Hike To LA’s Abandoned Dawn Mine, aka, Attempted Murder by Squirrels

dawnhike01 dawnsquirrel07There are three ways to hike to the abandoned Dawn Mine above Altadena.

The first is closed, the second is overgrown, but the third, in a metaphorical bear sense, is just right.

dawnhike03John W. Robinson, in his book “Trails of the Angeles: 100 Hikes in the San Gabriels,” calls it “the most storied gold prospect in the front range.”

But that’s not saying much.

Because no one has made their fortune from gold in the mountains overlooking the San Gabriel Valley, that doesn’t mean that a bunch of people haven’t tried.

The prospectors started to scratch the surface of Millard Canyon in 1895, and one of those prospectors, Bradford Peck, named the area near the top of the canyon after a friend’s daughter, Dawn Ehrenfeld.

It wasn’t until 1902 that the real mining began. Michael T. Ryan, an Australian, began the first tunneling into the cliffs on one side of the tiny stream, creating the tunnel that we can still enter.

2014oct31-dawnhike08 dawnhike06 dawnsquirre10But he came across one problem. How to carry the tons of ore, that needed to be crushed to extract the gold? Hiking the two and a half miles down boulder strewn Millard Canyon was difficult and time consuming. So he forged a trail up the side of the mountain to the Mt. Lowe Railway. Once there he loaded the ore onto the Mt. Lowe train and it headed down, via the funicular, to extract that beautiful gold.

After Mr. Ryan gave up, realizing that he, like the others, was not going to make his fortune, the mine changed hands many times. In the 1950’s the area became derelict, littered with mining equipment and abandoned shacks.

Over the years they became covered with graffiti and run down. Eventually all were removed except an old engine, which still sits as a marker to the mine entrance.

To hike Dawn Mine, drive up the road called Chaney Trail (which is “closed” sunset to sunrise). Chaney Trail tees off West Alta Loma Drive, between Lincoln Ave and Fair Oaks Ave in Altadena.

A section of the trail leading up Millard Canyon to Dawn Mine.Chaney Trail is a small winding road that leads up into the San Gabriels. At the end of this road is a car park — don’t park here, because this is the entrance to the closed section of the trail. Park instead at the highest point of Chaney Trail. It’s where the fire road leads up into the mountains. Parking is a problem, because there are so few spaces. It is usually full on weekends, so if you can, go on a weekday, or pray to the parking fairies.

dawnhike05Hike around the fire road barrier, past the water tank and then make a left after 0.4 of a mile, according to my phone, which obviously knows everything.

The turn is the sign posted for The Sunset Ridge Trail. This trail leads down into Millard Canyon.

Note: There is a fork on this trail, but keep left, down toward the canyon floor. At 1.05 miles from the car park, the path reaches the gently flowing stream at the bottom of the canyon, which was, in this October 2014 drought, really just a trickle. The mine is near the top of Millard Canyon, so head upstream, north, away from civilization.

Note: Downstream from here the trail is closed, which leads to the car park you are not supposed to park in, as the forestry service is attempting to rehabilitate it after the Station fire in 2009.

My first attempt to find Dawn Mine was a failure, because I went the wrongway. Although on the plus side, I did come across a stunningly beautiful three tiered 40-foot waterfall.

Where is went wrong was not making a right turn, although it is probably worth it just to see the waterfalls.bIf you do want to see Dawn Mine make a right 1.25 miles from the parking lot. Or to put it another way, make a right 0.2 miles after reaching the tream; Once making this turn, follow the river another 1.6 miles upstream, or 2.85 miles from the parking lot to the mine itself.Note: Downstream from here the trail is closed, which leads to the car park you are not supposed to park in, as the forestry service is attempting to rehabilitate it after the Station fire in 2009.

My first attempt to find Dawn Mine was a failure, because I went the wrong way. Although on the plus side, I did come across a stunningly beautiful three tired
40-foot waterfall. Where is went wrong was not making a right turn, although it is probably worthnit just to see the waterfalls.

If you do want to see Dawn Mine make a right 1.25 miles from the parking lot. Or to put it another way, make a right 0.2 miles after reaching the stream. Once making this turn, follow the river another 1.6 miles upstream, or 2.85 miles from the parking lot to the mine itself.nAlmost all of this 1.6 miles is hopping over rocks, clambering over boulders, or ducking under fallen trees.

