The outwardly peaceful Glendora Ridge Road poses hidden dangers
by Karla Rendon
photography by Ashlyn Hulin
Lush trees line either side of the familiar Mt.Baldy Road as The Angeles National Forest sign welcomes cyclists, motorists and other curious visitors anticipating the environment of Mother Nature. The sunburst-colored canyons set an inviting and modest ambience as Mt. San Antonio, better known as Mt. Baldy, sits behind, offering a more intricate and daunting background being the highest point in the Los Angeles County. The smell of pine embodies the forest while the soft, Inland Empire wind greets each person with a quiet “hello.” The serene, easygoing community of Mt. Baldy offers a relaxed and peaceful surrounding, but holds a dangerous secret that has been making headlines. As visitors further explore Mt. Baldy Road, a seemingly calm road rests behind the scenery and deceits drivers. With its only entrance being a sharp left off the main road, it is easy to miss, but impossible to forget. Glendora Ridge Road is a 22-mile embodiment of the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
A menace to society
The crooked road has made headlines for the numerous motor accidents and deaths that have occurred recently, such as the motorcycle/firetruck collision caught on a GoPro camera in April 2015, a vehicle found plummeted below over 300 feet in August 2015 and a possible suicide attempt that took place in March 2015. Local residents of Mt. Baldy Village have gotten used to these tragedies because they happen so often.
Mt. Baldy Lodge waitress Tirsha Ellingson has grown up in tiny Mt. Baldy Village that is tucked between a valley of two compelling mountains. “It happens a lot, and even on our main road (Mt. Baldy Road),” Tirsha says. “People will just go over (the ledge). It’s really sad. I’ve known a couple of people who have gone over, too, but they were fine. It’s just scary.” As Tirsha hurriedly washes dishes and pours beverages for customers, she reflects on an incident that occurred within the past week. “Everyone who goes over is a big deal, ya know? It’s always sad and we hear about this pretty often. We just had somebody go over our main road around Thursday (March 3) and the driver didn’t make it. He died, but it happens all the time.”
The level of danger on this road is so high, there is a sign that greets Glendora Ridge Road reminding drivers to take precaution as they cruise the mountains. Drivers are warned to practice safety precautions when behind the wheel, but many fail to take the sign into consideration.
A friend of Tirsha had forgotten the vital memo, and found himself in a ditch off the road. “He parked his car there and he didn’t put his e-brake on so he rolled over, but then he was fine,” she says. “But, his car got totaled…He only rolled down like 700 feet or something.” Tirsha’s friend is lucky to have survived considering two bodies were found in a vehicle that had fallen over 800 feet in just May of 2014.
Mt. Baldy Lodge manager Missy Ellingson has lived in the community since 1969, but finds that the recent trouble speed racers have caused Mt. Baldy in the last year has strained community safety. “It’s just kids, they modify their cars and they go up there and it’s completely irresponsible, and I’d like them just to shut the road because of it,” Missy says. “I’m so sick of it. Even though I have a business here, it’s just really bad. They’re up 24 hours a day and their cars are loud and obnoxious and they end up getting in accidents, and they can cause forest fires. And it’s just really irresponsible.”
Although visitors are crucial to any destination business, the severity of the racers has Missy wishing the road can be closed. “Years ago I would never be for that (closing the road), because I have a business, and I also believe in public access for roads and everything, but when it starts endangering other people, I think it’s really bad,” she says. “I’ve had customers hurt. I’ve never had anyone killed on that road that I know of. On the front road I have. Years ago. And still, we’ve had people get killed by other people here on the road that don’t stay on their own side of the road.”
