Abandoned Mines Around Us
Mining was a common pursuit in the Los Angeles area from the Spanish era through the American period until WWII when most mining ceased. The minerals searched for were (of course) gold, but also silver, copper, tin, coal and graphite. Even “liquid gold” – water – was mined in those early days. The mountains above us are literally riddled with abandoned mines. But because of the nature of our geology, our constantly rising and falling mountains, the vast majority has had their entrances covered by landslides. Those that haven’t are covered with brush and lost to modern memory. But a few have been rediscovered by a new generation of explorers.
Here in the Crescenta Valley, I know of no gold mines, but there was a significant graphite mine in the Verdugos, opened in 1889, and worked until perhaps the 1930s. I covered it in my column a few years ago. It was a big operation, with ore carts on rails that brought the graphite ore to a funicular railway. The loads were lowered down the mountainside to a concrete loading dock, where wagons carried the loads to L.A. for processing. Today, all the remnants are covered with thick brush and poison oak to be revealed the next time a fire sweeps the Verdugos.
When I was in elementary school, an adventurous friend and I found a mine entrance in the Verdugos just above the Oakmont Woods neighborhood. The opening was almost completely closed by a slide but we were able to squeeze in. It only went back 20 feet or so. I’ve tried to find it since, but it seems to be completely covered now.
Water mines are in nearly every canyon above us. At the turn of the century, before gasoline and electric water pumps could be used to pull water from wells, horizontal wells, or water mines, were driven into the mountainside to extract precious groundwater. A “drift,” or horizontal shaft, was dug until a water source was reached, usually at the point where the Sierra Madre Fault or the Lukens Fault was pushing groundwater up. Once the water “vein” was hit, anywhere from a hundred to 400 feet in, water would flow freely along the floor of the mine to be collected and piped to the valley below. A few old photos exist of the mining in progress. Pickens Canyon had several, one of which is still in use today. The CVWD still collects water from the Pickens Water Tunnel, dug back in the ’teens, which we drink today.
In Dunsmore Canyon the Station Fire exposed a couple of abandoned water tunnels. These local tunnels can be dangerous. Many years ago an inexperienced explorer was asphyxiated when he reached a pocket of bad air in one of these water tunnels.
Just to our east, the Dawn Mine is a popular hiking destination just above Altadena, and around it several mines lie in obscurity. In Big Tujunga Canyon there was a minor gold rush in the 1880s, with many mines dug and abandoned, which I’ll cover in next week’s column. The Big Horn Mine, near Vincent Gap, is perhaps the most picturesque abandoned mine. I hiked there last weekend and it resembles a Hollywood version of what an abandoned mine should look like.
A few locals have been bitten by the bug to find these abandoned mines. Glendale resident Hugh Blanchard was an avid explorer of the San Gabriels and documented his many abandoned mine finds on his website LAgoldmines.com. Tragically, Hugh died in a hiking accident a few years ago, but his website lives on. Picking up the torch today is young Eric Cole, a CV resident barely into his 20s. Despite his young age, he’s articulate and knowledgeable about both the fascinations and the dangers of his hobby. An avid photographer, Eric has recorded his finds and will show them at a meeting of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley this Monday night, June 15 at 7 p.m. at the Center for Spiritual Living located at Dunsmore and Santa Carlotta. Please join us to view this lost piece of our local history.