Canyon Trivia & Mountain Factoids

Equine Stuff:

Most folks speak of “the mules” at Adams’ Pack Station. For the most part, we do not use mules. We use donkeys. Clarification isn’t important in real life, but this is the facts page.

A mule is the result of a donkey father (sire) and a horse mother (dam). If you reverse the parentage, the resultant animal is a hinny, which is generically lumped-in with mules; both are usually sterile due to a chromosome imbalance.

Donkeys and burros are the same animal – the ass. Burro is the Spanish word for donkey. A distinction is sometimes made in English by referring to domestic asses as donkeys and feral asses as burros.

Some equine terminology:

  • A male horse is called a Stallion or Stud when intact, a Gelding when castrated.
  • A female horse is a Mare
  • A male mule or hinny is a John
  • A female mule or hinny is a Molly
  • A male donkey is a Jack (hence “Jackass”)
  • A female donkey is a Jenny (or Jennet)
  • Young equine are generically Foals.
    Specifically the male is a Colt and the female a Filly


Have you ever noticed that the water level in the creeks drop quite noticeably during the day? This can be partially explained in other canyons by the daytime demands of local water districts. They often pipe the precious resource from the springs that feed the creeks. While the waters of the Big Santa Anita do have municipal duties, they are collected below the dam.

So what causes the fluctuation in our canyon? Transpiration. This is the process by which plants take in water. The creeks of our front country and middle elevation canyons are solidly lined with Alder trees (Alnus rhombifolia).* The fact that they are naturally located near and even in the water tells us that they need a lot of it. Thousands of thirsty, 60-foot trees and countless other plants drinking from the creek on a hot summer’s day will obviously affect the water flow.

Why don’t we notice this in the fall and winter months? Is the difference just less obvious when there is more precipitation run-off? Yes. Do our local plants grow slower in those times, requiring less water? Yes. But the biggest reason is again the Alders. They are deciduous – they lose their leaves in the winter. Their transpiration rates drop so the creeks don’t.

*Tip within a fact: If you are ever lost in this forest and in need of water, look for alders. Even if a stream appears dry, you should be able to dig a hole and it will fill with water. It may be dirty but it will save your life. Alders can be spotted from above as bluish-green clusters and lines, or leafless ones, depending on the time of year.

The Incense Cedar, (Calocedrus decurrens), is another useful tree found in this and many other canyons in the San Gabriels.* The bark can be used to make insect repellent. Use a knife to pry off a chunk of bark. Scrape the knife across the bark to make fine shavings. Place the shavings in a tin cup or small can; or cut the bottom off an aluminum can. Set fire to the shavings – you may need to blow on them to get them started. Once the shavings are smoldering, strategically place them where the smoke can ward off bugs.

Ever forgotten your toothbrush on a camping trip? Next time cut one or two of the fan shaped branchlets of Incense Cedar, making sure to get plenty of the scaly leaves. Bunch them up and fold the whole thing over top to bottom. Bind it with thread, fishing line or a Yucca fiber. Trim the folded edge and brush your teeth with the cut end. It may not be a flavor you enjoy but your teeth will be clean.

*Incense Cedar is found from Oregon to Baja California, and is common on the Yosemite Valley floor.

Our native yucca plants (Yucca wippeli), also known as God’s Candles and found throughout the range, are one of the most useful of our plants.

First of all, the tuberous roots are edible. They are starchy and should be treated like a potato; boiled then mashed is the best and easiest way to cook them. I wouldn’t go out of my way to harvest yucca root but if I were lost and hungry…

You can also clean yourself with yucca. Cut a few of the long leaves off of the plant. Cut the tips off of the leaves. Fold the leaves into a 6 inch bundle and dip it in water. Vigorously roll the leaf bundle between your hands, rewetting as needed. A bright green lather will start to form. Use the suds as soap and the now fibrous bundle as a scouring pad.

Save the leaves that you washed with to make string and rope. Now that the fibers are loosened up from scrubbing, they can be easily separated. Braid the fibers as thick as you need them. If you need to mend an article of clothing, make a fine thread and use one of the sharp tips you cut off the leaves as a sewing needle. The Gabrielino Indians were known to make sandals out of these fibers.

