Dawn Mine

Behind this rock is the entrance to the lower tunnel. Unfortunately it is now gated.
In the old days X marked the spot. If you could find this rock and you'd found the mine, directly behind it.


County: Los Angeles

Primary Mineral: Gold

Years of Operation: 1895 through the 1950's, intermittently

Nearest City or Landmark: Deep into Millard Canyon, above Altadena

Depth: The lower tunnel is split, approx. 680 feet total. A water filled sump tunnel on the inside is reportedly 55 feet deep. The upper tunnel is approx. 195 feet. In addition, the upper tunnel has a 20 foot shaft near the portal. There is also an exploratory tunnel further up the canyon, less than 50 feet deep. Noted historian John W. Robinson documented that over 1200 additional feet of tunnels were dug during the later days of this mine's long history. At least one tunnel was reportedly destroyed by the Forest Service in the 1980's.

Outside of the lower tunnel is an old water pump, mounted on concrete.
This is an old water pump system mounted on a cement foundation outside the lower tunnel.

History of Dawn Mine
Dawn Mine has one of the longest mining histories in all of the San Gabriel Mountains. Enough gold was recovered to keep various over-optimistic operators looking for the bonanza that never materialized. Although there are many other mines in nearby canyons, the Dawn is by far the most well known. In 1895 Bradford Peck staked a gold claim high up in Millard Canyon which he worked for seven years with marginal success. The mine was named after Dawn Ehrenfeld, little daughter of a friend from the Randsburg Mines. 

This is a long, straight stretch of the lower left tunnel, with exploratory inlets.
Left fork of the lower tunnel. This tunnel is mostly dry with short exploratory digs on both sides.

In 1902 ownership changed hands and the claim was transferred to Michael T. Ryan, an experienced Australian miner who began a more intensive operation. Ryan tunneled deep into the west walls of the canyon, which returned a modest profit for several years. However carrying all of the ore out of the canyon was a problem, so he built a steep mule trail up to the Mt. Lowe Railway. Ryan's two mules, Jack and Jill, carried the ore up to the top where the Pacific Electric Company, operators of the Mt. Lowe Railway, built a little shelter known as Dawn Station. Then, via railway and incline, the ore was shipped to the valley for processing. After Ryan's death in 1929, the mine sat idle for several years.

Many of these old mines take on cave like qualities as water and calcite leech through the rock walls.
Stalactites beginning to form. These take over a century just to grow a single inch.

In 1933 Ryan's widow leased the holdings to Hunger, Comstock, and Hilton. These men poured $5,000 into developing 1,200 feet of new tunnels and built a small mill below the mining area. In 1935 gold from the mine was assayed at $30 a ton, and one pocket realized $3,400, but despite considerable digging, no large body of ore was ever located. A few years later their venture was closed down. In the 1940s and early 1950s, other miners tried their luck, with little success. The Dawn Mine followed a familiar pattern: initial promise, hard work, diminishing returns and abandonment. The mine has been closed since 1954.

Looking up inside the lower left tunnel, old wooden braces can be found.
This is a well developed mine with wooden wall braces and inclining drainage tunnels.
After the mine's closure Sheriff Pete Sutton inspected it and recommended that the openings either be dynamited closed or closed by steel doors set in concrete. Officials contacted the owner, C. H. Finlayson, but evidently nothing transpired. Many decades later an annex tunnel adjacent to the Tom Sloan trail was blown up by the Forest Service. Rock debris from the blasting still supposedly still marks the spot. The other tunnels were reportedly boarded up for awhile.

Just inside the Dawn Mine's lower entrance is a water filled sump, 55 feet deep.
Looking out from the right fork. The water on the left fills a 55 foot deep shaft, called a sump.
After all these years, the mule trail used for carrying ore is still there, but a beautiful replica of the Dawn Mine Station, built by volunteers on the same spot that the original one stood unfortunately burned to the ground during the Station fire of 2009. Volunteers vowed they would rebuild the structure, however that plan never materialized.

Here's a rare view of what the lower mine used to look like near the portal. Year taken and photographer are unknown.
Vintage photo of wooden structures in the mine. Roughly the same view as the photo above it.

The photo above is an old picture of the lower mine looking out towards the portal. It looks like there used to be a wooden walkway that went around the flooded sump tunnel. I don't know when it was taken or by whom, but the mine appears to be quite wet, so my guess is that this was taken after mining operations ceased. Water would most likely have been pumped out during the mining era. Notice the stairs and the wooden door, which I believe was attached to the frame seen below.

Just inside the lower portal is a wooden brace with an old hinge from a missing door.
Entrance to the lower mine. The hinge on the left brace indicates there was once a door.

