Las Flores Canyon Mines

This is Tunnel Number 4 in Las Flores Canyon. Ore cart rail protrude from the portal.
Tunnel Number 4 is the deepest mine in this canyon. It also contains thousands of natural cave pearls.

Tunnel Number 4

County: Los Angeles

Primary Mineral: Ore cart rail outside the portal indicates this was originally a gold mine, pipes inside indicate it was later converted to a water tunnel.

Years of Operation: 1893-1894 mined for gold, years of water usage are unknown

Nearest City or Landmark: Cobb Estate, Altadena

Depth: Approx 837 feet

Tunnel 4 in Las Flores Canyon. This low opening opens up into easily walkable tunnels.
This is Tunnel Number 4's inner portal. This is a wet mine, and you cannot stand up fully at this point.

Tunnel Number 4 is the deepest and probably the most interesting mine in Las Flores Canyon. Outside of the mine, embedded in the rock is a remnant of the old ore cart rail, indicating this was a gold mine at one time. On the inside, there are a few pipes underneath the water, indicating it was later used as a water tunnel. Water in the late 1800’s was often more valuable than gold. Long before the California aqueduct was built, much of Altadena and Pasadena was orange groves, thirsting for irrigation. Virtually all of the canyons above these cities had some sort of water system to supply the needs of the cities below. 

This is a forked mine. Near the back of the right fork you'll find an old wooden brace.

This is a forked mine, and filled with large numbers of cave pearls. If you’ve never seen a cave pearl before, scroll down two photos. The original ownership is uncertain, but businessman William Twaddell owned several of these mines at the time. The difficult part of identifying mines in Las Flores Canyon is that many of them lost their original names when they became water tunnels and were simply given numbers for identification. William Twaddell’s company owned six mines in this canyon, some of which are probably the numbered tunnels, renamed. The original names were the Golden Star, the Jessie Marie, the Altadena, the Pasadena, the Monitor and the Bald Eagle. Presumably he also owned the Twaddell Mine.

Tunnel Number 4 in Las Flores Canyon was a gold mine, later converted to a water tunnel.
Depending on the time of year, this forked mine will have between one and two feet of water in certain areas.

Cave Pearls 

Small stalactites in mines are fairly common, but this mine also has occurrences not often found. Cave pearls are usually found in limestone caves, formed by a concretion of calcium salts that layer around a nucleus, much like an actual pearl. Exposure to moving water eventually polishes their surfaces, making them glossy. However when the pearls are exposed to air, they degrade and appear rough. Most of the pearls in this mine are rough, composed primarily of calcite. Some of the pearls in this particular mine are colored, from small amounts of quartz, iron, or magnesium. Cave pearls form when water dripping from the ceiling loses carbon dioxide and precipitates calcite. If a substantial amount of ground water were not present, stalagmites would form in their place. Most are spherical, but sometimes they will stick together and resemble bunches of grapes. They can also form in elliptical, cubical, hexagonal or discoid shapes. The largest cave pearls ever found are in the Son Doong Cave in Vietnam, “the size of baseballs”. Generally when cave pearls are present in a mine or cave they will not be abundant, which makes Tunnel 4 highly unusual. I would estimate there are tens of thousands of them present in this mine. To see more photos of Tunnel 4 click here.

Cave pearls need perfect conditions to form. There are thousands inside Las Flores Canyon's Tunnel 4.
These are called Cave Pearls. They can be rough or smooth and require perfect conditions to form.

History of Las Flores Canyon

Las Flores Canyon, long known as the Haunted Forest or the Enchanted Forest, lies above Altadena, above the ruins of the old Cobb Estate. Charles H. Cobb was a wealthy lumber magnate, who built the estate in 1916, above what was once miles of poppy fields. After his death in 1939 the mansion changed ownership several times before being razed in 1959. The legendary Marx Brothers bought the 107 acre tract in 1960, and had planned to sell it for use as a cemetery, but local activists and ecologists stepped in and purchased it, turning it over to the Forest Service in 1971 as a nature preserve.