The so-called “Spruce” trees in the canyon are not. In fact there are no Spruces in the San Gabriel range. These trees are called Big-Cone Douglas Fir, but they are not Firs either. The genus for Spruce is Picea; the Fir genus is Abies. The botanical name for the tree in question is Pseudotsuga macrocarpa. Pseudotsuga means “False Hemlock” and macrocarpa means “big fruit”. Its cousin from the Pacific Northwest, Pseudotsuga menziesii, is the Douglas Fir of lumber fame, and can grow up to three times the height of our Big-Cone Doug Fir.

The California Bay Tree (Umbellularia californica), is found in abundance in Big SAC and throughout the San Gabriel front country. Its fragrant leaves add a distinct aroma to our streambeds. They can be substituted for the culinary Bay Leaf (Laurus nobilis), but have a more medicinal flavor.

Miscellaneous Stuff

The current cabin permit numbers in Big Santa Anita Canyon are not the originals. From the very start, permit numbers were issued as the permits were approved. If a cabin site was approved next to a cabin that had stood for years, their numbers would be unrelated. This led to a great deal of confusion among those who were unfamiliar with The Canyon.

After the 1938 flood, as The Canyon was being reassembled, it was decided to put the address situation right as well. The cabins left standing were renumbered in ascending order from south to north, starting in First Water. The sole cabin remaining below Hermit Falls was labeled #1. Renumbering continued up the Main Canyon to the site furthest north, #105 Sturtevant’s Camp. They did the same up Winter Creek, starting with #106 at Roberts’ Camp to #139. Where neighboring cabins were at the same latitude, as along the mouth of the East Fork, ascension was from east to west. The lone cabin in Santa Oline Creek was labeled #140 and the Pack Station #141.

The only evidence of the renumbering, aside from photographs & Forest Service records, is at cabin #25. It has a 2 and a 5 nailed to the front door, but the number 47 is stamped into the concrete kitchen doorstep. 59 cabins have been lost to fire and flood since the renumbering.

Louie Newcomb, the man who built the ranger station at Sturtevant Camp, the trail between Sturtevant and Chilao, and the ranger station at West Fork, our nation’s first, was the same Louie Newcomb who killed the last Grizzly bear in the San Gabriels. The year was 1927 and the place was Big Tujunga Canyon.

In the late 1960’s, cabin #67 near Fern Lodge was home to a “family” of Hare Krishna. They got busted cultivating a pot farm up in the East Fork.

The early packers from the City of Sierra Madre, Charley Chantry and William Sturtevant among them, often allowed their donkeys to escape the corrals. To this day, donkeys are illegal on the streets of Sierra Madre.

When the road to Chantry Flat was first built, the only Forest Service parking lot was what is now the middle lot. The upper lot was built by J.P. Steele when he built the Pack Station and was operated under special use permit – 50¢ per vehicle. The popularity of Chantry soon became evident and more parking was needed. But no one was worried because, if plans were to be realized, Chantry would be a mere rest stop and picnic area on the way to the resort and campgrounds in Winter Creek.

By 1944, LA County Road Dept. had marked the route for the extension of Santa Anita Canyon Road into Winter Creek. Phase II was to pass below the parking lots so that one would have to pull off the road to stop at Chantry Flat. There is evidence on the Santa Oline side of The Flat that they started grading into said canyon. Obviously they did not continue, but they did decide to build a lot below the one at road’s end.

In order to make the lot as big as they wanted, they needed to import soil. If you compare original photos of the Pack Station with the Pack Station today, you will notice that it was built at grade, whereas now it is 2 – 4 feet above grade. This is where the soil came from.

When the current Pack Station lot was excavated, the Station was owned by Ross Axling. I don’t know what advantage there was in allowing this. There was no benefit in drainage. He may have had no choice as the Pack Station is on public land. The best I can figure is that it was a trade for the permit to operate a private parking lot, since the Forest Service had taken control of the upper lot when the Steeles sold out. I will update this tidbit when I discover why the Pack Station driveway drops down the hillside rather than taking the direct route from the upper lot. After all, the toilet facility wasn’t built until 1958 and would not have been in the way.

Cabin #138 in Winter Creek once belonged to the San Antonio Hiking Club. This club was started by Will Thrall, early mountain enthusiast and editor of Trails Magazine. Their first cabin in Bear Canyon (the one in the Arroyo Seco drainage) was lost in the 1954 Woodwardia Fire.

Along the trail to Sturtevant Falls, as you pass the East Fork confluence, there is a sign that reads: Take care of the land, someday you’ll be a part of it. This was carved by Chris Kasten, manager of Sturtevant Camp, when he was a Boy Scout.

