Mines of Los Angeles County
By Hugh Blanchard
Like Arizona, Los Angeles County has “no caves to speak of”. So at least we don’t have to worry about local cave conservation. However, there has been a long history of gold mining in this area going back to the 1850’s. All the mines mentioned in this article except the Kelsey and Benco were dug for gold. Exploratory digs under 50 feet are not listed. Exploring these mines should satisfy your yearning for local troglodytic adventures.
John Robinson, in his Trails of the Angeles trail guide and coffee table book The San Gabriels, is to be commended for his scholarly research on the history and location of many of these mines.
Several mines were dug on the west wall of Pine Canyon, between Rubio and Eaton Canyons in Pasadena, starting in 1893; however, operations were abandoned by 1895. I located one mine in this area that extends for about 150 feet. At about the same time, several mines were dug in Los Flores Canyon, just above the old Cobb Estate at the top of Lake Street in Pasadena. I have been in eight mines in the Los Flores Canyon; one of which goes for 852 feet; but all of these mines are well-protected by poison oak. Halfway up a steep rocky gully on the east side of the canyon, are three more mines. One is 453 feet and a second is 254 feet. The third is under 100 feet. There has been at least one recent rescue of hikers who were stranded trying to reach these mines. Mining operations stopped in Los Flores Canyon after several years.
Two miles up Millard Canyon in Altadena is the Dawn Mine, well known to local hikers. Tunneling started in 1902 and continued off and on until 1954. It has two levels; with the lower level having 680 feet of passage and the upper level with 195 feet.
Map of the Dawn Mine
Above Monte Cristo Campground off Angeles Forest Highway, on a dirt road leading out of the campground, are the Monte Cristo Mines. Digging started at least by the 1880’s and continued on, off and on until the Second World War. Recently, some intermittent small scale mining may have been resumed by one of the owners of the nearby Hidden Springs Café and the area is now gated and posted, with a caretaker residing in one of the old cabins on the property. I examined the area before it was posted and observed a number of caved-in tunnels and shafts with old rusty mining equipment strewn about.
Writer at the posted entrance to the Monte Cristo mines
Houses near the Monte Cristo mines (2007)
Remains of a furnace (photo by California Mine Explorers)
Monte Cristo adit (photo by California Mine Explorers)
Air drill with jug of oil in the mine. (photo by California Mine Explorers)
Vertical shaft in the mine (photo by California Mine Explorers)
There are several other old mines in this area shown on the Chilao Flat topo including Black Crow, Black Cargo, and Gold Bar. I understand that all of their entrances have been closed by the Forest Service. The Black Cargo not shown on the topo but near the Lucky Strike was regated by the Forest Service in 1998. I entered it before the regating and observed that it had three levels with 447 feet of passage.
Entrance to the Black Cargo mine
Map of Black Cargo mine
Map of the Lucky Strike mine
The Falcon, also shown on the Cihilao Flat topo, is one and a half miles south of the Mill Creek Summit Ranger Station just off of F.R. 4N18, which is unmarked at its entrance and is posted and gated. It has been worked on and off since 1939 and has been reported to be the only gold mine still operating in Los Angeles County. About 12 years ago, there was still an armed guard on the premises. Now however with the sharp decline in the price of gold it is only worked intermittently. Because of the gating, I have not viewed the mine. The owner recently advised the writer that the entrances to both tunnels were collapsed in early 2004 and there were no immediate plans to reopen them.
The writer outside the Falcon Mine...
...and inside Falcon Mine (July 2004)
The Lodestone appears on the Condor Peak topo. As the name indicates, this mall scale mining operation produced iron ore probably in the 1940’s and 50’s after the completion of the Angeles Forest Highway. There is no tunnel as the ore was extracted by cutting into the canyon wall.
About 4 miles north of Acton, off the Antelope Valley Freeway in Soledad Canyon, are the Red Rover and Governor (New York) Mines. They were major gold producers from the 1870’s until World War II. These two mines were reopened after the war and were finally closed for good in the early 1950s. The mines are mainly vertical – going down about 1000 feet. The pit openings are now fenced off, as there have been several recent rescues of would-be explorers.
There was much mining activity on the north slope of Mount Gleason on the western flank of Soledad Canyon starting in 1880 and continuing until the early 1930’s. I have found only one mine entrance, the Mount Gleason, located just north of Gleason Creek near the Miners Road. It is located just below an old miner’s cabin and extends for about 200 feet. One of the owners along with several relatives is a Ms. Mary Variel Grimes of Los Angeles whose grandfather R.H.F. Variel, a well known Los Angeles attorney, patented a mining claim for the property in 1892. Ms. Grimes has never actually seen the mine. The property is not posted.