Long before the Cobb Estate existed, the canyon behind it was the scene of a brief flurry of gold mining activities. 
In 1876, a man named M.E. Wood came to Pasadena. In 1881, he and a miner from Arizona named Redway discovered a mineral vein in Las Flores Canyon, which at that time was also known as Forsyth Canyon. Native Americans also called this area Mesa de las Flores, the bench or table of flowers - because during the spring season it was completely covered with poppies and could be seen all the way from the Pacific Ocean. Wood and Redway staked a claim here and had some ore assayed. It yielded a small amount of both gold and silver, but not enough to pay for the working, so they abandoned it. According to the noted mine historian John W. Robinson, mining ventures did not begin until 1893 and lasted only briefly, through 1894. Las Flores Canyon was possibly the most densely mined of all the canyons in the San Gabriels. William Twaddell, a prominent businessman formed a company that owned at least six of the mines, probably more. He spared no expense in boring tunnels into the hillsides and began construction on a stamp mill. But the efforts were not worth the cost, and because of a water shortage, the enterprise was soon abandoned.

The Las Flores Water Company, incorporated in 1885 took over many of the mines and converted them into water tunnels for irrigation, which was more profitable. An old water map from 1906 shows a dozen mines / water tunnels in the canyon. The Las Flores Water Company still exists, and serves 1,471 users in north-central Altadena. But only one of the water tunnels in this canyon is still operational, Tunnel Number 8, which has been used only for reclamation purposes since 1974, when excessive levels of fluoride and uranium were discovered in the water. Tunnel Number 8 is now locked, however I was able to take photos of the inside when it was open, which you can view further down on this page.

Tunnel 6 in Las Flores Canyon starts with a knee crawl but opens to an easily walkable height.
Tunnel Number 6 is one of the more difficult mines to find. A knee crawl leads to a window inside.

Tunnel Number 6

County: Los Angeles

Primary Mineral: Undetermined, either gold or water. Probably both

Years of Operation: Possibly between 1893-1894 if mined for gold, later if mined for water.

Nearest City or Landmark: Cobb Estate, Altadena

Depth: Approx 468 feet

Tunnel 6 in Las Flores Canyon is a forked mine. The two tunnels run almost parallel.
This mine has a very unusual split. I call these the twin tunnels, which run nearly parallel to each other.

There are quite a few mines in this canyon I have still not found. Tunnel Number 6 took me a long time to locate. This is one of the gully mines, and as you can see from the first photo, it is partially obscured by brush. Tunnel Number 6 begins with a knee crawl, which leads to cement wall with an inner window, or gate. The original iron door has been removed, and now sits off to the side, inside the mine. Once inside the window, it is easy to stand up. This is a dry mine now, but watermarks along both walls indicate it was once quite wet, waist deep in fact. This tunnel is about 468 feet, with a highly unusual split, in which the two forks run nearly parallel to each other. There are several old tiny candles along the way. I can’t imagine anyone trying to navigate this mine with them, but apparently someone did. Overall this is a very interesting mine, with minimal cave ins. The main challenge is finding it. To see more photos of Tunnel 6 click here.

High watermarks inside Tunnel 6 in Las Flores Canyon suggest this was once a water tunnel.
Watermarks indicate this mine once had waist deep water. These marks align with the bottom of the window.

Twaddell Mine

County: Los Angeles

Primary Mineral: Gold

Years of Operation: 1893-1894

Nearest City or Landmark: Cobb Estate, Altadena

Depth: Approx 416 feet

Las Flores Canyon's Twadell Mine involves a long belly crawl to reach the inside.
The Twadell Mine is one of the more dangerous mines in the canyon, but the payoff is a mine cart inside.

The Twaddell Mine is named after William Twaddell, a prominent businessman of the day, who began a mining company and owned at least six mines in this canyon, probably more. The list of gold mines he owned was as follows … the Golden Star, the Jessie Marie, the Altadena, the Pasadena, the Monitor and the Bald Eagle. And it’s safe to assume that he also owned the Twaddell Mine. Most of those mines later merged with the Las Flores Water Company and their original names were presumably replaced by numbers that the water company assigned.

The Twadell Mine in Las Flores Canyon was named after a local businessman who owned six mines.
This is a dry and dusty mine. The ventilation is poor. Inside is an old ore cart, minus the wheels.

