East Fork Secrets

This unidentified mine was found off the East Fork Road, in an unnamed side canyon.
This mine has not been positively identified as of yet. It can be found in an obscure side canyon.

Mines of the East Fork

When I first came to the East Fork a few years back, I came to see the famous Bridge to Nowhere. Little did I know this would become one of my favorite hiking areas, and a never ending source of new discoveries. The mine above has yet to be positively identified. In my travels I have searched many side canyons in the East Fork area, but this mine is in an area I never would have thought to search. 

This mine is about 60 feet deep. At the end it bends left, with animal bones strewn about.
The mine is about 60 feet deep, with a low ceiling in the middle and animal bones at the end.

The mine is about 60 feet deep, nearly straight. It bends slightly left at the end. It was only with the help of "Pharroah" of YouTube fame that I was able to locate it. Thanks very much for this one Alan. Originally there was an animal skull in the back of the mine, which is now Alan's trophy. The pelvis is still in there for the taking.

It's unknown why this mine has "placer" in its title. It appears to be a shallow test tunnel.
Happy Day Placer Mine is a very shallow adit visible from the East Fork Road, if you don't blink. 

Happy Day Placer Mine

Seen above and below is the Happy Day Placer Mine. I first noticed this mine while driving back from the East Fork trailhead. The cavernous Happy Day Mine portal is visible from the East Fork Road, but only for a split second. It is located a few hundred feet below Shoemaker Road, also known as the Road to Nowhere. But before you go out searching for it, be aware that this mine might be on private property. The area across the stream bed is private, however the ownership of the stream bed itself is unknown. Why this mine had Placer in its title I can't say, but it has been positively identified..

The Happy Day Mine is located directly under Shoemaker Road, and is visible from the East Fork Road.
Looking out from the mine's portal. The land across the stream bed is private property.

Holly Mine 

Seen below is the Holly Mine. Like the Heaton / Queenie Mine, the Holly Mine is located very close to Heaton Flats, and was a documented gold mine. In fact, Heaton was said to have worked it at one time, and there's a faded trail that appears to have once connected the two. This is a very shallow mine, probably about 12 feet deep, but there may be more to it than meets the eye. Nearby is what appears to be a purposely filled in portal. Or perhaps it was the site of a an old mill. A dirt pile next to a cement wall looks fairly fresh and unnatural. 

At one time it appears there was a trail that connected the Heaton / Queenie Mine to this one.
Holly Mine is near Heaton Flats. When I first found it, there was an Indian smudge stick inside.

Originally when I found this mine there was an Indian smudge stick inside, a modern one. Smudge sticks were used in rituals by Native Americans back in the western days, usually made out of bundled sage and burned in purification ceremonies. This one was probably placed by a modern day Native American, but who can say for sure?

The Holly Mine is lesser known than the Heaton. Both can be found near Heaton Flats.
This mine took quite a while to find. Nearby there is what looks to be another sealed portal.

At a later date I came back and found the smudge stick gone. Either it was stolen or the person who placed it there had removed it. Anything religious that I find in caves or mines I keep my hands off of. Recently I came back to take some new shots of the mine and found a new partially burnt smudge stick inside, along with an abalone shell and a piece of wood. 

This a a smudge stick found in Holly Mine, used by Native Americans in rituals.
Inside the Holly Mine I found a few modern day smudge sticks, used in purification rituals. 


Mine Near Glendora Ridge Road

Here's a fairly new addition to dozens of the unidentified mines of the East Fork. It's between 50 and 60 feet deep, near the the junction of East Fork and Glendora Mountain Rd. I drove past it about a dozen times before I realized it was there. I may or may not be able to discover the name of this one, but for now it's just another miscellaneous late 1800's gold mine. 

One of many unidentified mine found in the East Fork. This one is about 50 feet deep.
I've driven past this mine a dozen times, never knowing it was there. It's about 50 feet deep.

Getting to the back of this mine is quite a leg workout. The ceiling is only about four feet high, so you need to do the duck squat to get back there. There's nothing extremely exciting about this mine, but it appears that someone has been living in the back of it. There's a makeshift foam mattress and a few other items at the end. This would not be a great spot to live, but there are quite a few homeless people in this area, and at least it's somewhat waterproof. 

