Memories of the ‘Big Ravine’

Being used to smooth roads and level suburban lots, we often forget about the geography of the valley we live in. We live on alluvial fans made up of rocks and sand that poured out of the canyons above us with each heavy rain. On those alluvial fans gullies were cut by streams. The water flow from each canyon – Cook, Dunsmore, Shields and Eagle, Goss, Pickens, Hall-Beckley and Winery Canyons – cut sometimes deep ravines across the valley floor. Most have been filled and channelized.

One of the deepest ravines on the valley floor is the one below Winery Canyon. It starts in Alta Canyada and runs all the way to Foothill Boulevard near Hillard Avenue. The lower portion below that was filled in when the 2 Freeway Foothill offramp was constructed.

The following is a memory of that ravine from the 1930s from longtime resident Jack Emmerson:

“Running in an approximate north-south direction for a distance of about three miles, starting at a point where Indian Springs once stood and ending near the intersection of Alta Canyada Road and Hacienda Street, following a twisting brush-choaked course, it was spoken of by the old-timers as ‘The Big Ravine.’

“Many times as a boy I wandered there tramping its almost impenetrable slopes and rock-strewn floor. When our family first arrived in the valley in 1931 it was a haven for all the local wildlife – skunks, opossums, fox and rabbits abounded there – also many varieties of birds found sanctuary in its quiet fastness.

“Recalling yarns related to me many years ago by Mr. Charles Pate, whose home stood just a stone’s throw from that magical canyon, he spoke of walking along its bank with a .22 rifle in search of a rabbit for the supper table. He remembered Harlan Durand plowing too close to its edge and almost losing team and plow before being rescued, but for Charlie and his dobbin [dobbin is an old rural term for a farm horse].

“One of Charlie’s fondest recollections was of sitting on the front porch of his home with his wife and daughter on a warm summer evening and listening to the tinkling notes of a piano being played by the daughter of another old La Cañada resident, Tom Hall, who lived at the mouth of winery canyon better than a mile up the valley.

“In those days, from where we lived about halfway up Hillard Avenue, you could hear people talking plainly as far away as Foothill Boulevard, and many a night I have stayed awake just to hear Bob Schmidt, our next-door neighbors north, come roaring around the corner of Foothill and Hillard in his hopped up ’37 Buick convertible.

“Getting back to the ravine, besides being a haven for local wildlife, small boys such as my good friend Doug Montague and myself found its secret untraveled solitude an ideal building site for a rough shelter of sorts. The plans were made with much enthusiasm that young boys are full of; but alas, for only corner poles and perhaps a side were completed when more important ideas overshadowed the original and the project was abandoned to rot away in that silent place.

“Traps were set there by my brother George and I without result. Later, on my own, I suspended a very ripe chicken from the branch of a gum tree [eucalyptus tree] growing on the canyon floor. Underneath I placed three carefully camouflaged double-spring traps hoping to snare an unwary coyote. This time the only result was a very strong smell, but no coyote.

“With my dad’s help, we devised a box trap large enough for a coyote and strong enough to hold a tiger. In fact, when it was completed it was all we could do to haul it via wheelbarrow to the canyon’s edge and bait it. Again, no coyote came and if they did it was only to howl in derision and then slip back into the night in the ravine.”

Fun memories of boyhood in a quieter time, long ago.

Mike Lawler is the former president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley
and loves local history.
Reach him at