This mine is dangerous to enter. If you should find it, I highly recommend staying out. Entry involves a long belly crawl, nearly 25 feet. Then, gradually it starts to open, until you can eventually stand up. Sediment pushed into the mine continues to build up. I predict this mine will completely disappear within 30-50 years. On the inside is an original ore cart, minus the wheels, or perhaps it’s an ore bin. It’s full of old beer cans and the sides are rusted out, but nevertheless it’s exciting to still find old mining artifacts. 

This is a creepy mine, with long tree roots hanging down from the ceiling, lots of spiders, a primitive rock altar at the end of the mine and poor ventilation. Along one wall a dripping “Z” is spray painted on the rock, probably denoting the Zombie Apocalypse. It's an interesting mine, but I will never enter it again. To see more photos of the Twaddell Mine click here.

Las Flores Canyon's Twadell Mine is one of this canyon's more dangerous mines.
Entry into this mine involves a long belly crawl. If anything happens at this point, you're in real trouble.

Tunnel Number 8

County: Los Angeles

Primary Mineral: Gold, later converted to a water tunnel

Years of Operation: Worked as a gold mine from 1893-1894, used as a water tunnel until 1974, currently used for reclamation by the Las Flores Water Company

Nearest City or Landmark: Cobb Estate, Altadena

Depth: Approx 455 feet

Tunnel 8 in Las Flores Canyon was a gold mine and a water tunnel. Ore cart rails can still be found inside.
Tunnel 8 hasn't been used for drinking water since 1974 because of excessive fluoride and uranium.

To the best of my knowledge, Tunnel Number 8 is the only tunnel in the canyon still owned by the Las Flores Water Company. It is currently locked, but for a brief period the gate was open, and I was able to get inside. This is a particularly interesting tunnel, and may well be the longest continuously used tunnel in all of the San Gabriels. You won’t find photos of the inside on any other website, with the exception of Hugh Blanchard’s site. Hugh was one of my main inspirations for seeking out these old mines, but he was unfortunately killed in a fall near Castaic Mine in 2008. 

Inside Las Flores Canyon's Tunnel 8. This mine once supplied Altadena homes with water.
The outer gate of this tunnel is currently locked. At the time I was able to squeeze through the inner door. 

Tunnel Number 8 is one of the few mines in this canyon that I can actually “prove” was once a gold mine. After entering a padlocked gate there is one more obstacle; squeezing past a heavy metal door, wedged open by sediment. This is a very cramped mine. There are three sets of water pipes ranging from oldest to newest that run along the floor. Underneath them are the original ore cart rails from when the tunnel was used as a gold mine. And along the ceiling is a ventilation pipe, used to keep air fresh in the back of the mine. Near the end of the tunnel I found a large hand-made wooden box, sealed with screws. I have no idea what was inside, and I had planned to come back at a later date to open it up, but unfortunately the tunnel was locked when I returned. The mine ends at a cement bulkhead with numerous valves stemming out from the water pipes. A circular metal door with a handle is embedded in the cement wall. I was tempted to pull it open, but I envisioned a wall of water flooding out, and decided against it.

A cement bulkhead at the rear of Tunnel 9 in Las Flores Canyon. This mine is 455 feet deep.
Bulkhead found at the back of Tunnel 8. I still don't know what lies beyond this circular door.

Along with many of the other tunnels in this canyon, this one was once a gold mine, which later became a water tunnel owned by the Las Flores Water Company. It was used to supply drinking water to north-central Altadena until 1974, when excessive levels of fluoride and uranium were detected. Since then it has only been used for reclamation purposes. To the best of my knowledge this is the only tunnel in the canyon still owned by the water company. To see more photos of Tunnel 8 click here.

Las Flores Canyon's Tunnel 8 was both a gold mine and a water tunnel. Note the rails below the water pipes.
Most gold mines in this canyon became water tunnels later. Note the ore cart rails beneath the water pipes.

Update On Tunnel 8

While working on a widening the McNally Tunnel in 2017, I went back to Tunnel 8 to take a few more photographs. To my surprise, a wooden box I had found in the back of the mine two years earlier was now on the outside, smashed open, with the contents removed. How this box made its way outside is a mystery. This mine has been locked up tight for the past two years, and because of multiple obstacles, it could not have washed out of the mine on its own. What was in the box?  Bank loot from an old robbery? More likely it was spare valves for the pipes inside, or possible tools. 

