Canyon Name Origins – Blue Gum Canyon, Blanchard Canyon
Blue Gum Canyon – We covered Haines Canyon last week, so the next canyon heading east is the small Blue Gum Canyon. I’ve never been up in Blue Gum, but it looks like it’s a well-treed canyon. It has a small debris basin at the end of Blue Gum Lane to catch the seasonal water flow.
I can’t find the actual reference to its naming, but it’s not hard to guess. The “gum tree,” the old name for the tree we know as the eucalyptus tree, was a popular tree of many uses in the late 1800s. It’s likely some enterprising Tujunga rancher planted a crop of them in that small canyon.
The blue gum tree, for which our little canyon is named, has a fascinating history in California. The “gum” in its name comes from the fact that it oozes a resinous sap, called gum, which was harvested for a variety of uses, including as a base for chewing gum. In California’s boom years of the 1850s, lumber was a hot commodity, specifically in Southern and Central California. In particular, the fast-growing network of railroads needed lots of wood for ties and trestles. The Australian native eucalyptus, or gum, tree was being successfully harvested in Australia for similar uses and was heavily imported to California. However, when it was harvested and cut for railroad ties here, it twisted and hardened so much as to make it unusable. The mistake had been that in Australia, it was old growth trees that were being harvested and the wood of those mature trees reacted much differently when dried for lumber use. The older trees didn’t split or warp as the infant California crop did. Nonetheless, those blue gum trees were here to stay and the fast-growing trees were employed as windbreaks and ornamentals.
In our area, eucalyptus oil was harvested from the blue gum trees and was thought in the ’20s to be a cure-all medicine. Some local ranchers, including the Rowley family of Rowley Canyon to the west, planted blue gum trees just for that purpose. I imagine that was the case in Blue Gum Canyon as well.
Blanchard Canyon – Blanchard Canyon gives no clue as to its name. We’ll have to chalk it up to the name of another 19th century woodcutter who cut trees in the canyon for a couple of seasons and then moved on, leaving only his name and a bunch of tree stumps behind. Sad that the names of some of our most beautiful canyons are equated with a few wagonloads of firewood.
Blanchard Canyon has a good road that winds deep into its confines. Blanchard Canyon Road can be reached from Day Street by taking Covert Road until it becomes Blanchard Canyon Road. It’s well worth a drive as the canyon is oak covered, and scattered with charming little homes dating back to the ’20s. It’s deep and cool, and feels like a mountain retreat removed from Los Angeles. But be warned – the road gets narrower and narrower until suddenly you realize you’re in someone’s driveway, and you’ll have to back up.
Next week we’ll continue east and cross the border into La Crescenta for more canyon names.
Releasing this week is a new book on local history, authored by yours truly. “Crescenta Valley History: Hidden in Plain Sight” details six of the “hidden treasures” here in our valley that we pass by every day but don’t realize are there. Included in its pages are the stories of Indian Springs, the resort and swimming pool buried deep beneath a shopping center, and Mountain Oaks, the former speakeasy and resort now in overgrown ruins. How about John Steinbeck’s old house in Montrose? It’s still there. As is the Ananda Ashrama, an Eastern-flavored religious retreat run by women, that sits smack in a residential neighborhood. How about the Hollywood star-studded story behind Two Strike Park? Or the inspiring history of Rockhaven Sanitarium, built by women for women? You’ll be surprised at the history around you. Pick up the book at Once Upon A Time bookstore in Montrose.