Although I do not give exact locations of mines on this site, this one is well known. It is located far into Millard Canyon, which is above the city of Altadena. After the devastating Station Fire of 2009 the mouth of this canyon was closed, and remained closed until 2017 "supposedly" to let the canyon recover. Despite the closure, much of Millard Canyon was completely untouched by the fire, and soon became an overgrown jungle. You can read about the "real" reason for the closure at the bottom of this page.

Inside the portal of the upper tunnel is a 20 foot shaft. It does not connect to the lower one.
AThe upper tunnel, about 50 feet above the lower one, with a 20 foot shaft at the entrance.

There are two popular routes to reach Dawn Mine, one is via the Sunset Ridge Trail which begins on the Mt. Lowe Fire Road and merges with a small trail near an old cabin and drops into upper Millard Canyon. From there just bushwhack your way to the mine, which you'll eventually hit. The alternate route is by walking up the Mt. Lowe Fire Road to the old site of the Dawn Station and then descending into the canyon below via the original mule trail, still is fairly good condition. Dawn Station is no longer there, but a marker still remains.

This is a third tunnel located upstream from the others, about 50 feet deep.
A third tunnel, located upstream. A fourth one was destroyed by the forest service.

The canyon route passes two waterfalls, the first one being Millard Falls, which can only be reached from the Sunset Ridge trail by climbing down a steep slope off the left side of the trail or walking directly up from the mouth of the canyon. I don't recommend trying to drop down to it unless you know exactly where to do so.  

"UPDATE" - After many years, the mouth of the canyon is now open, so you can walk from the Millard Canyon campground directly to the falls, but after that you'll need to climb up to the Sunset Trail to continue to the mine. The second waterfall is called Saucer Falls, a four tiered waterfall located in a heavily overgrown canyon which merges with upper Millard canyon. Most of the year these falls are almost completely dry. The Saucer Branch Canyon is home to another mine, which is "extremely" hard to access.

Downstream from Dawn Mine there are two old ore carts, destroyed by flash floods.
One of two ore carts found downstream from the mines. Both were destroyed by flash floods.

The Lower Tunnel

Dawn Mine has three known portals. The lower mine is to the left of an old water pump, mounted on a cement foundation with two I-beams protruding from the rock. This portal is hidden behind a marked rock. Entrance is low and swampy, the reason most people opt not to venture in. After a somewhat uncomfortable entry most of the interior is high enough to easily stand up in.

This shaft can be found inside the upper portal, now sealed by a metal gate.
A hazardous 20 foot shaft near the upper tunnel's portal does not connect to the lower one.

The lower mine is forked, with a 55 foot deep water filled shaft between the two tunnels. Each tunnel has a diagonal incline above the main adits, which at times causes small waterfalls within the mine. In some areas the ceilings are as high as 30 feet and the walls are braced with old wooden wedges. The left fork is relatively dry with a few exceptions. The right fork is wet, with about one foot of water.

The lower left tunnel has a long, straight drift, with small exploratory side digs.
A long, straight drift in the lower left fork. On either side there are small exploratory inlets.

The Upper Tunnel

Located directly above the lower mine is another tunnel which is completely dry.  It is a somewhat hazardous to climb up to. Immediately after entering the portal there is a 20 foot deep shaft that you will have to walk carefully around. This shaft does not connect to the lower tunnel, but it would be disastrous to fall in. The total length of the upper tunnel is about 195 feet, much shorter than either of the forks of the lower mine. This is a straight tunnel, with small exploratory digs on either side.

The lower left tunnel reaches a small dam. Above it is a narrow incline tunnel.
A low wall in the lower right fork, probably used as a dam. Above it is a narrow incline tunnel.

The Exploratory Tunnel

people are unaware of a third tunnel, about 5 minutes upstream from the main mine. This one is wide open, in plain sight, but goes in for less than 50 feet.  Nevertheless it's worth the additional hike.  At one time there were an additional 1,200 feet of tunnels along the east wall, but they were reportedly destroyed by the forest service sometime in the 1980's. There is still rock debris in this area, but I've never pinpointed the exact location of the sealed mine

This a rebuilt version of the origninal Dawn Mine Station which burned down in 1998.
Left: Dawn Mine Station (replica) 1998, before the Fire. Right: Survey by Dell Quick in 2003.

Dawn Mine Station 

Dawn Mine Station was a small way station built next to the Mt. Lowe Railway, high atop the eastern side of Millard Canyon. A rebuilt replica of it can be seen above. Unfortunately this structure burned to the ground in 2003. During the mining era, ore was hauled up from Dawn Mine by mule and loaded onto train cars to transport it for processing.

Taken around 1915, this was the headquarters for Dawn Mine. Mr. & Mrs. Mike Ryan are standing in front. Courtesy Huntington Library
Headquarters of Dawn Mine around 1915. Mr. & Mrs. Mike Ryan at the door. 

