Cerro Noroeste: History

Cerro Noroeste is a mountain located in Kern County within the Los Padres National Forest. It has an elevation of 8286 feet (2,526 meters) and is the fourth highest mountain in the area. Mount Pinos, Sawmill Mountain, and neighboring Grouse Mountain are higher in altitude.

Cerro Noroeste is surrounded by the Chumash Wilderness to the south and west but the peak itself is not actually within the wilderness area. The United States Congress designated the Chumash Wilderness in 1992. I believe Chumash is pronounced "choo-mosh".

The summit can be reached by a paved road named Cerro Noroeste Road (Forest Route 9N27). As you drive up the mountain you can enjoy spectacular views of the Carrizo Plain to the north, Cuyama Valley, Quatal and Apache Canyons to the west, as well as views of the San Joaquin valley to the east and Lockwood Valley and Sespe ranges to the south.

The road is closed every winter after early snowfalls. The snow gate is usually reopened in May when the road becomes passable again.

Tucked away high atop Cerro Noroeste you will find solitude, serenity and unsurpassed scenery as you lose yourself in a pleasant grove of Jeffrey pines at theCampo Alto campground ("high camp"). Campsites are spacious, the air smells pine-sweet, and you will enjoy end-of-the-road privacy.

^ ^ ^ Campo Alto

^ ^ ^ Waiting patiently for a hike in the forest

The campground provides ready accesses the Chumash Wilderness and the western trailhead of the Tumamait Trail also known as the "peak-to-peak trail" (21W03).

The remains of a historic ski lodge, a 1700-foot ski lift (rope tow), and a snowplay area for toboggans can also be found on top of the mountain. This facility was closed in the mid-1970s.

^ ^ ^ Historic ski lodge now boarded up

^ ^ ^ Ski lodge during its heyday (date unknown)

Folklore has it that when the operator of the facility discovered a skier without a lift ticket, he confronted them with a shotgun. This incident resulted in the Forest Service revoking the permit and shutting down the operation. As it turned out, the closure was to be permanent.

Cerro Noroeste has a history that can be traced back to the early days of California. The mountain was named (technically renamed from the Chumash name) by the Spanish/Mexican settlers of early California as Cerro Noroeste, which means "Northwest Peak" or "Northwest Mountain". It was used as a landmark for navigation by the early Spanish colonialists.

It is believed that mission padres operated an open-air mission or church on the top of Cerro Noroeste. The worship site consisted of a cross blazed into a large Ponderosa pine tree at one end of a small meadow area. It is said that the site was used twice a year for services for the high-country shepherds (Basques) and Native Americans living and working in the surrounding areas.

^ ^ ^ Photo: September 2018

In the 1930s, Kern County Supervisor, Stanley Abel (1892-1975), was instrumental in having a road constructed to the mountain top, and consequently the press of the day started referring to the mountain as "Mount Abel". Stanley Abel was a member of the Kern County Board of Supervisors for 24 years from 1916 until 1940. He served as the Kern County Fourth District Supervisor.

^ ^ ^ Stanley Abel c.1922

The construction of 29 miles of new road to the top of Cerro Noroeste was started in 1934 as a Civil Works Administration project by the United States Forest Service and was completed by the Works Progress Administration in 1940. A dedication ceremony to formally open the completed road was held on 28 July 1940 with a free barbecue open to the public and dancing in the ski lodge mentioned above.

Camp Condor at the foot of the mountain was also serviced by the new road. Facilities there included a new swimming pool constructed with a $5,000 grant from the Rosenberg Foundation.

A front page story in the Bakersfield Californian newspaper dated 6 May 1922 has a blaring headline in bold letters that read, "KERN KLAN LIST BARED". The story named public officials who were members of the Klu Klux Klan including Bakersfield Police Chief Charles Stone, along with a list of nearly 350 local members of the Ku Klux Klan, and a few days later, it added 50 more names. More than 300 were Bakersfield residents, and most of the rest lived in or near Taft and Tehachapi. Those named included the Kern County Fourth District Supervisor, Stanley Abel, as a prominent member of the KKK. Concerned members of the public launched recall campaigns against Abel and other Klan advocates. Supervisor Abel narrowly escaped recall from office by a small margin of just 103 votes.

^ ^ ^ Front page of the Bakersfield Californian, 6 May 1922

By 1922, avowed Klan members controlled the Bakersfield mayor's office, various police departments throughout the county, much of the sheriff's force of deputies, several judgeships, the city school district, and the county board of supervisors which included Stanley Abel. Klan members were required to take an oath that superseded any vows of office or citizenship.....police chiefs and sheriff's deputies literally swore to protect the Klan before enforcing the law.

Abel unabashedly wrote that he was proud of "the good work" of the KKK, adding in a front-page newspaper column, "I make no apology for the Klan. It needs none." Stanley Abel resided in Kern County from 1912 to 1955 and was based in Taft, an oil-laden desert town where beer was cheaper than water. Here he published Taft's newspaper "Oilfield Dispatch". Abel had special praise for the Taft group declaring it deserved "praise for the good work it has done. Stanley Abel went on to serve a total of six terms and twenty-four years in office...most of it after his Klan affiliation was made public.

One evening in his home town of Taft, most of the police department and civic leaders turned out to watch the Klan torture several people in a local ballpark. They gathered as if viewing a spectator sport. Refreshments were served.

^ ^ ^ HONESTY * EFFICIENCY * ECONOMY * PROGRESS - Stanley Abel lucky pocket piece

In 1975, Taft again made national headlines when thirteen black athletes were run out of town by a white mob, while neighboring Oildale became infamous for its "No Niggers Allowed" road signs. The legacy from the 1920s and 1930s lived on.

In 1939, Klansman Stanley Abel led a campaign that successfully banned John Steinbeck's book The Grapes of Wrath from schools and libraries in protest of its fictionalized portrayal of the farm workers' plight, inadvertently putting John Steinbeck on the national map and exposing Bakersfield to national ridicule. Abel's campaign featured some good old-fashioned public book burning. Perhaps it is no coincidence that to this day, Kern County remains home to some of the richest farms and the poorest farm workers in America. It appears the public reaction to the book banning cost Abel re-election in 1940.

During the construction of the road to Cerro Noroeste, the name "Mount Abel" appeared on the 1937 Forest Service map of the Los Padres Forest. In 1942, the Army Map Service investigated the use of the alternative name that started appearing on maps. They found no application had been made to the United States Board of Geographic Names (BGN). On 10 December 1943, the BGN reaffirmed the original historical name of Cerro Noroeste leaving the the unofficial name without foundation.

Yet the Abel name persisted informally for several more decades. In 1988, the United States Geologic Survey Board of Geologic Names considered re-naming the mountain according to a vote by the local population (the closing date for a response was 28 March 1988). Opinion was somewhat mixed but there was general support in favor of retaining the original name, Cerro Noroeste. It is still the one and only official name since Spanish times. Before this it was named by the indigenous Chumash.

Personally, I make an effort to avoid using the unofficial and controversial name, "Mount Abel", to refer to Cerro Noroeste. It is not that hard to pronounce or spell the correct and formal name with a little practice. Supervisor (and Klansman) Stanley Abel was a public servant carrying out the duties he was elected to perform, so re-naming a mountain after a public servant is dubious to say the least. This is putting aside his dedication to the KKK although that should not be ignored either.

^ ^ ^ A spectacular quartz outcrop on the southern edge of the campground

^ ^ ^ Radio tower complex (now privately owned)

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Peter Gray
telephone: +1 (661) 242-1234


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