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?"
Back during the early days of the COVID-19 Lockdown, in April 2020, The Militant posted this thread regarding that subject on Twitter. But Twitter threads seem rather ephemeral.
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:
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.|
Mt. Pinos Formation
|Mt. Pinos, as seen from the Wind Wolves Preserve.|
San Bernardino Mountains
|The San Bernardino Mountains, as seen from Beaumont.|
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).
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.
Santa Ynez Mountains
|The Santa Ynez Mountains north of Ventura, as seen from the 101.|
Sierra Pelona Mountains
|The Sierra Pelona Mountains from San Francisquito Canyon, north of Santa Clarita.|
|Double Mountain (7,981 feet), with wind turbines at its foothills, |
looms over the north end of the Antelope Valley.
|The Topatopa Mountains, as seen from the town of Fillmore.|
|The Ikea Mountai..er...Verdugo Mountains, as seen from Beautiful Downtown Burbank.|
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|
Santa Ana Mountains
|The Saddleback of the Santa Ana Mountains (Santiago Peak (R) and Modjeska Peak (C),|
as seen from Highway 241 in Irvine.
|California Golden Poppies decorate the Temescal Mountains near Corona|
during the 2019 Superbloom.
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.
So there you go! A little knowledge on our local ranges. Did you learn something new? Do you feel the mountains calling? Do you have a newfound appreciation for our local peaks? Support The Militant's endeavors via PayPal!
Anthony Swilley, Jr.