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Friday, May 24, 2019

The Hills Have Mines

There's not much in the Los Angeles area that you can take at face value. You have to dig a little deeper.



Case in point: Hostetter Fire Road, open only to hikers, dogs, and bicyclists.



It may look like any other emergency access road in the Verdugo Mountains...



...overlooking the 210 freeway and Verdugo Golf Course (including the site of the former Tuna Canyon Detention Station)...



...but it has secrets, ones you can only discover if you know where to look.



And after climbing a bit from the La Tuna Canyon trailhead and where La Tuna Canyon Road splits off, you might find some clues hiding in the brush.



Fortunately, I was with the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley—including some who'd already explored the terrain and figured a few things out.



What we were looking at was some of all that remains of the former Hostetter Mine, including some intact fragments of rails that had once transported ore carts and a wheel of the former funicular, made of solid cast iron. 



An 1891 article from the Los Angeles Times (a printout of which was distributed on our hike) bemoans how Southern California had neglected its mineral resources, despite gold having been first discovered in LA County, and switched all its attention to horticultural resources (presumably, citrus orchards and the like).



The singular exception, of course, was oil.



Of course, you have to acknowledge the challenge of mining SoCal's rugged terrain, which often is so overgrown it has to be cleared first and doesn't have enough water to support mining operations.



With sharp drop-offs making every steep canyon potentially deadly, you really can't blame mining companies for not trying that hard.



Some hikers can't even make it.



But some prospectors did, indeed, try—and a "practically inexhaustible" deposit of graphite was discovered in the Verdugos.



No trace of an actual mine shaft has yet been found in the canyons up there, after the paving gives way to dirt (and what looks like a creekbed).



But there are definite remnants of an industrial operation.



The mine is thought to have closed in the 1920s—it was still operating sometime in the 19-teens.



But by the 1960s, the presence of a graphite mine in the area was nothing more than a "rumor."



Back then, there was a piece of it hiding in plain sight...



...a concrete bunker along Cedar Bend Edison Road, once fully visible from the freeway...



...but now completely consumed and obscured by overgrowth.



According to mining historian Xavier Drenfold, the concrete-and-steel structure was the base of the mill...



...where you can find the old loading area, ore chutes, and even some more railroad track used as rebar.



Still, a lot of questions remain unanswered. But that, too, is typical of Southern California.

Local historian Mike Lawler tells this story better than I do. See his article "More Info on the Mystery Mine of the Verdugos" from the Crescenta Valley Weekly.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Verdugo Mountains Open Space Preserve, Along Edison Road
Lost in the Mountains
Becoming Californian
Something's Got to Give

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