This box was found at the back of Tunnel 8 in 2015. Shortly after, the mine was locked.
This is the sealed wooded box I found in the back of the mine in 2015, semi hidden behind metal sheeting.

In 2017 I came back to take new photos. The box was outside, broken open and looted.
Same box in 2017, outside the locked mine. The box had been smashed open and the contents were looted.

Golden Star Mine 

County: Los Angeles

Primary Mineral: Gold

Years of Operation: 1893-1894

Nearest City or Landmark: Cobb Estate, Altadena

Depth: Approx 462 feet

The Golden Star Mine has heavy shoring on the inside, indicating there was a cave in problem.
The Golden Star Mine lies semi-hidden behind a tangle of poison oak. This is one of my favorite mines.

The Golden Star Mine is one of the few mines in Las Flores Canyon that “may” have never been converted to a water tunnel. In fact, it appears that miners may have purposely filled in the end of the tunnel, to prevent it from filling with water. The Golden Star is semi-hidden behind a jungle of poison oak. The small opening is missing its original door. Once inside, the mine immediately opens up. This is not a dry mine, but is much less wet than many of the others. Ore cart rails are still present, as is a ventilation pipe along the ceiling, but there are no signs of water pipes within.

The pipe along the ceiling of Las Flores Canyon's Golden Star Mine was used to ventilate the back of the mine.
There is a long corridor of heavy shoring in the middle, indicating there was once a cave-in problem.
Unlike the other mines, this one has a long section of heavy wooden shoring, indicating there were substantial cave-in problems at one time. The shoring is still holding strong, although one huge boulder is precariously balanced against one of the upright beams. Like Tunnel Number 8, the Golden Star has mine pearls, though not nearly as many. The ones in this mine seem to be larger, and more white in color than the previously mentioned. Also there are small stalactites, and other strange mineral formations along the ceiling, some with a greenish tinge. Along the way there’s an old whiskey bottle; there’s nothing like getting drunk in a dark mine. The end of the mine appears to have been intentionally sealed. It may have been deeper at one time. This appears to be a fill-in rather than a cave-in. Overall, this is one of my favorite mines. It looks like a gold mine you would see in a Hollywood movie. To see more photos of the Golden Star Mine click here.

The Golden Star Mine in Las Flores Canyon contains odd, greenish mineral deposits.
Strange calcium carbonate formations on the ceiling. I'm not sure which mineral causes the green coloration.

New Info on the Golden Star Mine

Since first writing about this mine I have gone back into historical reports and discovered more information about it. Apparently in the early 1890s the Golden Star Mine was the most extensive of all the mines in the Las Flores Canyon (which at that time was also known as Forsyth Canyon). According to a book written by Dr. Hiram Reid, who visited the mine in 1893 and 1894, much of the Golden Star was closed off because of bad air. Reid describes an additional incline tunnel that was boxed off, and may still be buried in the brush somewhere in that area. Or it is possible he was referring to an extension at the back of the mine, which has clearly been “filled in” but not “boxed” as Reid describes. 

This pipe was used for ventilation. Outside the mine a furnace was used to force fresh air to the back.

Discovery of this mine site came after following a mineral vein for nearly one mile up the canyon, and claims were staked along every point of it. The gully mines further south were apparently discovered by following a vein down from the top of Echo Mountain, from an outcropping just north of the hotel reservoir. At that time this area was referred to as the “Professor Lowe Mine”, or, as Hiram Reid described it, “Temptation Slide”. The vein varied from two and one-half feet to four feet thick, and was followed in two directions. The “Professor Lowe Mine” was not actually a mine, but a rock slide area that was discovered, staked, abandoned and rediscovered several times over. John E. Bennett of Los Angeles named it, but no tunnel or shaft was ever sunk. One vein was followed down into Las Flores Canyon. The other was followed northward into the body of the mountain.

While most of the timbers are still holding strong, there's one precariously balanced rock, waiting to fall.

