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Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) snakes along the crest of the San Gabriel Mountains, offering always impressive and sometimes stupendous views of thousands of square miles worth of Southern California real estate, mountain and desert wilderness spaces, and a big slice of the Pacific Ocean. For months now, an upper section of the highway west of Wrightwood and Big Pines has been closed due to storm damage. Currently, however, motorists approaching from the west (La Canada/Pasadena) end of the highway can navigate as far as Islip Saddle, a drive of some 40 miles east from Interstate 210 at La Canada.

Only one mile short of the road closure at Islip Saddle, and just beyond the second of two highway tunnels, you'll come upon the Jarvi Memorial Vista, which honors Sim Jarvi, a former Angeles National Forest supervisor. This vista point also serves as the trailhead for the Sierra Alta Nature Trail. Due to its short length, the trail isn't much good for significant exercise, but it does feature interpretive plaques highlighting the local flora (ponderosa pines, Jeffrey pines, canyon live oaks, etc.), as well as calling attention to viewful features in various directions.

The trail perches over the upper tributaries of Bear Creek, where (yes) black bears do roam. The exceedingly rugged terrain just below and to the south (classified as the San Gabriel Wilderness) and additional equally rugged spaces to the east (the Sheep Mountain Wilderness) also harbor significant herds of Nelson bighorn sheep.

Clear-day views from the memorial vista and the trail can include the ocean, as well as Santa Catalina and San Clemente islands. The clearest weather of all is likely to take place from November through February. Winter snowfall, however, could result in a seasonal closure of upper Angeles Crest Highway starting in December or January. For the latest on road conditions, it is helpful to call the Caltrans information hotline (800-427-7623), and press "2" for information on Highway 2. Also be aware that during any exploration away from your car, you'll need to display on your vehicle a National Forest Adventure Pass permit, which is widely available for purchase and valid in all four national forests of Southern California.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

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