March 28, 2019

Photo Essay: The Gold Bust at Big Horn Mine

[Ed: Adapted from my article "Where to Find SoCal's Most Fascinating Mining Destinations" on]

Southern California and California’s Central Valley have always been better known for the “black gold” spouting from their oil wells than for its precious metals.

That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of gold mines and mining companies here—Bodie, for instance, as well as the "Gold Fever Trail" of the Holcomb Valley near Big Bear.

And Angeles National Forest.

Our very own gold-mining ghost town hasn’t yet been turned into an amusement park or roadside attraction—and you can find it near the Vincent Gap parking area, nearly 9 miles west of Wrightwood.

Its namesake, Charles Tom Vincent, had been hunting bighorn sheep in 1891 when he discovered a gold-bearing quartz vein at what was to become Big Horn Mine.

The former mining camp is accessible on foot by hiking along an old wagon road...

...built by California Mining Company, which purchased Big Horn Mining Company in 1901.

The trail hugs the east slope of Mount Baden-Powell (named after Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the modern Boy Scouts, in 1931).

Since it had been a somewhat rainy season in 2015, the trail was washed out in places (and a bit harrowing).

Located within the Sheep Mountain Wilderness at about 7,000 feet above sea level, the scenery is stunning.

Nature seems to have taken the old camp back.

At the turn of the last century, Big Horn Mine had already become a 10-stamp mill...

...surrounded by a bona fide community of cabins...

...a general store, a post office...

...and an assay office.

They even had telephone service.

Not so anymore.

Only a couple of miles from the trailhead and Angeles Crest Highway, it couldn't feel more remote.

When we got to the main wooden superstructure...

...we had to tread lightly...

...and be careful of rotting wood framework...

...unstable slats...

...and other common hazards of an abandoned site.

Plenty had already fallen apart before us.

The mine was abandoned in 1936, having never quite lived up to the hype that surrounded its establishment. No prospecting activity has taken place since the 1980s.

But while the rest of the mines that filled the hillsides of the San Gabriel Mountains have been sealed off, erased from modern maps, and forgotten about...

...Big Horn Mine is the one that’s got a maintained trail to access it.

It’s now being preserved in place, as the 277-acre parcel has been under the stewardship of the USDA Forest Service since 2011.

The mine shaft has since been sealed off (as it tends to flood with zero advance notice and is always in danger of collapse)...

...but there's always a sense that there's this massive network of tunnels underfoot.

And who knows what might be living down there?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Bodie Ghost Town
A Stone Unturned: Lost Horse Mine
How (Un)Civilized!

March 24, 2019

Photo Essay: Welcome to The Real Radiator Springs, Old National Trails Highway

Well, it's not exactly Radiator Springs. There is no real Radiator Springs, the fictional town created for the movie Cars.

But Cool Springs, Arizona comes pretty darn near close.

Driving east along Oatman Highway—a former alignment of Route 66—along the hairpin turns through Sitgreaves Pass between Oatman and Kingman feels much like racing on the Radiator Springs ride at Disney's California Adventure.

But there's no Cozy Cone Motel here, nor a Flo's V8 cafĂ©—just an old Mobil station that acts as a rest stop...

...with a mini-museum and gift shop...

...and no gas.

Cool Springs Camp, located on the eastern slope of the Black Mountains, was abandoned in 1964—just over a decade after the new Route 66 alignment bypassed Sitgreaves Pass. Although the camp burned down in 1966, its rubble subsequently attracted the attention of Hollywood location scouts (including those for the movie Universal Soldier).

In 1997, Chicago real estate man Ned Leuchtner drove through town and somehow ended up adopting the site, purchasing it in 2001, rebuilding it to its former circa 1926 glory, and reopening in 2004.

Eight tourist cabins were built in the 1930s by James Walker and his wife Mary, who later operated them in the 1940s with her second husband, Floyd Spidell—but those are long gone.

But Thimble Butte is unquestionably still there—looking unmistakably like one of the geologic formations in the animated landscape of Cars.

And then, of course, are the cars themselves at Cool Springs... of which may have been the original "Tow-mater."

Just like Radiator Springs, Cool Springs has struggled to survive without a steady flow of traffic coming through.

But now, tourists come for the delicious abandonment more than for travelers' services.

So pack a lunch and kick back for a nice picnic. There'll be plenty of peace and quiet—at least, until the old Nash starts talkin' to ya.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Ghost Town That Won't Die, And the Animals That Keep It Alive
Photo Essay: Amboy, A Quintessential Ghost Town Along Route 66
The Cult of the Happiest Place on Earth

March 23, 2019

Found: The Relocated and Reassembled Streetlights of the Dismantled "Vermonica" (Updated for 2020)

[Last updated 12/21/20 9:10 PM PT]

When it was first installed in a parking lot at Vermont and Santa Monica in 1993, the "Vermonica" streetlight installation—featuring 25 antique street lamps from the LA Bureau of Street Lighting—was only supposed to last a year.

Vermonica, circa 2016

Designed in response to the LA Riots, the public art display remained longer than anyone ever expected—until being unceremoniously dismantled and removed in November 2017, just after the 25th anniversary of the riots.

At first, the fate of the streetlights was a mystery to all—even to the artist who created it, Sheila Klein. But then they turned up in the most obvious place: back at the Bureau of Street Lighting, three blocks and 0.3 mile east on Santa Monica Boulevard.

It's nice that the public can still see them...

...and that they seem somewhat artfully arranged...

...but the art has been drained out of the aesthetics of the display.

The lights don't mean anything more, even if they're nice to look at.

Of course, since no one told Sheila Klein that her "Vermonica" was being dismantled, no one consulted her on the relocation or reinstallation of the streetlights, either.

At least this array of streetlights is less crowded than the one in front of LACMA.

And as it faces the street and is easily visible from the sidewalk, it's a lot more convenient to view than the Streetlight Museum at the Downtown LA bureau.

Now, it serves as a kind of composite for the wide variety of streetlights that you'll find in situ throughout LA.

I'm always looking up at them, wherever I go. But I suspect most people don't notice them.

circa 2020

Update: In 2020, Sheila Klein returned to LA to oversee yet another relocation of the street lamps of Vermonica, now just west of the Bureau of Street Lighting and a bit closer to its namesake intersection of Vermont and Santa Monica. 

circa 2020
And now that the City has formally acquired it, this "Urban Candelabra" is finally a permanent fixture of the LA streetscape. 

You can find it on Santa Monica Boulevard at Lyman Place, across from the Cahuenga Branch Library.