Quote from Dr. Hiram Reid’s report on the Golden Star Mine in 1893 …

“At the Golden Star Mine a shaft has been sunk, following the dip of the vein down 100 feet - at an angle of 45 degrees for 65 feet, then increasing to about 60 degrees of dip. This lower section became too dangerous by reason of foul air, called “fire damp,” and it was boxed off for the present, and a tunnel run westward, which had been extended fifteen feet when I was there in September, 1893. The descending shaft was excavated four and one-half feet high and six feet wide; and the first sixty-five feet of it was timbered up solid enough for a railroad tunnel. To provide ventilation, a hot air furnace was kept burning at the mouth of the shaft and a draft-pipe run down to the workmen at the lower end of it, new joints being added as the tunnel progressed. A good wagon road extends up to within 150 feet of the mouth of the shaft and its dump yard; and at this road-point the company superintendent and chief owner of these mines, has bought the house and farm in the canyon, known to old settlers in Pasadena as the “Forsyth ranch.”

The back of the Golden Star Mine was filled in with dirt when bad air or "fire damp" was discovered.

Buckley Mine 

County: Los Angeles

Primary Mineral: Gold

Years of Operation: 1893-1894

Nearest City or Landmark: Cobb Estate, Altadena

Depth: Less than 15 feet

Las Flores Canyon's Buckley Mine was once home to a homeless man. This is a very shallow mine.
Unfortunately a homeless man moved into the Buckley Mine. I nicknamed him the Christmas Caveman.

The Buckley Mine is a classic exploratory gold mine. Mining was a very expensive and labor intensive endeavor, and exploratory tunnels were designed to test the rock without spending a fortune. This mine apparently did not yield results, and was never enlarged. However, a modern day homeless man saw this as a great place to live, moved in, and decorated it accordingly. I would estimate that he lived inside for the better part of two years, and judging by the great cleanup job, he didn't leave willingly. The Angeles Forest is near L.A. is technically the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Dept., however you’ll never see them up here, unless there’s a problem reported. 
My guess is that the water company did just that, and he was forcibly removed. I nicknamed this gentleman the Christmas Caveman, after all the festive decorations he placed around the mine. Along with the tinsel, ornaments, candles and cards, there were other interesting items, such as several cans of empty bear spray, an ice bucket that blocked the mine and a ratty old suit hanging on the hillside (probably for job interviews). During the time I spent looking for mines in this canyon I never saw any sign of him. Maybe he was sleeping inside. To see more photos of the Buckley Mine click here.

Buckley Mine in Las Flores Canyon was a typical, quick exploratory dig, with no results.
Here's the same mine six months later. After two years of inhabiting the mine, the caveman disappeared.

Unidentified Mine, dubbed the "Square Nail Mine" 

County: Los Angeles

Primary Mineral: Unknown

Years of Operation: Unknown

Nearest City or Landmark: Cobb Estate, Altadena

Depth: Approx 6 feet

I thought this cleft in Las Flores Canyon may have been a buried mine, and later dug it out.
I recognized this as a possible mine and came back six months later with a shovel and a steel rake.

During several trips through Las Flores Canyon, I kept noticing a cleft below a rock, filled with leaves. One day I poked a stick in the hole, and identified a possible mine within. I knew it would be a lot of work to dig it out, and that it might be wasted time, but six months later I returned, with a shovel and a steel rake in hand. I was hoping it would be deeper, but it was indeed a mine. Its identity is still unknown. This is the second unidentified mine found in the canyon. Years earlier, friends of Hugh Blanchard found a previously unknown and unmapped mine, near Tunnel Number 9. They dubbed it the Number 9 Annex Tunnel.

As I was digging this out, I found a lot of bottles and cans dating back to the 1970’s, probably from the time when flash floods filled the tunnel in. I often check expiration dates on old trash to get an approximate date when I dig out these old tunnels. Something odd happened while I was digging this out. Four deer came down from a nearby canyon. I stopped to look at them for awhile and went back to work, forgetting about the deer. I was kicking up a lot of dust and stopped to take a water break. When I turned around, the four deer were standing in a semi-circle around me, apparently not afraid of myself or the noise I was making. They were all within 20 feet of me, chomping on grass and unbothered by the digging. I went back to work, and when I turned around a few minutes later, they were gone. Perhaps this canyon really lives up to its nickname, the Enchanted Forest.

