Pass Wind Turbine Farm and the famous Tehachapi railroad loop.
The Topatopa Mountains, as seen from the town of Fillmore.
Located mostly within Ventura County (with their extreme eastern end in Los Angeles County), the Topatopa Mountains span over 40 miles between the I-5 on the east and Highway 33 on the west. Named after the Chumash word "topa" which are the rush or reed plants that grow in the wetlands of the area, the mountains are home to the town of Ojai, the Los Padres National Forest, the Sesepe Condor Sanctuary, Lake Piru and Pyramid Lake (both artificially-made reservoirs). The tallest peak in the Topatopas is Cobblestone Mountain (6,738 feet).
The Ikea Mountai..er...Verdugo Mountains, as seen from Beautiful Downtown Burbank.
The shortest (in length) of the Transverse Ranges, the Verdugos run just 8 miles between Lake View Terrace and Glendale, separating the San Fernando Valley from the Crescenta Valley. Formed by the Verdugo Fault, their highest peak is Verdugo Peak (3,126 feet). Unlike the other mountain ranges, the Verdugos are surrounded by urban development on all sides, making their flora and fauna habitat a virtual island of sorts. Named after Jose Maria Verdugo, the Spanish/Mexican soldier who owned Rancho San Rafael, which encompassed the nearby lowlands, the Verdugos are the home of Glendale's Brand Library, Burbank's The Castaway Restaurant and Starlight Bowl amphitheatre, as well as several parks, including La Tuna Canyon Park, Verdugo Mountain Park and Verdugo Mountains Open Space Preserve.
Okay, we've covered the Transverse Ranges, but we got normal-type north-south mountains too (well, a few...). Called the Peninsular Ranges (referring to the Baja California Peninsula, in which this mountain cordillera extends all the way down to Cabo San Lucas), they are comprised primarily of igneous granitic rock, which is of the same composition as the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the north. In fact, the Sierra, the Salinian Block (remember that one?) and the Peninsular Ranges (all granitic rock) were once the same mountain range formed by the same geologic process...until the San Andreas Fault came along and done messed things up. Locally, our Peninsular Ranges of concern are the Santa Ana Mountains in Orange, Riverside and northern San Diego counties; and the Temescal and San Jacinto mountains in Riverside County. San Jacinto Mountains
The snowcapped Mt. San Jacinto towers over the Coachella Valley below
The northernmost of the Peninsular Ranges, the 30 mile-long San Jacinto Mountains are located between the Perris Valley in the west and the Coachella Valley in the east. Surrounded by the 10 Freeway and Highway 74, the range is to the south of the San Bernardino Mountains and to the north of the Santa Rosa Mountains. The mountains form the watershed of the San Jacinto River, which feeds Lake Elsinore. They also contribute to the Santa Ana River watershed and the Whitewater River watershed, which ends up in the Salton Sea. Their highest peak is Mt. San Jacinto (10, 834 feet), and the rest of the range is rather prominent, thanks to the influence of both the San Jacinto Fault (west) and San Andreas Fault (east). Named after the numerous "Rancho San Jacinto" land grants that were located in today's Perris Valley/Hemet Valley area, the range is home to the town of Idyllwild, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Soboba Casino Resort. A notable geologic feature is Oswit Rock, agranodiorite outcropping that overlooks the southern end of Palm Springs.
Santa Ana Mountains
The Saddleback of the Santa Ana Mountains (Santiago Peak (R) and Modjeska Peak (C), as seen from Highway 241 in Irvine.
Overlooking much of Orange County are the Santa Ana Mountains. Situated between (sub)urban Orange County in the west and the Inland Empire in the east, the range runs 61 miles from Santa Ana Canyon down to Camp Pendleton near Oceanside. Much like the Santa Monica Mountains, they trap the cool coastal breezes within OC (windward side) and help make the IE (leeward side) hot AF. The range also contributes to the Santa Ana Winds both in function and in name: The hot desert winds funnel through the mountain range's namesake canyon at their northern edge are the origin of the winds' moniker. Their tallest peak is Santiago Peak (5,689 feet). Together with its shorter neighbor, Modjeska Peak (5,496 feet), they form the Saddleback Ridge, which overlooks Orange County and can be seen from as far as the Santa Monica Mountains. The Santa Ana Mountains form the watersheds for Trabuco and San Juan creeks, both of which flow into the Pacific at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point. Named after the Santa Ana Valley (where Mission Viejo and San Juan Capistrano reside), the mountains are home to Irvine Lake, Santiago Canyon, Modjeska Canyon, Trabuco Canyon and Glen Ivy Hot Springs.