This unidentified mine has apparently been used as a shelter by someone, fairly recently.
Here's a shot from the back of the mine. Someone has been living inside fairly recently.


Unnamed Prospect Near Eldoradoville

I found this one somewhat close to the site of Eldoradoville, an old mining town washed away in the flood of 1862. Prior to that there was a mining camp here called Prospect Bar, which met with the same fate. There are probably dozens of these smaller prospects along the river, most of them seem to be located up in the Narrows, about a mile past the Bridge To Nowhere. This one is between 15 and 20 feet deep. 

This one can be found about 50 feet above the streambed, just below the site of Eldoradoville.
An unnamed prospect near the site of Eldoradoville. This one is between 15 and 20 feet deep.

This would be considered an exploratory tunnel. You can find these shallow diggings all over the San Gabriels. Some people think they're caves, however there are no natural caves in this mountain range. Exploratory mines or prospects usually follow a quartz vein into the mountain, but more often than not they would lead to nothing, and the miner or miners would move on to other locations. Many of the prospects in the East Fork were one or two man operations.

Prospects or exploratory mines were mostly unsuccessful and quickly abandoned.
Inside the shallow prospect. These exploratory mines are very common in the San Gabriels.


Hidden Mine Above East Fork Road 

The mine below is well hidden, located about sixty feet above East Fork Road, between the Cattle Canyon bridge and the Bridge To Nowhere trailhead. This one is only about twenty feet deep, and someone is still mining inside of it. There are two folding chairs sitting inside, along with a large candle mounted on the wall. It looks like whoever has been up here was chipping pieces off the wall.

This prospect is about sixty feet above the East Fork Road and cannot be seen from below.
This shallow prospect is amazingly well hidden but only sixty feet above the East Fork Road.

This mine was first spotted from the Road To Nowhere parking lot high on the canyon's western wall. Later it was confirmed to be a mine by drone. You can see a shot of the inside below. I removed to two chairs that were sitting inside to get a better shot. There may or may not be another mine associated with this one. A small trail traversing the canyon begins to the right of it, but becomes washed out shortly after. There are cables hanging from a cliff, so I'm pretty sure there is a mine.

There may be a second mine nearby. A trail to the right goes for awhile but part of it has been washed away.
First spotted from Shoemaker Road, this mine was later confirmed by a drone flight.

New Find Near Nugget Alley

Nugget Alley is an area near the original site of the long lost miner's town called Eldoradoville, that was established in 1859 and washed away in 1862. The mine you see below probably dates back to that time period. This one requires a knee crawl, but you can almost stand up on the inside.

I found this prospect on the hillside above Nugget Alley in the East Fork.
This prospect may date back to the 1860s. A belly crawl is required to get inside .


This prospect goes in for about 40-45 feet, and at the back there are some primitive blasting holes pounded into the rock with a chisel and hammer. This would seem to indicate that this mine pre-dates power drilling. Inside there's also a giant woodrat's nest and some spider egg sacks on the walls.

These blasting holes probably date all the way back to the 1860s. They're chiseled, not drilled.
These hand chiseled lasting holes suggest this is a very old prospect.

Below is a view from the inside looking towards the portal. Most of the mines I find in the East Fork are exploratory prospects that probably didn't pan out. Hard rock mining was expensive, so if miners didn't hit a major strike in the first fifty feet they'd usually abandon the claim and move on. Chances are that this mine had a name at one time, but mining records going back that far are almost non-existent.

Inside there's a large woodrat's nest. This prospect is about 40 feet deep.
This would be considered an exploratory mine. If no gold was found these were abandoned.

Another Small Prospect In The Narrows

This one can be found in the Narrows, about one mile above the Bridge To Nowhere. It's another very small prospect, less than eight feet deep. There have been numerous others spotted high above the streambed which may or may not go deep, but these are dangerous to get to. The Narrows were considered the richest claims in the canyon.  

