Motorcycle Classics

Rides & Destinations: Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area

What: Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area, 28000 Devil’s Punchbowl Rd., Pearblossom, CA, 93553, (661) 944-2743, and a circumnavigation of the San Gabriel Mountains.
How to Get There: From the south, pick up SR 210 east, slab it to I-15 north, climb through the Cajon Pass (watch the winds; they can tip tractor trailers), make a quick left on SR 138 (Angeles Crest Highway), and pick up Lone Pine Canyon Road. From there, follow the directions outlined above.
Best Kept Secret: The Devil’s Punchbowl itself. It’s tucked away in the San Gabriels’ northern slopes and few people know about it. Try the Grizzly Café’s French toast in Wrightwood; you can thank me later.
Avoid: Speeding on the Angeles Crest Highway (it’s heavily patrolled). Don’t use a navigation program; it will tell you the most direct route to the Devil’s Punchbowl, and what would be the fun in that?
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Great riding, great scenery, amazing roads, and an up-close-and personal peek at California’s most famous fault, the San Andreas, make for a magnificent ride to a delightful destination: The Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area. Nestled in the northern slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Devil’s Punchbowl is a quick 1 hour and 15 minutes’ drive north of Los Angeles if you take the express route, but that would be missing the point entirely. A far better approach is to take the day and combine a visit to this geological gem with a circumnavigation of the San Gabriel Mountains.

This is an awesome ride that can originate anywhere around the periphery of the San Gabriels, a southern California mountain range minted with motorcycling in mind. The San Gabriels run east to west, with the western edge starting 20 miles north of Los Angeles and running 70 miles east to the Cajon Pass, separating the Mojave Desert from the San Gabriel and Pomona valleys.

Our ride for this Destinations piece started in Azusa (everything from A to Z in the USA, as they say), situated roughly midway between the eastern and western edges of the San Gabriels. SoCal freeways (the 210 and the 15) provided the route through the region’s southern suburbs; the Nirvana-like northern segment through the San Gabriels’ scenic twisties is far more interesting. That’s where the fun begins, with a delightful climb into Wrightwood, a short sprint on the world-famous Angeles Crest Highway to the Grizzly Café (breakfast is always better on a mountain motorcycle ride), and then a right onto the appropriately named Big Pines Highway. Awesome riding, magnificent roads, crisp pine-scented mountain air, and the vistas, with the Mojave Desert on the right and San Gabriel summits on the left, are stunning.

Riding west along the northern edges of the San Gabriels (and after passing through Valyermo and its desperately photogenic post office), watch for the Devil’s Punchbowl signs. The Devil’s Punchbowl is a 1,300-acre Los Angeles County park we discovered on a previous ride, and it may be one of SoCal’s best kept secrets. The Punchbowl is a 300-foot-deep ragged and rugged canyon punctuated by sheer vertical rocky slabs, a geological gem formed by a misbehaving San Andreas fault millions of years ago. There’s no entrance fee, there’s no parking fee, and there’s a nature center with rattlesnakes and a very photogenic owl named Squinty. If you’re up for it, you can hike the 1 mile into the Punchbowl and back.

To continue the San Gabriel circumnavigation after leaving Devil’s Punchbowl, ride west through the sandy desert foothills to Fort Tejon Road. Turn left to ride Fort Tejon across the San Andreas fault (watch the soft sandy shoulders when you stop for a photo). Then it’s Mt. Emma Road south to round the San Gabriels’ western edge and a climb back into the mountains.

Mt. Emma Road ends at the Angeles Forest Highway, another great SoCal motorcycling treat. Hang a left, enjoy the road, and you’ll run right into the Angeles Crest Highway (see MCs September/ October 2007 issue). Turn right for 10 miles of glorious twisties on one of the world’s arguably most famous moto roads. That will drop you onto California Highway 210, and from there, you can return to your starting point. — Joe Berk

  • Published on Apr 10, 2018
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