Some people describe water as having “a voice”. Anyone who has spent time in Big SAC will tell you that our water has many voices. Sometimes it sounds like a hushed conversation. Other times it sounds like a joyous gathering, complete with shouts and laughter. “Laughing Waters” is so named because of the giggling little girl that has been heard there. On occasion one will be the only person in The Canyon yet hear children playing or distant music. Are these noises from “the other side”?

Winter Creek used to be called The West Fork of The Big Santa Anita. It was from this tributary, from its head under Harvard Saddle, that the Burlingame brothers planned to harvest Big-Cone Douglas Fir in the 1870’s. They built a wagon road from Sierra Madre which roughly followed the path of the present day Santa Anita Canyon Road & Upper Winter Creek Trail then abandoned it a short time later.

In the spring of 1895, William Sturtevant began to refurbish the Burlingame Road as the beginning of a new trail his camp. He finished that section as the weather started to turn and built a temporary camp at its terminus near the stream. He lived there all winter while he built the second section over Zion Ridge. It was in recognition of his labor that the canyon was renamed Winter Creek.

You will notice on our detailed canyon map a place called Hangman’s Tree. This tree is just north of the Burma Road as it crosses the North Fork. A hatchet is driven into the trunk a noose hangs from its handle. The intent was probably just to be mysterious and I will give its creator the satisfaction of someone mentioning it here.

A dead female body was once discovered in Lanaan Canyon just up from where Big SAC Rd. crosses. In an attempt to find out how long she had been there, Sierra Madre Police Dept. placed a dead pig of equal weight there in a cage. The idea was to see how long it would take to decompose to the same point. By the way, this was in the middle of summer.

A dead teenage boy was was also found in Lanaan Canyon decades ago. He went missing for quite some time before a local ranger heard the news and mentioned that the boy liked to go rock climbing in the canyon’s upper reaches.


The name of the web site donkey is Waldo.

The bridge at Roberts’ Camp was originally in First Water, near the old Ranger Station. It was moved to its present location in 1950.

Rattlesnake season is from May 1st through November.

There is a Ford Model-T buried under the Pack Station parking lot.

Big SAC was once home to 2 swimming pools, a US Post Office, a trout hatchery, an LA County library and a baseball diamond.

There is a washing machine high in the side canyon behind cabins #46 & #47. It fell from a helicopter on its way to Sturtevant Camp.

When the Methodist Church took over Sturtevant Camp, they found a distillery in the store room under the dining hall.

There are five pianos in Big SAC.

Chantry Flat was created by an ancient landslide.

Sturtevant Camp has eight showers. The Pack Station and the Fire Barracks each have two. Each Forest Service house has one. There used to be one at the Heliport. There are not ten others ?

E-mail us if you know what “La Hazark” might mean.

There are 14 wooden decks in Big SAC, 9 concrete patios & 7 sleeping porches.

The water tank at Chantry Flat holds 315,000 gallons.

There are Spotted Owls in The Canyon.

Lightening sometimes rings “The Canyon Line”.

Trace amounts of placer gold can still be found in Big SAC.

There used to be a tree house across the stream from Sturtevant Camp. It was built by one of the former managers for his son.

The needles of Pine Trees can be brewed to make a tea rich in vitamin C; or use them to enrich other food & drink.

There is a Chevy El Camino dumped over the side of Big SAC Rd.

Cabin #1 is in both the Angeles Nat’l. Forest and the City of Monrovia. So is Santa Anita Dam.

Elevations in The Canyon:

  • Chantry Flat – 2,200′
  • Roberts’ Camp – 1,749′
  • Dam spillway – 1,250′
  • Hermit Falls – 1,480′
  • Sturtevant Falls – 2,150′
  • Cascade Picnic Area – 2,760′
  • Spruce Grove Campground – 3,040′
  • Sturtevant Camp – 3,200′
  • Hogee’s Campground – 2,500′
  • The Heliport – 2,400′
  • “The Water Tank” – 3,500′
  • Pine Flats – 2,550′
  • Newcomb Pass – 4,120′
  • Newcomb Saddle – 4,115′
  • Newcomb Peak 4,651′
  • Zion Saddle – 3,500′
  • Mt. Zion – 3,575′
  • White Horse Mtn. – 4,492′
  • Clamshell Peak – 4,370′
  • Mt. Wilson – 5,710′ (Alta Peak)
  • Mt. Harvard – 5,441′