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LAist has a really bizarre camping experience.
And by that we don't mean that Jason Vorhees popped up during the night, nor did the Blair Witch underwhelm us with hype. This was far more insidious, and really left us with a foul taste in our mouths.
Memorial Day Weekend - a long-standing holiday tradition for this weekend involves "getting out of town". Traveling somewhere. Hitching up your skirts and moseying down the lane. You get it. For this auspicious occasion we decided that a camping trip was in order. For the location, we had chosen our very own Angeles National Forest, located northeast of LA (and north of Pasadena, for those of you counting, or those of you who own compasses) in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Their website bills it as "the backyard playground to the huge metropolitan area of Los Angeles". Hmm. Well, if this is our backyard, then LAist is going to play the cranky neighbor. We're going to be even more bratty than the little red-headed girl who used to spy on the family in "Small Wonder". Oh yes, we're going there.
LAist packed a car full of camping equipment of all kinds, including propane lanterns, rope, knives, and sharp sticks for marshmallows. Then we loaded up at a local supermarket on all sorts of camp food. Chili, s'mores fixins, meat of all kinds, vegetables (corn on the cob, c'mon!), we went all out. Of course, that had to be topped off with any serious camper's item: beer. If you're camping without beer, then you really aren't serious about camping.
So the car was loaded, everything possible was packed, the weather was perfect, and LAist hit the road. It's really surprising how many people haven't even heard of the Angeles National Forest, especially given the fact that it is so close to Los Angeles, it really is almost in the backyard. The drive up on the CA-2 Highway is really nice, and the views are pretty astounding. You almost forget that there are Hollywood-wannabes within an hour's drive who are probably chugging Vodka and Red Bulls and gossiping about what Lindsay Lohan's secret to losing weight is.
As you drive up through the mountains and into the national park area, there are plenty of signs, several ranger stations, and the place is really well kept. The directions we got off the web were clear and concise, and you really can't get lost up there unless you lock yourself in a sensory deprivation tank. So, we turned our laden car into the Chilao camping area (always a favorite) and headed down to Little Pines Campground.
However, it looked like a high school had exploded there, and expunged all of the students inside onto the campground. Every inch was covered with teens yelling, playing boomboxes, throwing footballs, chugging beers, and getting ready for roles as possible extras in "National Lampoon's Memorial Day Hijinx". There is a limit to the amount of campers and cars allowed in each site, but apparently those limits aren't paid attention to by anyone except those who can't wedge their car into the 3 inches left to us.
So, still amiable, we headed over to our always reliable background campsite, Horse Flats. To get there, you have to drive through a few more miles of the forest, but it's still beautiful and worth it. You even pass a seemingly out of place bizarre biker bar in the middle of nowhere, although we are happy to report that the beer is cold, and the food is good. Especially after you've been eating burnt hot dogs and beef jerky for three days. So, we come upon Horse Flat, and lo and behold, the campground is CLOSED. C L O S E D. Locked up tight with a chain. There was a Marine Corps flag stuck in the ground nearby, although we had no idea what that meant. The place was desolate and extremely quiet. A bit too spooky.
We then headed to where we knew there was another campground where we hadn't been, but had heard okay things about. "Okay" meaning you probably wouldn't be knifed in the back while you slept. So we got back on the road through the forest, traveled for many miles, and then suddenly came upon a big roadblock. "ROAD CLOSED" it flashed, in case we were completely stupid and tried to jump the roadblock Dukes of Hazzard style, or weren't sure what a totally blocked road meant.
At this point, our patience was really getting tried. We stopped back at the biker bar and were given directions to the Monte Cristo campsite, which we were told was open, and that was music to our ears. We drove the 10 miles to the campsite in total darkness, as it was now 11pm at night, and found it right where we were told it would be. However, it was chock full of, you guessed it, more teens. Teens galore. Teenapalooza. TeenExtreme. We were about to give up when we spied a lone dirt road leading up into the mountains. Should we try it? Have we come this far only to give up? Onwards and upwards we went.
At a certain point in life you find yourself wondering why you keep doing something. Something that seems crazy and possibly deadly. We hadn't yet reached that point. We kept traveling up this road, which had shrank to the size of a car's width, and the walls of rock pressed in on either side so close that you couldn't open your doors, let alone think about turning around. We passed over severeal streams (almost getting stuck twice), and just as we were about to give up and figure something else out, we saw a light ahead. Overjoyed, we thought we had reached a secret campsite, full of spots, running water, comfortable pine needles for beds, a Shangri-La.
Well, we hadn't found that. What we did find was an extremely tiny Japanese hut made out of bamboo. It was lit by several hanging Japanese lanterns. A wooden Japanese sign was stuck in the ground nearby, and several young men were lounging around in kimonos. Those of us in the car exchanged glances, and we all thought "What in the &%#$!?" Just then, all of the Japanese/White/Strange guys started cheering when they saw our car. We half expected the theme from Deliverance to be played on some sort of a stringed instrument (a biwa) as they chased after us.
Well, they did not pursue, but we were really sort of freaked out. I mean, here we were, on a lone dirt road in the middle of nowhere, with no other cars, people, or anything in sight, and we come upon this scene? Someone, please enlighten us. And they clearly had skills, because the little hut (who knows what goes on in there) was very well constructed. It was just one of those LA moments where you shake your head and think "Only in LA."
So, a bit further down the road, we decided that we had no idea where this Twilight Zone road was taking us, so we all voted and the winner was "let's head home and chalk this up to experience". The only problem was, how do we turn around? We tried to work out some sort of turnaround using basic physics and math skills, but it wasn't even close, the environment won. We couldn't turn. So, we backed the car, laden with gear and irked campers, back down the road. When we happened back by the Japanesque (LAist coins a new phrase?), they offered to let us turn around right by their little hut. They stood up, brushed off their kimonos, and moved a few lanterns and things so we could do so. We all wanted to jump out of the car and ask them what the story was, but a combination of exhaustion, and trepidation kept us from doing so.
We reversed quickly, headed down the hill, and out of the park. All the way home we cursed the name of Angeles National Forest, and their extremely unhelpful ways. WHY were no signs posted letting us know things were closed? WHERE were all the rangers? (we didn't see one the whole time we were there) WHY did the website not give us more helpful information? (We checked the website out a bit deeper when we got back. Buried in one of the pages we DID find info about closures...but it was strange information. Horse Flats is closed "for the Winter Season". Hello? It's May? When does Winter end in your world? And some of the other sites were closed due to "increased bear activity". What sort of activities? Badminton? Shuffleboard? Eating of campers?) All we know is that a cheap piece of wood and about .95 cents worth of paint and the letters "CLOSED! TURN BACK! YOU'RE WASTING YOUR TIME YOU DUMB LAisters!" would have saved us a lot of time and effort. But then, we wouldn't have seen the strange sight on the road. That really felt like something out of the X-Files. If you think we're hammering this point a little too hard, well, it was extremely weird. We hope you're getting that.
We ended up at Fred 62 in Los Feliz for a very late night dinner/early breakfast (it was 1am). As we munched on our grub, we all shared a silent look with each other where we all thought, "Only in LA."