Eventually I hit a rock wall, and that was the end of the digging, but in the last pile of dirt I found an old square nail, the same kind and size you would find on a railroad track. I had hoped this hole would be deeper, but nevertheless, it turned out to be a previously unknown mine. I’m sure that it did have a name at one time, but it’s not on any map that I’m aware of. I dubbed this small exploratory mine the "Square Nail Mine". To see more photos of the Unnamed Mine click here.

Here's what it looks like now. I call this one the Square Nail Mine, dubbed after a spike I found inside.

McNally Mine

County: Los Angeles
Primary Mineral: Ore cart rail outside the portal indicates this was originally a gold mine, bulkhead at the back indicates it was later converted to a water tunnel.

Years of Operation: 1893-1894 mined for gold, years of water usage are unknown

Nearest City or Landmark: Cobb Estate, Altadena

Depth: Approx 315 feet

The portal of this unidentified mine in Las Flores Canyon was probably about six feet tall in the 1800's.
This is the portal to a new tunnel, discovered sometime in 2017. It still needs some widening on the inside.

Earlier I reported this as an unidentified mine. Actually this is the McNally Mine. For years it was covered up in deep brush, but in 2017 someone cleared it away. In 2018 I was working on widening some of the narrower clogs inside, as well as the portal, with the help of the Jackson brothers, when my tools were stolen and I gave up on the project. This was a nearly impossible excavation anyways, as I could only remove small amounts of dirt while laying down in the narrow tunnel. 

At the second clog in Las Flores Canyon's new tunnel I found an old miner's lamp.
I call this the choke point, at the 43 foot mark. Behind the right dirt mound I found an amazing miner's lamp.

I only made it in 43 feet, at which point the opening became too narrow to fit through, at least for me. But at the 45 foot mark my hand scraped against something metallic, which turned out to be an old miner’s lamp, with a detachable head. These primitive lamps were predecessors of flashlights carbide lamps that were often attached to miner’s helmets. You can see a photo of the old lamp I found by scrolling down.

These ore cart rails can be found in front of an unidentified tunnel in Las Flores Canyon.
Outside of the portal there are remnants of iron ore cart rails, indicating that this was a gold mine.

The McNally Mine is named after Andrew McNally, best known as one half of the Rand McNally map publishing company. Was the mine was actually owned by McNally? It's likely, but has not been confirmed. Andrew McNally was born in Ireland in 1838 and immigrated to New York in 1857. A printer by trade, he moved to Chicago in 1858 and got a job in a print shop owned by William Rand at a wage of $9 per week. Rand and McNally became business partners and incorporated Rand, McNally & Co. in 1868, becoming one of the largest and best-known map publishers in history. After Rand retired in 1899, McNally was president until his unexpected death from pneumonia in 1904 at his winter home in Altadena, California. For nearly 100 years the company was majority owned and headed by several generations of the McNally family. In 1997, the family divested its majority stake for a reported $500 million. Below you will see a photo of the McNally home, which still exists in Altadena.

The McNally House, built in 1888 by Frederick L Roehrig, located at 654 E Miraposa Street, Altadena

The McNally Mine is without a doubt the most dangerous one in all of Las Flores Canyon. Although I was unable to make it all the way to the end I’ve included the video below of someone who did, when the mine was still difficult to find. Bryant Bohorquez did an extensive study of mines in this canyon and explored them all. At least all of the major ones. A few unidentified mines are still being found today.

Getting past the choke point at the 45 foot mark is no easy task, and the belly crawl goes on long after that, but eventually the mine does open up. If you should happen to find this tunnel I would strongly advise staying out of it. Even a small cave in would be fatal, not to mention the mold, rats, mud and potentially bad air within. Don’t take my word for it, watch the video above and be your own judge. The total length of this mine is 315 feet, with a bulkhead at the back. Was this a gold mine or a water tunnel? Rails at the front and a bulkhead at the back would indicate both, but I will probably never know for certain.

I found this miner's lamp sticking out of the dirt at the second clog, in Las Flores Canyon's new tunnel.
A hand held miner's lamp found at the 45 foot mark. The head is detachable and once contained a wick.