I spotted this mine while returning from my first attempt to reach the Stanley Miller Mine.
I found this one on the way back from the Stanley-Miller Mine. It's easy to miss.

There are many other mines in or near the East Fork, including Heaton / Queenie MineHorseshoe MineHorseshoe Annex / Elvira Veuhoff Mine and Allison Mine. I have also added an unsuccessful attempt to reach the Stanley-Miller Mine. Further north, the East Fork splits into three separate tributaries. Big Horn Mine and the Big Horn (Fenner Tunnel) are both somewhat near Mine Gulch.

This is the north side of a drainage tunnel built in 1946. The gate was used to catch debris.
This is a debris gate built on the outside of the tunnel. It was built in 1946.

The BC Tunnel

Did you know that there’s a tunnel that runs directly under the East Fork Road? It’s actually a drainage tunnel used to channel flood waters from a side canyon into the East Fork basin, built back in 1943. The photo above is the northern side of the tunnel, located in a brushy canyon. The elaborate cage structure seen above keeps large debris from clogging the tunnel during storms. When I first found this tunnel, California was in its fourth straight year of drought, and I had to climb up about 25 feet from the dry riverbed on the other side to get to it. Now, less than one year later you could actually float into the south entrance with a boat. That’s how much rain accumulated in one season. The inside of this tunnel is pristine, not one speck of graffiti, and for that reason I will not give up it’s location.  

This is what the southern end of the drainage tunnel looks like in the summer.
Here's what the south side of the tunnel in the summer. Below is a shot taken during winter.

I have not measured the inside of this tunnel, but I'd estimate that it's about 400 feet from one side to the other. On the south side there is a worn down placard posted above the tunnel entrance giving the date below a three letter abbreviation. The first two letters read B C. The last one is impossible to read, but the first two are all you need to know to find this tunnel. The date below reads 1946. Inside the south entrance swifts have built their mud nests into the ceiling. Both sides begin with beautiful stonework which soon give way to bare rock walls. There are no cave ins, and the inside is free of debris and graffiti..  

During the heavy rains of 2016 the water rose over 25 feet and flooded the tunnel.
Six months later the water level rose over 25 feet, after a rainy winter. Photo taken May 2017.

Camp Williams Tunnel

This tunnel has intrigued me since the first time I saw it. I had no idea why a tunnel like this would be built into a cliff wall 50 feet above the stream bed, but as it turns out it’s one of many drainage tunnels for Shoemaker Road, high above. Most people who have visited the East Fork have noticed it. It's directly across from the Camp Williams Cafe. Be aware that this tunnel is on private property, and that several people have reportedly been hurt while trying to get to it. The first time I attempted to climb up there I dropped my camera, which was smashed on the rocks below. Much later I found an easier way to get inside.

Across the streambed from Camp Williams is a tunnel, about 50 up on the side of a cliff.
This tunnel can be seen from East Fork Road, across the stream from Camp Williams Cafe.

In the photo below you can see a photo of the southern portal. I would estimate this tunnel is about 700 feet long, and only the first of many that run under Shoemaker Road (The Road To Nowhere). Bear in mind this is a drainage tunnel, so you should never get near this during the rain, or even when there are summer thunderclouds in the distance. The water that comes through is comes from a large flash flood canyon, and you wouldn't want to get washed out the southern side, it's quite a drop. 

Don't make the same mistake I did by trying to climb up the face. There's an easier way to get inside.
Inside the portal. The climb up the front face is about 50 feet, but there's easier alternative.

Below you can see a photo of the inside of this tunnel. Unlike the East Fork Road that left the Bridge To Nowhere stranded after the great flood of 1938, this one was well planned with number drainage tunnels below, to avoid the same fate that befell its predecessor. So far I have found six of these tunnels, but this is the only one I've explored.

Shoemaker Road (The Road To Nowhere) has numerous drainage tunnels below the road.
This drainage tunnel looks like a mine. Ceiling mud suggests it fills up all the way during floods.

