Southland's Mountain Wilderness

In 1965, Congress set aside the 56,000-acre San Gorgonio Wilderness at the urging of retired San Bernardino postal superintendent Joe Momyer and Harry James, co-founders of the conservation group Defenders of the San Gorgonio Wilderness.

That act climaxed a 40-year fight to spare the alpine area, which contains Southern California's highest peak, San Gorgonio Mountain (11,499 feet), from ski-resort developement.

In "San Gorgonio: A Wilderness Preserved" (published by the San Gorgonio Volunteer Assn.), Southland historian John W. Robinson points out that the high peaks of the San Bernardino Mountains have spawned two or three generations of hikers and conservationists, and that the San Gorgonio Wilderness is "one of the most heavily used wilderness areas in the United States."

One of the less-used entryways to the wilderness is Momyer Trail, which climbs from Mill Creek Canyon toward the San Bernardino Peak Divide. The trail honors longtime hiker and avid mountaineer Momyer, whose name was entered into the California Conservation Hall of Fame the year he died (1973). Hikers will enjoy the forested hollows en route, as well as the superb wilderness views.

Momyer Trail is a pleasant day hike in itself, or you can extend your trip deep into the wilderness by joining other paths.

A wilderness permit is required for hiking into the San Gorgonio Wilderness. Permits may be requested by mail or by visiting the Mill Creek Ranger Station on California 38. The station has maps and the latest trail and recreation information. (According to the U.S. Forest Service, the recent earthquakes in the San Bernardino Mountains have not damaged the wilderness trail system.)

Two maps of the wilderness will aid your travel: "San Gorgonio Wilderness," published by the U.S. Forest Service, and "Trail Map of the San Gorgonio Wilderness," by Tom Harrison Cartography.

Directions to trail head: From Interstate 10 in Redlands, exit on Orange Street/State 38. Follow State 38 eight miles east to Mill Creek Ranger Station. Pick up the required wilderness permit. Continue east on the state highway to the Forest Home turnoff and drive to the signed Momyer trail head and parking area on the left side of the road.

The hike: Momyer Trail drops into Mill Creek Canyon. You'll have to boulder-hop or balance on a fallen log to cross Mill Creek. The signed trail resumes on the other side of the creek.

The well-constructed trail switchbacks up the brush divide between Momyer Creek to the west and Alger Creek to the east. Several pockets of oak and Jeffrey pine offer shade and a chance to catch your breath.

After an ascent of nearly three miles, a sign welcomes you to the San Gorgonio Wilderness, and shortly thereafter you'll arrive at a signed junction. (Continuing north is a rather rough and tough path climbing four steep miles to San Bernardino Peak.) You angle east a short mile to Alger Creek Camp. Relax a while in the shade of pine, alder and incense cedar and cool your heels in the creek.

The trail ascends again, then contours around pine- and fir-dotted slopes before reaching a junction. To reach Dobbs Cabin Camp, head right and drop down a steep quarter-mile to Falls Creek and the shady camp.

John W. Dobbs, for whom this camp was named, supervised the construction of tunnels and a flume in the area--an attempt at generating hydroelectric power--in 1898.

Most day hikers will call it a day at Dobbs. However, the intrepid will return to the above-mentioned junction and tackle Falls Creek Trail for the stiff climb over forested slopes to Saxton Camp, on the fringe of damp Plummer Meadows.

Truly heroic day hikers will continue up manzanita-covered slopes to Dollar Lake Saddle and an intersection with three more wilderness trails. Dollar Lake Trail drops to Dollar Lake and lush South Fork Meadows. The western stretch of the San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail climbs to San Bernardino Peak; the eastern length travels toward San Gorgonio Mountain.

San Bernardino Mountains / Momyer Trail

WHERE: San Gorgonio Wilderness.

DISTANCE: To Alger Camp, 7 1/2 miles round trip, with 1,600-foot elevation gain; to Dobbs Camp, 11 miles round trip with 1,700-foot gain; to Saxton Camp, 14 1/2 miles round trip, with 2,900-foot gain; to Dollar Lake Saddle, 20 miles round trip, with 4,500-foot gain.

TERRAIN: Steep oak- and pine-dotted slopes.

HIGHLIGHTS: Spirited creeks, alpine meadows, a historic trail.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate to strenuous.

PRECAUTIONS: Purify all creek water; get an early start on hot summer days; obtain a wilderness permit from the U.S. Forest Service.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact the Mill Creek Ranger Station, San Bernardino National Forest, 34701 Mill Creek Road, Mentone, Calif. 92359, (714) 794-1123.

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