After the closure of the mine, Dawn Station became a rest stop for tourists, where they could disembark and hike down into the canyon. The actual mining area was deep in the canyon and visitors would have spent an exorbitant amount of time getting back to the train if they were allowed to walk all the way down, so a false mine portal was dug just a hundred feet below the track to trick people into thinking they had visited the mine. 

Photo of miner's cabin ruins taken in 1958 by L.T. Gotchy. This was one quarter mile below Dawn Mine.
Miner's cabin ruins one quarter mile below Dawn Mine, taken in 1958. Courtesy L.T. Gotchy

The final excursion of the Mt. Lowe Railway was in 1937, after much of the White City on top of Echo Mountain had been destroyed by fires, floods and wind.  In 1941 the railway was dismantled, and in 1959 the ever destructive Forest Service dynamited the remaining buildings, referring to them as "hazardous nuisances". In 1962 the Incline Powerhouse (still perfectly intact) was also dynamited, but the gear mechanism was preserved as a monument to the enterprise. 

At one time the Mt. Lowe Railway stopped above Dawn Mine and allowed passengers to disembark.
Mt. Lowe Railway tourists were allowed to disembark and walk to a nearby false mine portal.

The Mt. Lowe Railway

If time allows I will devote a page on this website to the Mt. Lowe Railway, a long lost treasure of the San Gabriel Mountains. Over its 45 years of existence, it is estimated that some 3 million people rode the railway. They came from all parts of the country and the world. It was the Disneyland of the day. A tabloid called The Echo was published daily and available to guests at the Tavern. It had three pages of biographical information on the railroad and other announcements of daily events. Although the trains were mainly used for transporting tourists along the three mile route through the mountains between Echo Mountain and Mt. Lowe, they also served as transport for ore from Dawn Mine to the valley below. Pictured below is one of the frames from an original train.

There are still a few artifacts of the original Mt. Lowe Railway on top of Echo Mountain.
Original train chassis from the Mt Lowe Railway, complete with cowcatcher on Echo Mountain.

The Station Fire of 2009

In the summer of 2009 a devastating fire swept through the foothills of the San Gabriels. The blaze threatened 12,000 structures in La Cañada Flintridge, Pasadena, Glendale, Acton, La Crescenta, Littlerock, Altadena, Sunland and Tujunga. It burned up the slopes of Mount Wilson, threatening radio, television and cellular telephone antennas on the summit, as well as the observatory. During the course of the fire, some parts of Millard canyon were also burned. Two firefighters were killed when their truck plunged off a cliff while trying to set backfires. It was later discovered that the fire was caused by an arsonist. The Station Fire was the 10th largest in California history and the largest in the modern history of Los Angeles County. A total of 105,000 acres were lost.

After eight years of closure the mouth of Millary Canyon was finally re-opened.
Lower Millard Canyon Falls. From 2009-2017 this part of the canyon was closed to the public.

The "Real Reason" For Lower Millard's Closure

After the Station Fire, the mouth of Millard Canyon was sealed off to hikers with a huge fence and No Trespassing signs. Was this fence erected to help the canyon re-grow, or for an entirely different reason? The truth is, thanks to well placed airstrikes, most of Millard Canyon was relatively untouched by the fire. But a small group of renegade homeowners within the gated La Vina development used the fire to attempt a coup, which would prevent hikers from walking a trail that had been a pubic right of way for over a century.

This tunnel can be found near the mouth of Millard Canyon, probably used as a water tunnel in the past.
A shallow tunnel near the mouth of Millard Canyon. This was probably a water tunnel.

After many years, the fence that had blocked access to the canyon was finally removed after La Vina homeowners lost their case in court. Thanks to years of fundraising, 13 acres of Millard Canyon northwest of La Vina were purchased by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which will now stop the development in the area north of Canyon Crest road forever.

Striped racers are lightning fast, but this one was just trying to warm up.
A Striped Racer found near the parking area. These snakes are lightning fast.

The Sad Demise of The Dawn Mine

In June of 2017, Dawn Mine was closed forever with metal gates. After 122 years without a single injury or death, the ever destructive forest service took it upon themselves to permanently seal two tunnels of this historic mine, at tremendous cost to California taxpayers. On the plus side, volunteers have done a fantastic job in rebuilding both trails leading to the mine and have cleaned up the graffiti. Since the Dawn Mine’s operational days ended in the 1950s, thousands of people have explored this mine. But sadly those days are gone forever.

Sadly the Dawn Mine's upper and lower tunnels were sealed forever in June of 2017.
After 122 years without a single injury, Dawn Mine was sealed forever. This is the upper tunnel.