The Miner's Cabins

The East Fork has been mined for gold since the 1850’s by Americans, and probably long before that by Mexicans. The first documented gold discovery in this area made by Captain Harrigan and his party back in 1854. By 1859 a large group of miners had arrived, prospecting nearly the entire length of the East Fork. They formed the canyon’s first settlement, called Prospect Bar, a boom town located four miles up the East Fork. This settlement included a boarding house, two or three stores, a blacksmith shop and a butcher shop. 

There are at least a dozen of the old miner's cabins in the East Fork, probably dating back to the 1800s.
Cabin ruins found along the way to the Bridge To Nowhere. Some are  in side canyons.

The makeshift settlement of Prospect Bend was short lived. One night in 1858 a flood ravaged the canyon, destroying the settlement. But this was not the end of attempts to settle the East Fork, just four months later an unruly mining district called Eldoradoville was established. This more permanent settlement featured six saloons, gambling and dancing. But like its predecessor, Eldoradoville was wiped out by a flood in 1862. I have searched extensively for remains of this town, and have found nothing. However I have found nearly a dozen ruins of miner’s cabins further upstream. 

This badly bent ore cart can be found in Allison Gulch, miles below the mine.
This ore cart can be found in Allison Gulch, washed miles down  from the Allison Mine.

The Road To Nowhere

Most people who visit the East Fork come here to see the legendary Bridge To Nowhere, but are unaware of the lesser known Road To Nowhere or the "Tunnels To Nowhere" as some call it. At one time it was known as Convict Road, as it was built by prisoners from Detention Camp 14. The name Shoemaker came from one of the original miners here, Alonzo Shoemaker. Shoemaker came to the East Fork in 1855, drifting down from Kern River diggings. He had a claim near this site and a partner named John McCaslin. Both of them worked the Shoemaker Mine for many years. Much later in 1890, four veteran miners including Billy Heaton leased his mine and set up a hydraulic system. Not much came of it, so they moved on to better prospects at the Good Hope Mine, taking in as much as "ten ounces of gold in a day".

The inside walls of the Shoemaker tunnels were never completed, but this one is more developed.
The Road To Nowhere was named after an early miner in the canyon, Alonzo Shoemaker.

During the Cold War days with the U.S.S.R. the U.S. government decided that Los Angeles needed an escape route to the desert in the event of a nuclear strike. At least that's the story I've always heard. In my opinion the nuclear story was a ploy by the builders to get more federal funding to replace the original East Fork Road, which washed away in 1938. Shoemaker Road was the planned solution. Traversing high above the East Fork, this 2.5 mile road features two abandoned tunnels, both of which were at one time fenced off, but are now open to the public. This ill-fated project ends abruptly at the southern edge of Rattlesnake Peak. Construction began in the 1950’s and was abandoned in the 1960’s due to a combination of rockslides, environmental concerns and cost over-runs. Shoemaker Road was originally intended to connect to the Angeles Crest Highway, but even if this road had been completed it is highly doubtful it could have accommodated the heavy traffic that would have come here.

The Road To Nowhere features two abandoned tunnels, built as an escape route in the event of a nuclear strike.
The first of two tunnels, originally intended to be an escape route in the event of a nuclear strike.

Shoemaker Road is an offshoot of the East Fork Road. In 1984 it was granted wilderness status, protecting it from further development. Some people have mistakenly taken it, thinking it will lead them to the Bridge To Nowhere. It does not go there. If you take this hike, know that you will probably be the only one on the road. A paved road will lead you up a hill to a wide parking area where you will reach a locked gate, beyond which the road becomes dirt. Supposedly an adventure pass is required, though I have never seen this rule enforced. It is best to avoid this hike in the summer. There is no shade along the way, other than inside the tunnels. 

The Road To Nowhere traverses the western side of the East Fork for about 2.5 miles.
This tunnel was built in 1961, the second in 1962. The Road To Nowhere is 2.5 miles long

Along the way you’ll pass two flats that used to be used for bee farms on short side roads. They have since been removed by the owners. During the summer months your should be aware that when you enter the tunnels there may be rattlesnakes seeking shade inside. Look for them as your eyes adjust to the darkness. A flashlight is not required. After the second tunnel the road narrows to a trail and eventually fades away into a hillside. DO NOT try to climb down to the East Fork river. Although it is possible you’ll wind up in a miserable tangle of brush and dry waterfalls with no way back to your car. On a second exploration of this road I discovered several long drainage tunnels below it. At the time it was raining hard, so I opted not to explore them, but they appear to go quite deep. This road was meant to last, and so far none of it has been washed away. 

