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A visit to Big Santa Anita Canyon is like a visit to the 19th Century.
Although it is only 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles it seems far removed not only in space but also in time from our hectic existence.
It is an historic place. Gold was discovered in the 1850’s at the lower end of the canyon but never amounted to much, although that resulted in the construction of the first of today's trails. In 1898 a prospector built the first cabin in the canyon near the gold strike, nicknamed "Hermit's Cabin" below where the dam of Big Santa Anita Reservoir is today. This cabin no longer exists. At about the same time a trail was built into the canyon for logging, but the Angeles National Forest was established before any logging could occur. Then, in the 1890’s Wilbur M. Sturtevant continued the trail much farther up the canyon where he established Sturtevant’s Camp, still in use today and still accessible only by foot, just as it was over a century ago. The oldest buildings still standing at the camp date to 1898. During the "Great Hiking Era" of the 1890’s through the early 1930’s many other camps and hikers’ hotels were built in the canyon: Joe Clark’s Halfway House; First Water Camp; Roberts’ Camp (there is a commemorative plaque just past the bridge over Winter Creek that show pictures of the old camp); Fern Lodge; Hoegee’s Camp (now a campground); and Muir Lodge, the Sierra Club’s first headquarters in Southern California, just below Sturtevant Falls. All of these camps are only memories today having been washed out in floods, burned down by fires, or just the victims of neglect and decay. Sturtevant’s Camp is the last survivor of that long ago time.
Hikers will see many cabins by the trail and nestled among the oak, bay, and alder trees along the way. These privately owned cabins were constructed individually from the 1890’s through the mid-1920’s. There are 81 still standing today, all that remain of the approximately 350 original cabins. Accessible by foot only, just as they were a hundred years ago, few have any of the modern amenities many of us take for granted, services such as electricity, central heat, or piped-in water for example, or indoor plumbing (although some have been retro-fitted with solar panels and very basic indoor plumbing). There is, however, the original telephone system of sorts that has been in operation for over sixty years: a single line hand crank 6-volt battery operated system that runs between Sturtevant’s Camp and Chantry Flat. It is not part of the modern world wide communications network by any means.
Visitors to the canyon sometimes see pack animals being led along the trail. The Pack Station at Chantry Flat has been in business since the 1930’s, hauling supplies in to the Camps and the cabins by horse and mule train. This is the second pack station; the original one being in Sierra Madre, but when the road to Chantry Flat was constructed in the 1930’s that station was discontinued. Without a road in the upper canyon there is no other way to bring in or haul out large or bulky items.
This is a truly unique place, a survivor of a bygone Pioneer era. It offers an escape from the hectic present and a refreshing retreat to a green and peaceful streamed woodland.
Links to other sites
pertaining to the history of the canyon and the San Gabriels: