Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

Name Origins for the Peaks Around Us – Part 2

Continuing my series on name origins for the peaks and geographic features along the San Gabriel Mountains above us, we move east from Mt. Lukens. At this point, let’s drop over the top of Lukens to Big Tujunga Canyon just behind.

The “Big” is to differentiate it from Little Tujunga Canyon to the west, and Tujunga comes from the name of a large Indian village “Tujungna” that was located on the northern bank of the wash around Foothill Boulevard. The “ngna” in Tujungna refers to a village site. We find many place names locally that come from village names for which the Anglos have changed the ending “gna” to “na”, such as Cahuenga, Topanga, and Cucamonga. Everything I’ve read and heard about the Indian meaning of Tujungna says that it means “place of the old woman.”

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

Interpretive meanings of that run anywhere from “old woman” representing a Mother Earth deity to simply a nearby rock outcropping that may have resembled an old woman’s face. Tujungna figures in the sad story of female Indian leader Toypurina, who led an unsuccessful uprising at San Gabriel Mission. Her brother was chief of Tujungna, and he and many warriors from both Tujungna and Hahamongna joined in the raid. When they were captured, he testified against Toypurina at her trial in order to save his own skin.

Moving back into the mountains again, we find the next peak in line to be Hoyt Mountain. Unfortunately I found nothing on its name origin. Do any my readers know the story behind Hoyt?

Continuing east and moving past Clear Creek at the top of the Angeles Crest Highway grade, the next peak in line is Josephine Peak. It was named in 1894 by USGS surveyor Joseph Lippencott for his wife Josephine. (Lippencott later helped plan the route of the Angeles Crest Highway.) The name origin was muddied at the turn of the century by La Crescenta’s Phil Begue, who got some traction with his story that he had named it for his daughter Josephine. That story, just like the story of Sister Elsie mentioned in last week’s column, was printed as fact for many years. Interestingly it’s thought that the Sister Elsie story had its origins in the fertile imagination of Phil Begue as well.

Just in front of and below Hoyt and Josephine is the Arroyo Seco. Meaning “dry stream” in Spanish, it was named in 1770 by Spanish explorer Gaspar Portola who, seeing it in late summer, noted that it had the least water of the many streams coming out of the San Gabriels. Portola here encountered the Tongva Indians from the village of Hahamongna, today the area around JPL. The name Hahamongna supposedly comes from the laughing sound of the water tumbling down the Arroyo, explained in a story about a wager between a coyote and the stream. Alternately it might mean, “flowing waters, fruitful valley” depending on your source. The park below JPL and behind Devil’s Gate Dam is today named for the village, Hahamongna Watershed Park.

While we’re here in the park, the name Devil’s Gate Dam has a meaning. The “Devil” was a rock outcropping there that resembled a profile of the devil’s face and the “Gate” is because the canyon narrowed significantly. The devil’s face was obliterated when the dam was built across the narrow gap in 1920.

Moving back up the Arroyo into the mountains, we find Strawberry Peak looming over Angeles Crest Highway just past Clear Creek Station. Strawberry Peak was named by campers at Switzer’s in the late 1800s because of its resemblance to a strawberry. In 1909, Strawberry Peak gained worldwide attention when a hot air balloon excursion took off in Pasadena and got blown off course up into the mountains where it hung up on the rocks at the top of Strawberry Peak. The peak was a popular hiking destination during the hiking craze of the ’20s, and many tourists took photos of themselves at the rocky summit.

Next week I’ll tell you about my namesake, Mount Lawlor, and the CV connection to Switzer’s.