One of many drainage tunnels that run beneath the Road To Nowhere.
There are several tunnels hidden below the road. As of yet I have not explored this one.

The Abandoned Barn 

This is a place I had previously heard about from someone I met on the trail, but I had no idea where it could be found. I was only told that it was somewhere near Shoemaker Road. A large field with an old barn and a helipad in the East Fork? Where? So I started poking around up there and finally found it. As it turned out the "barn" was some sort of gigantic shed, probably used to house machinery when Shoemaker Road was being built. There's really no history on it that I know of, but it's quite an unusual sight to see in this mountainous area. Nearby there's an old cement water tank and what appears to be an electrical vault.

This barn or shed lies abandoned in a field just above the East Fork, near Camp 19's helipad.
An abandoned barn or shed, above the East Fork in a large field, next to Camp 19's helipad.

If you look carefully on Google Earth you can see this structure, although it's easier to pick out the helipad. Unfortunately its been vandalized, but it's still a beautiful remnant of yesteryear. Nearby there's a grave of someone who died in 2012, possibly a firefighter, and a few large water tanks. There's also the remnants of an old trailer buried in the brush near the shed. 

Prisoners from Camp 19 prison camp built the nearby Shoemaker Road. It was once called Convict Road.
Camp 19's helipad. It serves as a transport area for the nearby fire/prison camp.

The Hidden Crosses 

If you've ever hiked to the Bridge to Nowhere you've no doubt noticed some large crosses high above the stream bed, mostly on the western ridges. Some of these are perched in seemingly impossible places to reach. What are they and who dragged them up there? I wanted to know. I chose three of the easier ones to reach, all grouped on a hillside west of Camp Williams. 

This is the northernmost cross. There a horizontal and vertical hand scribblings on the face.
This is the northernmost of three crosses. These appear to be memorials for multiple people

When I reached the crosses they were all spread out in inconspicuous locations, and seemingly untouched by vandals, a rarity in these parts. The center cross was the largest, made of metal. And I could see that it had replaced a fallen wooden one. Two smaller crosses were found nearby. There first cross was made of wood, mounted in a metal pipe. It looked like a memorial for multiple people, with various scribbling across the face.

This is the old cross, replaced by a more modern metal one. Further up the canyon wooden ones still exist.
A larger cross made of wood has fell apart and rests nearby. The newer one is made of metal.

The second cross was probably the most interesting one. It’s made of metal mounted on a cement block and full of circular holes. The base has two names of people who have passed, one on either side. And in one of the circular holes there’s a third name. This cross may be a memorial for people who lived in the area, or it may have been put up by AA. One of the placards indicates that the deceased was a former alcoholic, and his sobriety chits are embedded in the cross.

These sobriety chits are embedded in the larger cross, for a man who stayed sober 20 years.
Embedded in one of the holes are sobriety chits from AA for a man who stayed sober 20 years.

The third cross is probably the saddest. It’s the most hidden one, with a hand drawn note across the face. The words are hard to make out, but this one looks like an actual grave for a four year old. I can’t guarantee that’s what it is, but it looks that way. After finding these graves I came up to do some reshoots and came across a rare phenomena called a sun halo. They’re caused by ice in the atmosphere, combined with reflection and refraction. 

The circular rainbow behind the cross is called a sun halo. This was the first one I had ever seen.
The rainbow surrounding this cross is a sun halo, caused by ice in the air being refracted.