California Golden Poppies decorate the Temescal Mountains near Corona during the 2019 Superbloom.
These low-lying mountains in the IE, stretching some 21 miles from the Santa Ana River down to the San Jacinto River, with the Temescal Valley to the west and the Perris Valley to the east, are the Temescal Mountains, still comprised of the same granitic rock as its taller Peninsular Range neighbors. Gold and tin were mined here in the 1800s. Formed by the Elsinore Fault Zone, their highest peak is Estelle Mountain, (2,762 feet). Named after Rancho Temescal (which ran down the Temscal Valley into the Oceanside area), they are home to Walker Canyon (a.k.a. the Lake Elsinore Poppyfields), Painted Rock, which features ancient pictographs made by the indigenous Luiseño (Payómkowishum) people, the Lake Matthews reservoir (which is the southern terminus of the California Aqueduct) and Lake Matthews Estelle Mountain Reserve.
Sierra Nevada Mountains
Mt. Tom and the rest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains overlook the town of Bishop.
"Wait," you might say, "This isn't in Southern California!" Geographically, they may not be, but their influence on the Los Angeles area looms as high as they are. Stretching 400 miles from Fredonyer Pass in Lassen County to Tehachapi
Pass in Kern County, the Sierra (not "Sierras," BTW) forms California's
backbone, literally and figuratively. You may or may not know that some shiny mineral called gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill along the American River (one of the many Sierra Nevada rivers) in 1848. The rest is history. They are also California's icebox, storing the record snowpack from the Great Wet and Snowy California Winter of 2022-2023. Wanna talk watershed? They are the watershed of all watersheds: The snow on top of the mountains will melt into the Kings and San Joaquin Rivers and flow westward into the San Francisco Bay Delta and then south via the California Aqueduct, providing irrigation and livestock water for San Joaquin Valley farms and Central and Southern California municipal water supplies. The snow will also melt eastward into the Owens River and get intercepted by the Los Angeles Aqueduct, heading south through the Owens and Antelope valleys into the City of Los Angeles' municipal water supply (which also gets a good percentage from the CA Aqueduct). Even the city of San Francisco does some Sierra Snowmelt Stealing of their own - from the Hetch Hetchy Valley. That bottle of Crystal Geyser you bought from the liquor store? It originated from snowmelt from Olancha Peak, filters down into an aquifer in the Owens Valley and goes into that bottle. The water that you drink, bathe, swim in, water your plants with, wash your hands for 20 seconds with...a good percentage of it came from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They're that important, not just to our area, but to every county between Sacramento and Los Angeles. Though not located in geographical Southern California per se, the Sierra Nevada Mountains are still a huge influence on our area, and are part of cultural Southern California: the Mammoth Mountain ski resort (founded by El Segundo native and former LADWP hydrologist Dave McCoy) is a popular skiing destination for SoCal folks (Nor Cal people prefer to head east on I-80 and ski Tahoe), Eastern Sierra towns like Mammoth Lakes and Bishop have Los Angeles Times newsracks, Dodger game broadcasts on the radio and Vons (and not Safeway) supermarkets. Born from magma lifted from deep in the earth some 115 million years ago through the subduction of an ancient tectonic plate into the North American continental plate; the jagged profile of the mountains was carved from glaciers that began over 2 million years ago. You already know that the tallest peak is Mt. Whitney (14,505 feet), but 8 of the 10 tallest peaks in the Golden State reside in the Sierra. Named the "snowy mountains" by Spanish priest Pedro Font in a map he charted in 1777, the Sierra Nevada mountains are home to none other than Yosemite, Sequoia, and King's Canyon national parks, Plumas, Eldorado, Stanislaus, Sierra and Sequoia national forests, the Pacific Crest and John Muir trails, and numerous alpine lakes - most notably the king of all alpine lakes: Lake Tahoe. Notable geologic features include the needs-no-introduction Yosemite Valley, the cinemagenic rounded granite Alabama Hills near the town of Lone Pine and the Palisades Glacier - the southernmost glacier on the North American continent - near the town of Big Pine.