The Lost Wagon Trail of Angeles Crest

I joined the throngs of sightseers last weekend in taking advantage of the long-delayed opening of the Angeles Crest Highway. I’m always impressed with the nearly vertical rock faces the roadway cuts through and I often think about what a colossal task it must have been to build the road in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s using primitive tractors and dynamite.

It’s rare to find someone who knows the history of the aborted first incarnation of Angeles Crest, cut by hand in 1873. The Soledad Road, or Capt. Moore’s Road, was to be a major freight wagon route across the San Gabriels between the Mojave Desert and Los Angeles and was to pass right through the Crescenta Cañada Valley. The project was pure speculation in a boom period of Los Angeles history and it failed, but not before it was partially built.

In the 1860s, the Cerro Gordo Mine, located in the Inyo Mountains east of the Owens Valley, began pumping out high-grade silver ore. Smelters reduced the ore to bullion, and thousands of silver ingots began to stack up at Cerro Gordo. In 1868, an enterprising Los Angeles Frenchman Remi Nadeau contracted to haul the bullion the 200 miles to Los Angeles. His 18-mule heavy-duty wagons would trudge across the Mojave Desert and traverse the San Gabriels through Saugus, basically following the route of the 14 Freeway, then down to Los Angeles and on to Wilmington. This freight route was bringing about $50,000 worth of silver a day through the streets of L.A., then a town of about 5,000, and was making a fortune for everyone associated with it. Obviously, other businessmen would try for a piece of the action.

In 1873, investors lined up a plan for a cut-off road – a shorter wagon trail through the San Gabriels to the Mojave Desert. Engineers from the defunct Mormon Battalion, who had built Fort Moore in Downtown L.A. in 1847 and then disbanded, were employed to map a route and begin construction. They pushed a heavy wagon road north from L.A, and up through Verdugo Canyon. Following the path Verdugo Road takes today, they turned east at Montrose, and climbed the hill past Vons to where the Verdugo Hospital is. At that point, they made a straight diagonal path across the sagebrush of La Cañada to the point where Angeles Crest Highway turns to head up the mountain. They quickly cut a road into the wilderness, basically following the route the Crest takes, but with many more twists and curves.

They got all the way up to Dark Canyon, about five miles up on the modern highway, before the road builders got word that the Southern Pacific Railroad would be laying tracks on the current freight wagon route through Saugus, thus destroying the trade for freight wagons hauling silver into L.A. The Soledad Road was abandoned.

The road is visible in a couple very old landscape photos of La Cañada, but was never really employed as a road. The mountain portion is shown on an 1877 map of the Lanterman/Williams tracts in the Crescenta-Cañada Valley.

The last trace of the roadbed through CV, a small section next to Verdugo Road just below the hospital, was buried by the 2/210 Interchange in the early ’70s. Some say that the old road still exists in bits and pieces in the mountains above La Cañada and indeed I’ve found short sections of very old roadbed in my hikes. If they are indeed remnants of the Soledad Road is guesswork. It’s hard to believe that the road bed could survive this long.

The most visible section is just past the last houses on the way up. Look up to your left as you pass the wide construction turnout and you’ll clearly see traces of a very old road on the hillsides above the highway.

Next time you drive the Crest, imagine what could have been – burley teamsters driving 18-mule-teams in front of wagons carrying tons of silver, pulling hard on the brakes, the rear wheels chained and skidding as they dropped down into La Cañada.

Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the

Crescenta Valley. Reach him at