You wouldn’t think of a devil and a saint existing side by side all that comfortably, but hey, it’s California—almost anything goes here. Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area near Palmdale is a beautiful place for a fall hike, situated on the slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains at the edge of the Mojave Desert. It’s also very close to Valyermo, a tiny unincorporated area known for Saint Andrew’s Abbey, an active Benedictine monastery that’s open to the public. First up, Devil’s Punchbowl, where countless millennia of faulting and erosion have formed a wild depression of uplifted and contorted sandstone blocks. Take the 1-mile Devil’s Punchbowl Loop Trail from behind the visitor center to zigzag down into the 300-foot-deep chasm, passing manzanita, piñon pine, and bizarre rock outcroppings. At the bottom, the path parallels a pine-shaded seasonal creek before climbing back up the canyon wall opposite massive jutting sandstone slabs. As you leave, turn onto Pallett Creek Road for a short, scenic drive to Valyermo. Dense groves of cottonwoods are turning gold along this creek, while roadside rabbitbrush blooms yellow. Fall scenery continues at Saint Andrew’s Abbey, nestled in a grove of maples, sycamores, and a variety of ornamentals turning crimson. Visit the hilltop cemetery where monks have been buried. A steep, narrow trail climbs to it from behind the pond (as does a more gradually graded dirt road nearby). Pay your respects and soak up the panoramic vista revealing the golden swath of cottonwoods along Pallett Creek and the monastery grove splendorous below. All are welcome to tour the grounds, which have an ornate fountain, duck pond, and a gift shop selling ceramics handcrafted by the monks.
To reach Devil’s Punchbowl, take the I-5 north to CA-14. Get off at Pearblossom Hwy. and head east through Little Rock. Turn right onto 121st St. E., then left onto Fort Tejon Rd. Veer right onto Longview Rd., then make a left onto Tumbleweed Rd. For Valyermo, turn onto Pallett Creek Rd. from Longview Rd. and follow to Valyermo Rd. Two quick rights and you’re at the monastery. Devil’s Punchbowl is dog-friendly! No dogs at Saint Andrew’s Abbey.