Note: While doing all this hopping, clambering, and ducking, pause for a momentnand enjoy the peaceful miles-away-from-the-city burbling stream, squirrel and bird sounds.

From here on out it is practically impossible to get lost, just follow the stream.nThere are spray-painted arrows along the way, but they are not really necessary; just follow the stream.

Because this is not a well traveled path a number of the stones are loose so be careful of twisting an ankle, but that is not the only danger. When the cliffs were towering on one side of the valley, there was a huge cracking noise 50 feet ahead. A stone the size of my head had fallen from the cliff face and I just saw it bounce and settle with the other stones in the stream bed. Sitting on a tree limb, near where the stone fell, were two squirrels staring at me.

Because I can speak to the animals, here is a translation of what one of them was saying: “Damn it Bob, you pushed it too early, I told you to wait, I get to push it next time, then we get to have hiker for dinner.”

Because of all the clambering the trail seems longer than it is, but keep going, and then eventually there is an abandoned piece of machinery up to your left. It’s an old engine, with a flywheel attached to each side. The entrance to the mine is hidden just the other side of the engine. On hands and knees, the first view into the mine is what everyone expects when looking into a mine, the classic wooden posts holding up a crosspiece. Althoughnlater, thinking about it, I think this is part of a door to keep people out, and just thenjamb is left. But I could be wrong.

Barring entrance to the cave is a small body of water, people had helpfully thrown in pieces of wood and tree branches to create a slippery unstable walking surface. But I was told by another hiker I met that day, when he had visited the mine the
previous year and had decided to not enter as the water was too deep. I don’t know if this was because of the drought, but like those signs at amusement park water rides, You Might Get Wet.

Thirty feet into the tunnel, just past the pond, is a dry area splitting off into two tunnels, with a huge open gallery above. The light grey rock is splattered with yellow, which reflects in the second pond. There are holes drilled for dynamite still visible in the rock.nYou will need a flashlight, as the mine is pitch black even so short a distance inside. I didn’t go any further than this, as mines and underground scare the hell out of me, but just this short distance inside it was cool and peaceful, in a I-might-die-from-a-cave-in, sort of way.

But remember kids, abandoned mines are dangerous, and while I went alone, anfriend knew where I was going, and was waiting for my back-to-civilization text.

Now the facts: Starting elevation: 2000 ft. Ending elevation: 3135 ft. The total time of my hike, from car to car was three and a half hours, with a total of 5.7 miles,
all according to my phone. When hiking up Millard Canyon to Dawn Mine, it feels like sprawling Los Angeles is hundreds of miles away, with the silent trees and the burbling stream and the imposing canyon walls and the murderous chattering squirrels it’s a moment of quiet in a noisy city.

P.S. I mentioned that there were three ways to reach Dawn Mine, and just for balance sake, I will mention the abandoned trail, although I don’t recommend it, unless you like long hikes in the sun and wielding a machete. It is the trail that the Australian forged from the mine up to the Mt. Lowe Railway. Start at the same place, but follow the tarmacked fire road up the ridge of the mountain for three miles. Unlike down in the shaded valley, it is in the harsh sun all the way, but the road is smooth underfoot,neven if it is steep uphill most of the way. After the three miles there is a historical marker pointing out that this was a stop of the Mt. Lowe Railway and passengers used to disembark and hike down to Dawn Mine.

I attempted hiking down the trail, but after 50 feet it was almost completely overgrown and difficult to discern, so I left it for someone else, with an adventurous spirit, and a machete.

Historic “Moving Picture” Show

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a world without film. (I know!) Whatever did people do for fun on a Saturday night, aside from bathing? They would go see amazing spectacles called “Panoramas.” Starting in 1792, 360 degree paintings were installed in circular venues and you viewed them from the inside. Don’t tell James Cameron this, but they were even in 3d! Faux terrain elements were placed in front of the images to enhance the paintings themselves. Even Disney took a cue from this style and created CircleVision 360.

Another version of the Panorama experience was the Moving Panorama. Images were painted on huge panels and scrolled through in a theater accompanied by live narration, music and sound effects. The original Moving Picture Show!

What does this have to do with Los Angeles? LA is home to the Velaslavasay Panorama “an exhibition hall, theatre and garden dedicated to the production and presentation of unusual visual experiences, including those of the 360-degree variety.” They research and preserve fragile works of mass entertainment from centuries gone by. You can visit the gardens and exhibits during the day and for the next four weekends, you can see a Moving Picture Show.

Every Friday and Saturday night until August 21, The Velaslavasay Panorama will be showing “The Grand Moving Mirror Of California” a modern panel based on an 1853 script about the journey to get to California during the Gold Rush. Adventures around Cape Horn, views of historic California cities and “famous natural treasures” are part of the story.

This Saturday, July 31, is a fundraiser for the museum. You get a gourmet dinner before the showing of the Moving Picture and help raise funds for this fascinating non-profit. Click here for more details on that event.

The Velaslavasay Panorama
In the Historic Union Theater in the West Adams District
1122 West 24th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90007

Open to the public on Fridays, Saturday and Sundays from 12-6pm
Street parking only.

I’m buying tickets for Friday’s show…join in!

Cross section of a Panorama rotunda

Ack!! I totally forgot to add a Hat Tip to Los Angeles Magazine (August issue), which is where I first read about the Panorama!

Save the puppets!

Don\'t be scared; it\'s just a puppet!
Don't be scared; it's just a puppet!

Legendary Puppeteer Bob Baker needs your donations to save his theater from foreclosure.

I know, things are tough all over, but this is a particularly sad story.

WHAT: Emergency Campaign to generate funds to save The Bob Baker Marionette Theater from Foreclosure

DEADLINE: $29,000 needed by December 3 or Bob Baker’s theater and home will be sold

For more that 60 years, puppeteer Bob Baker has brought delight and amazement to children of all ages with his innovative marionette performances. Through shows at his Bob Baker Marionette Theater, located just west of downtown LA, and his huge list of film and TV credits, he has entertained millions of people. Today Bob Baker’s puppet theater continues to operate on a daily basis with a crew of young puppeteers trained by the master.

But unless you help, this magical theater will disappear in a matter of weeks. Bob Baker, a proud man and a humble artisan, has no choice but to reach out to his public for a lifeline.

Two years ago, Bob Baker was the victim in an elaborate mortgage fraud operation bent on stealing his theater and home. This outrageous mortgage, written under threatening and deliberately misleading conditions, has left him owing ever increasing payments that are beyond his ability to pay.

This week the situation has reached crisis point, and Bob quietly reached out for help. Many talented people have responded to his call. A plan for improving the theater’s financial prospects is being formulated by the Valley Economic Development Center and many of Bob’s friends and fans are working behind the scenes to protect Bob and his theater and home from the sharks. The theater has enormous potential, Bob wants everyone to know that he is not going out of business.

But time is of the essence, and right now, Bob Baker needs your donations if he is going to be able to keep up with his mortgage payments long enough to get the loans modified.

As of today, Bob needs $23,000 for past due mortgage payments on the theater, and $6,000 for past due mortgage payments on his home. The deadline for payment in December 3, or the buildings will be sold and Bob and his thousands of puppets will be homeless.

If you have been entertained by Bob Baker’s Marionettes, if you love the spirit of old Hollywood creativity that he embodies, if you want to reach out and help someone wonderful who has been terribly wounded by the mortgage crisis and outright fraud, please open your heart and give to Bob Baker at this difficult time. The children of Los Angeles are not ready to be without this great entertainer, who has many more years of magic before him.

Tax deductible donations can be made to “The Academy of Puppetry and Allied Arts.” Send your check to 1345 West First Street, Los Angeles, CA 90026 or call 213-250-9995 to make a donation by credit card.

Puppeteer Bob Baker is available for interviews. Contact Richard at
[email protected], or call 213-250-9995.

Downtown L.A. Needs A Historic Streetcar

The biggest mistake Los Angeles can make in the Bringing Back Broadway initiative is the use of a modern streetcar in lieu of a historic trolley.

In recent months, meetings have been held to talk about where a new streetcar line would go in Downtown L.A., how it would integrate into the current transit system, and what it may look like. Eric Richardson of Blogdowntown has been covering the project, including a recent field trip to Portland, and now, to San Diego to study the success of similar projects in other cities. BDT even ran an in-depth look at the advantages of using a modern streetcar design for Bringing Back Broadway.

While the very notion of a new streetcar line in Downtown Los Angeles should excite all of us, L.A. would be missing a monumental opportunity by installing a modern streetcar line that pays no homage to our fair city’s past.

Continue reading “Downtown L.A. Needs A Historic Streetcar”