Entrance to the Gleason Mine
Extensive silver mining has been done in the San Gabriel Canyon on the south slope of Silver Mountain. The Kelsey Mine was opened in 1881 and was worked on and off until the early 1930’s. Dell Quick went there over 20 years ago and recalls a circular tunnel with about 400 feet of passage. In 2001 my son and I entered it and found only about 100 feet of passage with a foot of water on the floor. At the end of the tunnel there is a junction but both passages are now clogged with dirt and rocks.
The mine is about a half a mile up Water Canyon, milepost 19.75, at the end of a short 30-foot long gully ending in a waterfall that leads north from the main canyon. It is next to the waterfall and is about 15 feet up the canyon wall. A rope has been attached as a climbing aid.
Grotto Members in front of the Kelsey Mine (Mike Bull 2006)
There are several approaches, none of them particularly appealing. The shortest route is up Water Canyon. However the trail is faint, overgrown, and involves going over four small waterfalls which require 3rd class climbing. The small gully is immediately after the 4th fall. A second route entails going up Silver Fish Fire Road, milepost 19.42, 3 miles up San Gabriel Canyon Road. This gated fire road soon deteriorates into a trail. After a mile, upon reaching a 4th metal culvert by working your way down a very steep 200-foot slope, you will be at the foot of the short gully containing the mine. The gully cannot be seen from the road. You can also continue up the trail for another 200 feet and just after passing a 5th metal culvert where the slope is less steep scramble to the canyon bottom and proceed down canyon to the gully. This route has the difficulty of finding the right gully while trying to avoid clusters of poison oak.
About 700 feet to the right, just before the Heaton Flat Trail on the way to the “Bridge That Goes Nowhere”, are the stonewall remnants of two cabins built and used by old time miner Billie Heaton. Follow a faint use trail about 40 feet beyond a white boulder on the right side of the dirt road. Just beyond the cabins and next to a waterfall, is a mine entrance. It goes in for 127 feet and is the mine Billy Heaton worked from 1902 to his passing in 1924. An illegal drug lab was removed from the site a few years ago. Its actual name is the Queenie Mine.
Entrance to the Billy Heaton mine- note both the stinging nettle
and poison oak at the entrance. (Oct 2006)
About halfway from the end of the East Fork Road to the Heaton Flat Frail before the trail leading to the Queenie Mine is or was a mine dug into the gravel wash on the right hand side of the canyon about 15 feet up the gravel wall.. It went in over 50 feet and in some spots was 15 feet high and 30 feet wide.
Local Forest Service personnel informed the writer that the digging was done by latter day prospectors in the 1950’s and 60’s. The record breaking rainfall of 2005 caused a partial collapse of the canyon wall above the mine entrance and the entrance as of Sept 2005 is now buried.
About a quarter of a mile before reaching the “Bridge That Goes Nowhere” there is a trail on the left which goes down to the canyon bottom. I have been told that upon reaching the bottom and proceeding a short distance toward the bridge you will see a mine entrance. Supposedly, this mine is occasionally worked by two men who come up the trail on motorized dirt bikes. The writer subsequently located and mapped this mine which is named the Horseshoe and its discovery and history is covered at length in another article.
Bungie jumpers on the "Bridge That Goes Nowhere" (Oct 2005)
Entrance to the horseshoe mine
High on the southwest slope of Iron Mountain in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness Area, is the Allison Mine, best reached by hiking up the Heaton Flat Trail for 4 ½ miles and then going to the left at Iron Saddle for another 3 miles on the old Allison Trail. The Allison Trail has not been maintained for 60 years, is extremely overgrown with yucca and manzanita and in some spots is nonexistent. Because Robinson lists this trip in his trail guide there are frequent attempts to reach the Allison Mine. Judging by comments on the Register at nearby Bonita Peak, most don’t make it. There are actually three separate tunnels close together with an ore-loading bin in front. They were worked on and off from 1913 to 1942 and range in length from 500 to 1000 feet. I strongly urge any reader attempting this trip to return the same way. It is possible to return by descending Allison Gulch to the East Fork and then going down the East Fork to the roadbed. Although several miles shorter, this is a difficult and dangerous route. The last time I tried it I sprained my ankle in a rockfall and had to hobble down Allison Gulch and the East Fork with its 13 river crossings, in darkness most of the way, until finally reaching my car at 2 am. Not a fun trip!
