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Preston Jones

California Haze

In his travel guide, San Bernardino Mountain Trails: 100 Hikes in Southern California, John W. Robinson notes that on "clear days" travelers who get a glimpse of the San Bernardino Valley from the heights of San Gorgonio Mountain will be "treated to an awesome panorama." He is right. It isn't for nothing that Joyce Carter Vickery's history of the San Bernardino area in the nineteenth century is titled Defending Eden or that the cover photo on Richard B. Rice's standard textbook on California history, The Elusive Eden, is of the San Bernardino Mountains' snow-capped peaks standing watch over lush orange groves in the vale below. Nor is it for nothing that Arrowhead Springs Christian Conference Center, in the foothills just above north San Bernardino, was originally a resort for Hollywood stars. On clear spring days those foothills are stunning.

But what does Robinson mean by "clear days"? A smog-free day, of course; a day without "hazy sunshine"—another euphemism employed by Southern Californian weather men whose job it is to instruct parents on how, if their kids play too hard on certain days, the prevailing smog could land them in an emergency room. To be five miles from an 8,000-foot mountain and yet to be unable to see it—a common phenomenon in San Bernardino since the 1950s—is to realize that, for many Americans, the times of California dreamin' have been over for a while.

Nowadays one is hard-pressed to come across kind words for Southern California's Inland Empire, of which San Bernardino is the heart. In Paradise Lost, political columnist Peter Schrag sums it up as an economically troubled, overcrowded region that "stretches from the eastern suburbs of Los Angeles through the desert to the Arizona line." In his book An Empire Wilderness, Atlantic Monthly contributing editor Robert D. Kaplan calls it a collection of "inexpensive suburbs east of greater Los Angeles" and drops the subject. Meanwhile, none of the authors whose work is collected by ...

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