April 07, 2013

Photo Essay: Along the Old Stagecoach Pass

It's amazing anyone ever made it out this far West. There were so many obstacles in the way - as evidenced by the Gold Rush pioneers of the 1840s and '50s, many of whom got lost through Death Valley, a journey whose obstacles alternated between dry as a bone deserts in the low elevations and impassably snowy mountains in the high elevations.

And even once they got out here, how did they ever get around? In the late 1800s, the industrial revolution brought incline railways to get you up to the top of a mountain, but that was more or less a commuter's solution, or a tourist attraction. In the mid-1800s, after the pioneers got here and settled in, how would they get from, say, San Francisco to Los Angeles?

Around 1860, a route was carved out of the ancient sandstone (dating back 60 to 80 million years) in the Simi Hills, located in the west end of the Valley:

...the Old Stagecoach Road.

You can walk along it by foot now, though it's closed to traffic.

The trails to get to it are still being worked on, but you can see the rock outcroppings in the Simi Hills in the distance.

At one point, this road had been paved, but its blacktop has almost entirely broken up.

In other places, it feels as though fresh dirt has been unearthed from elsewhere and relocated here.

The trail seems innocuous at first, the biggest challenge being the soft, deep dirt.

But you soon realize, you are going up, over those rocks, just like a stagecoach once did.

The park itself is still a work in progress, meaning little traffic along its multi-use trails, allowing for a few untrampled wildflowers.

This pass was so steep, along exposed rock face of the hills, it earned the name "Devil's Slide."

It was a treacherous path for the wagons that came down over it, primarily carrying mail.

In certain sections, you can still see the ruts left by the wagon wheels.

Reportedly, in order to make it over Devil's Slide, the horses drawing the wagons had to be blindfolded...

...and passengers didn't even bother. They disembarked and walked.

It is tough hiking up the pass through Devil's Slide...

...much like rock-climbing, with a bit of a scramble.

It is hard to imagine anything with wheels making it over this terrain.

It's a feat impressive enough to warrant a historic plaque (made of mosaic tile)...

...and a portion of the trail being designated a historic monument.

Ultimately, in the early 1900s, a train tunnel was bored out of the Simi Hills, still in use by Amtrak and Metrolink. You can see the tunnel and some open tracks from the Stagecoach Road.

Despite the city views of Chatsworth below...'s easy to feel lost up there...

...and abandoned.

At the top, a number of unmarked trails lead seemingly to nowhere...

...perhaps off a cliff...

...intermingling with fallen telephone poles whose lines may or may not work anymore.

But, besides me and the one mountain biker I saw, there is life up there...

...not only the wildflowers...

...but also some big, lazy lizards and the first rattlesnake I've seen this season.

People who come out West must have a tough constitution in order to survive. Even in these modern times, it is still a rough landscape, whose obstacles alternate between jammed freeways and desolate trails, winding roads with blind curves and endless stretches of barren nothingness.

Now that we are out here, we are inclined to not stay where we are, but move within our big city, traverse the vast landscape that can fit Minneapolis, Milwaukee, St. Louis, San Francisco, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and New York City all within its boundary. We go up, over the hill and down, over the hill on a daily basis.

And where we cannot drive, we walk.

Related Post:
Land of Opportunity

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  1. Great post, great photos. I've always seen it from the 118 (and before that Santa Susanna Pass Road - yes, I'm that old :) ) and I'm now glad to see that it's open as a trail. I must try that next time I'm down there and have time.

  2. Pass road is now a trail? Used to be the only way in or out of Simi before the 118. Used to race on it every Friday or Saturday night as kids. Knew it like the back of my hand.