A Secret Waterfall 

Did you know that there’s a huge waterfall downstream from the Bridge To Nowhere? Not many people know about it, because it’s in an area hikers don’t usually go. It’s located in a small canyon off the west side of the East Fork, south of Horseshoe Mine, called Devil’s Gulch. In order to get there you’ll have to do a little bushwhacking through rattlesnake infested terrain. The first thing you’ll notice when you reach the canyon are the remains of three miner’s cabins. Two have been completely washed away, except for the cement foundations. The third one is also gone, with the exception of an unusual chimney, built into the canyon wall. This is a very lush canyon, with tall trees, some of which are Mission Figs, originally brought to California by Spanish missionaries. Less than a minute’s hike up the canyon you’ll see the magnificent falls. As far as I know they have no name. Photographing the entire falls was difficult because of all the tall trees in the gulch, so it’s hard to appreciate how large this waterfall actually is from the photo below.

This waterfall is nearly dry in the summer. There are miner's cabin ruins in the same canyon.
Hidden in a narrow side canyon, is a nameless, beautiful waterfall, approximately 50 feet tall.

This waterfall seems to be a favorite eating spot for a large predator. When I was last there, piles of bones were scattered along to left bank. I kept looking around to see if he was out there while I was taking photos. Most likely it’s a mountain lion, which are hardly ever seen during the day. On the right side of the falls there are two old sets of ropes, which may or may not lead all the way to the top. I don’t put much trust in other people’s equipment, but I climbed about half way up to get a look. The rope is full of cactus spines, and my hands were taking a beating, so I eventually turned back. I don’t recommend climbing this, but if you do, bring gloves. 

Probably deer remains. There were several of these found in Devil's Gulch.
This canyon provides perfect cover for predators to devour their kills.

The Bridge To Nowhere

Last, but not least is the famous Bridge To Nowhere. It's not exactly a secret, virtually everyone who comes to the East Fork comes to see the bridge (or to jump off of it). On weekends Bungee America hosts jumps for those with adventurous spirits. A mere two hour walk with multiple river crossings will get you there, worth seeing at least once in your life. The bridge is technically on private property, but you are allowed to pass through as long as you agree to adhere to a list of rules, posted on a sign next to the trail. The land is owned by descendants of one of the original miners of the East Fork who patented the Horseshoe Mine. It is currently leased to Bungee America to conduct their business. They have overseen nearly 180,000 jumps here since 1989.

In 1936 a great flood wiped out the road that connected to this bridge and left it stranded.
Literally in the middle of nowhere, this bridge was originally intended to connect to Wrightwood.

History of the Bridge

The Bridge to Nowhere was built in 1936. It spans what is what is reportedly the deepest gorge in the San Gabriel Mountains. The bridge was part of a long road intended to connect the San Gabriel Valley with Wrightwood. While the East Fork Road was still under construction it was almost completely washed out during the great flood of March 1 and 2 of 1938. Stranded forever in the middle of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness the project was soon abandoned. One segment of the original roadbed can still be seen close to a wooden foot bridge called the John Seals Bridge, where a sign announces the beginning of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness.

The East Fork is one of the few places left in California where you can still see large numbers of Bighorn Sheep.
East Fork is one of the few places you can still find Bighorn Sheep in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Bighorn Sheep

In 1984 the United States Congress set aside approximately 44,000 acres of wilderness in the San Gabriels to preserve Bighorn Sheep. Elevations range from 2,400 feet to 10,000 within this area, which has recently become a part of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. Sheep Wilderness includes Vincent Gulch/Mine Gulch, East Fork Trail to The Narrows, East Fork Trail to Iron Fork/Fish Fork, Allison Mine, Fish Forks, Dawson Peak, Mt. Baldy, Heaton Flats to Iron Mountain and Big Horn Mine. Since 1976 the California Department of Fish and Game has been monitoring the sheep who live within this area. 

A large ram near the Bridge To Nowhere. Sometimes you can hear them fighting each other from miles away.
Ram near the Bridge to Nowhere. Sometimes you can hear them fighting on the cliffs above.


In 1980 it was estimated that there were 780, the largest population of mountain sheep in California. However there have been drastic declines in the last few decades. It is thought that declining numbers of mule deer caused mountain lions to begin preying on bighorn sheep. The most recent estimate I’ve seen is that there are close to 500 still roaming Sheep Wilderness.