Above: A carpet of flowers in the shadow of San Jacinto Peak welcomes visitors to Idyllwild, “an island in the sky away from the madding crowd of Southern California.” The village’s businesses have suffered in the wake of a fire last summer, and heavy rains in February. Courtesy photo/Carlos Reynosa
The last year has been, shall we say, a challenge for the residents of Idyllwild, a mountain village in the San Jacinto Mountains about two hours northeast of North County.
In July 2018, it was the Cranston fire, which burned right up to the edge of town and caused the evacuation of 7,000 people.
On Valentine’s Day this year, the heavens opened and dumped about 8 inches of rain on the landscape in just two days.
The result: portions of the two roads into Idyllwild collapsed and repairs probably will continue until July.
“The road closures have been pretty decimating for our businesses,” says Holly Parsons, co-publisher of Idyllwild Life Magazine, which is slated to premier this month. “The transportation challenges we’re experiencing have impacted tourism (from Los Angeles) and service workers alike, sending the town into an economic tailspin from which it has yet to recover. Despite the highway restrictions, though, we are open for business.”
On the plus side, the rains have caused the mountain lilacs and flowering manzanita to explode in gardens and on hillsides, most importantly, San Diego County residents can still easily get to Idyllwild.
“Idyllwild is a unique and precious island in the sky away from the madding crowd of Southern California,” Parsons says. “It’s a world-class climbing and hiking destination. The trails that lead up to the top of San Jacinto (10,834 feet) are legendary for their views and extraordinary beauty.”
Idyllwild also is a mecca for artists and musicians and those who love them.
It probably stages more art festivals, concerts and cultural events per capita than many larger cities.
You can hear the music of longtime resident and guitarist-singer-songwriter-artist-furniture-maker Roger Dutton at many of these events, like the upcoming Idyllwild Songwriters Festival (June 13 to June 16; www.idyllwildsongwritersfestival.com).
“There are lots of creative people up here,” Dutton says. “Lots of great musicians and writers. Idyllwild is pretty much a place where you can come and do your thing and no one will give you a hard time.”
When Dutton moved to Idyllwild with his parents in the late 1940s, he estimates there were about 350 people in the still-unincorporated town, and his 1961 eighth grade class had seven graduates.
Today, Idyllwild’s population is nearly 5,200 residents — about the same number as the town’s altitude — and the attitude of the town’s people hasn’t changed much over the decades.
“We’re independent thinkers,” Dutton muses. “I think people just come up and visit, like it and decide to move here. We have fun.”
Some of that fun is shared every spring with through-hikers on the nearby Pacific Coast Trail (2,650 miles from the Mexican border to the Canadian border).
“We look forward to seeing them,” Dutton says. “They are all over town. They get their mail at the post office and buy supplies. There are big banners at the motels. The town is very supportive.”
There are plenty of day-hikers, too, many coming to conquer Devil’s Slide, a steep trail that ends at the top of San Jacinto Peak (10,834 feet). Those who make it (or even half-way to Saddle Junction) can reward themselves with a trip into town for beer, ice cream and a good meal at one of the many restaurants. After, a post-dinner stroll might bring an encounter with Mayor Max, a loving, bi-partisan Golden Retriever and town ambassador.
For general tourist and event information: www.touridyllwild.com.
More than 100 bands on six stages will perform Aug. 16 to Aug. 18 at the Idyllwild Strong Benefit Festival, a fundraiser to help those affected by the devastating Cranston fire (2018). www.idyllwildstrong.com.
Find Idyllwild Life Magazine at Whole Foods Market and Gelson’s Market in Del Mar; REI and Leucadia Pizzeria in Encinitas; and Cardiff Seaside Market in Cardiff.
For more photos and commentary, visit www.facebook.com/elouise.ondash.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.