Fun in the canyons
Despite Glendora Ridge Road’s intimidating past, visitors still see the dreamy aspects of the narrow highway. A mystical spot for a quick and peaceful getaway from the city, it is an ideal place to get in touch with nature and spend leisure time. Those unaware of the precarious notoriety Glendora Ridge Road holds are surprised that such a serene setting could hold such an ominous past. Corona resident Jimmy Ctsui stumbled upon the road when he found it using Google Maps. His curiosity and appreciation for national parks is what caught his attention to visit the windy highway for the first time. “I was just looking for some place to go,” Jimmy says. “It’s so beautiful here. It’s like a big garden in your backyard. I’m hoping to see more beautiful scenery when I drive down the road. I see a kind of yellow flower and they’re beautiful. I’d come again to breathe in the fresh air. There’s no pollution up here so it’s good to refresh your lungs.”
Either side of the road offers a mystical view. Heading west on Glendora Ridge Road, you occasionally get to peek at the city in between the canyons while looking left. The right side of the road offers miles and miles of more prominent mountains and wildlife waiting to be embarked. The road offers two polar opposite views, but both wild, nonetheless.
Lacy Potter, Fontana resident, likes braving the road’s hiking trails and showing newcomers the picturesque setting the road has to offer. Anticipating Sunset Peak’s seven-mile hike with her two friends, one from Orange County and the other from Yorba Linda, the distance the trio traveled to Glendora Ridge Road proves it is worth visiting. “(This trail is) so worth it,” Lacy says. Lacy cites the view and exercise as her favorite things this trail has to offer. “It’s really pretty at the top, especially during sunset, which is why it’s called Sunset Peak,” she says. Its 5,796 foot elevation is no easy task for beginners, so Lacy advises hikers to prepare themselves with appropriate gear such as water and sunscreen and to be aware of one’s surroundings. “Be aware that there will be wildlife out here. I’ve never encountered one but I know there are some mountain lions out here, (and) snakes. So you definitely want to be safe.”
More than just hiking
Glendora Ridge Road is like a jack of all trades. It offers more than just hiking. Photographers frequent the road for environmental portraits, artists find inspiration for drawings and visitors find amusement in exploring these great rocks. Pomona resident Bill Gendron is an avid butterfly collector and has been taking advantage of the butterfly season on Glendora Ridge Road for the past 20 years. With a net in hand and a stealthy technique, Bill collects several butterflies multiple times a week to mount his collection for sale, gifts and keepsake. “I come here during the spring season and then I generally don’t come at all,” Bill says. “I only come back in June to do some moth collecting, but I’m only here in the months of February, March, April and May. By then the butterflies are gone from here, and for that reason there’s no point to come back.”
Rather than chase butterflies with his trapping net, Bill has the butterflies come to him instead. He studies the behavior of different classifications of these colorful insects to better understand their preferences in flowers in order to capture them. “You just find yourself in the right place in the right time,” he says.
Having been familiar with Glendora Ridge Road for two decades, Bill acknowledges the reputation the road has had because of the aggressive racers that dare speed on the curves of the mountain. “It’s a lovely place to come for a scenic drive, and there’s the element of people who come up here with their souped-up vehicles. And they race, and they go too fast. The problem goes way back. It goes back many, many years. In the last year the local residents have become more aware and they’re up in arms about it but it’s been a problem for many years. They’re driving faster than is safe,” he says. Owning a sports car, the butterfly collector understands the attraction racers have to this daunting road. Bill says he has taken his own car for a scenic cruise along Glendora Ridge Road, but not in the way the dangerous racers drive. “I’m really against the idea of people coming up here and driving too fast because there have been some deaths here over the years, and several cars that have gone over the side. You hate to hear it, it’s a shame, it’s a waste.”
The end of the line
As the road reaches the end of its 22-mile adventure, visitors are suddenly reminded of reality as Glendora Ridge Road ends with an abrupt entrance to the Glendora suburbs. Those long, lush trees that welcome each visitor with serenity are traded for overwhelming city buildings. The sweet chirps from birds residing in Angeles National Forest are swapped for angry drivers on Route 66 honking their horns. And the seductive, windy curves of Glendora Ridge Road are exchanged for controlled and policed streets. Whether it be the calm and seemingly sweet atmosphere the road gives off, or whether it be the dangerous, yet exciting attraction it has to racers, Glendora Ridge Road’s metaphoric book cover still fools newcomers and surprises frequent guests.