Entrance to the Allison mine
There are several other mines above the Allison that are considered the loftiest and most inaccessible in the County. These are the Stanley-Miller, Gold Dollar, Eagle and Widco (Baldora). It staggers the imagination that these old miners somehow managed to get tons of heavy mining equipment so high up the mountains. The Mount San Antonio topo shows neat little trails leading up to these mines – don’t believe it! These trails have largely disappeared. This wilderness area is extremely rough and steep. You can try to reach them by going down from remote San Antonio Ridge or by working your way up from the Old Widman Ranch in Coldwater Canyon. However, unless you are an experienced backpacker, well versed in cross-country bushwhacking, you may end up on the receiving end of a search and rescue operation. I doubt that anyone has gone into these mines in recent years. Certainly a challenge for a qualified grotto members. I can not think of a more exciting local trip than to explore these old mines un-entered for many decades.
Stanley Miller Site Plan
Undoubtedly the most famous and scenic of all the local mines is the fabled Big Horn, perched high on the rugged eastern face of Mount Baden-Powell. Its quartz vein was found in 1896 by that old semi-legendary recluse, civil war veteran, Arizona fugitive, prospector and big game hunter: Charles Tom Vincent (alias Charles Vincent Dougherty), whose rustic log cabin can still be found nearby. The old 10-stamp mill still stands guard outside the two tunnels extending deep into the mountain. There have been collapses in some of the passages and several of the ladders are no longer safe. There have been several owners during its century-long operation with the current owner a Canadian mining corporation (Siskon Gold Corp.) with a U.S. subsidiary. The Big Horn Mine, along with its adjoining 278 acres is a privately owned enclave in the middle of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness. There was a period a few years ago when the property was gated and a guard posted. Now however, with the declining price of gold, the guard has gone and the gates are unlocked. The 2-mile gated road to the mine is no longer maintained and even a Hummer could not make it up to the mine now. Since it is listed in Robinson’s trail guide, it is frequently visited by hikers. About a quarter-mile before reaching the stamp mill and its two tunnels, is a third tunnel. This tunnel contains about a foot of water and was part of the system until the passage collapsed about 1000 feet into the mountainside. Just beyond the stamp mill an old trail, narrow and unmentioned, continues for another half mile around the mountain and supposedly passes another hidden entrance. Mapping the Big Horn Mine made a great grotto project- grotto members mapped 8,700 feet of it.
Charlie Vincent with his Remington rifle (note cabin in the background) (1916)
(Photo courtesy of John W. Robinson)
The writer at the cabin (July 2004)
Charlie Vincent's 1-stamp mill in 1983....(John W. Robinson 1983)
...and in 2004.
Grotto members at the entrance to the Big Horn mine (2004)
Mine Gulch is one of the three tributaries forming the Main East Fork about 2000 feet below the Big Horn Mine. At their juncture is an old miner’s trail that contours for about 1000 feet at the bottom of Mine Gulch, above the East Fork. At one point a 25-foot tunnel was blasted through the cliff to allow the trail to continue. However, the mine entrance has apparently been covered up. In the same general area, just about Cabin Flat Campground at the end of the Blue Ridge Road are supposedly the several tunnels of the Native Son Mine, shown on Mt. San Antonio topo worked intermittently from 1897 to 1920. This is now difficult to verify since the Forest Service closed the road beyond Guffy Campground several years ago.
About 3 miles north of the Sierra Highway off of Rush Canyon Road on 5N13 in Saugus, one mile west of Rowher Flat Campground on Texas Canyon Road are the 2 tunnels of the Silver King Mine, shown on the Green Valley topo. The longer tunnel goes in about 150 feet and the shorter about 50 feet. I do not know its history.
In the December 2001 issue of the Explorer I mentioned four mines in and around Redrock Canyon above Castaic Lake, which reportedly range in length from 100 to 400 feet. I have not been able to reach them and they are not listed on the Liebre Mountain topo or the Automobile Club of Southern California Los Angeles County Map. They may be the Great West and Silver Mountain Mines, reportedly worked over a century ago according to The California journal of Mines Vol 50 (1954) but their history is uncertain. The nearby Gillette Mine listed on the topo and on the Auto Club Map was closed by the Forest Service in 1979.(and may never have been a mine but simply a pillaging of a Chumash cemetery). Just below it on the same road is the Benco Mine - not listed – which consists of two shallow tunnels and, according to the owner, has been worked occasionally for the last 20 years for rare earth and platinum. The Maxwell Mine (one of numerous small Graphite Mines worked in the Lake Elizabeth and Lake Hughes area in the 1920's and 30's) is identified on the Burnt Peak topo and the Auto Club Map as located a mile below Sawtooth Peak at the end of an old mining road but I have found no sign of it to date.
The Benco mines (Blanchard 2000)
This is certainly only a partial listing of the many mines in Los Angeles County. The writer would appreciate hearing from readers who have additional information about mines in the County.