Are there more mines hidden in the canyon and nearby gullies? When I started working on the project I would have said no, but since then two new ones have been discovered, in addition to three more that don’t appear on this page (only because I haven’t found them yet). Tunnels 7, 9 and the 9 Annex are still out there. I believe I know the approximate location, but they’re all hard to reach. If I should happen to find them, rest assured, I’ll add new photos. For more photos of the McNally Mine click here. For more photos of the McNally Mine click here.

Las Flores Canyon has many side gullies. The miner's drill bit was found in one of them.
I found this drill bit stuck in the rock of a nearby side canyon. These were used to create holes for blasting.

Forsyth Ranch

Near the location of Cobb Estate there was once a homestead that belonged to Robert J. Forsyth. In fact, at that time Las Flores Canyon was commonly referred to as Forsyth Canyon. The photo below is thought to be Forsyth’s home, surrounded by a vast field of poppies that this area was famous for.

In the early 1890s the Forsyth house and farm “known to locals as Forsyth Ranch” was purchased by William Twadell, who owned at least six mines in Las Flores Canyon. Along with the ranch he acquired priority water rights in the canyon, which he intended to use to run his mill and later for domestic and irrigational purposes. Twadell had several partners in his mining venture, including J.T. Best, Samuel Wells and Thomas Armstrong. There were two others whose only interest in the mines was a silent partnership.

Forsyth Ranch, at the base of Las Flores Canyon in the 1890s. Courtesy of California Historical Society.

Twadell hired a reputable assayer from San Francisco named Thomas Price, formerly a State minerologist, who assayed ore from one of the Las Flores water tunnels at $3.20 of gold per ton. Best, Wells, Armstrong and Twadell were all experienced miners, and intended to work the mines as a regular, legitimate industry. However due to a shortage of water the mill never worked, and Twadell eventually abandoned the business. Ironically Twadell would join forces with the Loris Mining Company in nearby Pine Canyon, only to meet with the same problem, tons of ore, ready to mill, but no water to power the mill’s steam engine.

Cobb Estate

In 1918 Charles Cobb built an estate on a sprawling 107 acre property as his summer home in the foothills north of Pasadena. There was once a beautiful mansion here, in fact it was said to be one of the first homes in California ever to use air conditioning. Cobb was a wealthy lumber magnate, known to be a Mason and a supporter of the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Pasadena. Eventually the estate became his permanent home, where he lived until his death in 1939. The land was then deeded to the Pasadena Masons in his will.

Las Flores Canyon lies behind the ruins of the old Cobb Estate in Altadena.
Cobb Estate, once owned by a wealthy lumber magnate is now part of the Angeles National Forest.

The property was later purchased and converted to a retreat for the Sisters of St. Joseph until it was purchased by the famous Marx Brothers in 1956. Unfortunately the once beautiful estate soon fell into decay and became host to delinquents and criminal activity. The home was demolished in 1959, leaving only scattered remnants of steps and walls behind. 

Inside the mansion in 1938. The elaborate interior had central air conditioning, unheard of at that time.

The Marx Brothers had planned to turn the property into a cemetery, but that never materialized, and in 1971 the property was offered up for auction. Thanks to determined fundraising, local preservation groups and the John Muir High School Conservation Club, $175,000 was raised to save the land from being purchased by real estate developers who had planned on building tract housing. A local philanthropist named Virginia Steele Scott, donated the bulk of the proceeds, under the condition that no structures would be built on the land, not even tables, or restrooms. Under that stipulation the property became part of the Angeles National Forest. 

Left Top - Deteriorating Cobb Estate, Left Bottom - Marx Bros., last owners, Right - 1971 public auction
Top Left: Cobb Mansion in decay, Bottom Left: Marx Brothers (former owners), Right: Public Auction in 1971

The Haunted / Enchanted Forest

Cobb Estate, and the canyon behind it have long been rumored to be haunted. I remember visiting this area as a teenager at night, in hopes of seeing something paranormal. Reports of Satanic cults, KKK gatherings and unexplained lights and screams have gone on for as long as I can remember. Most, if not all of this was urban legend. Today, virtually no one visits Las Flores Canyon behind the estate, and very few people know of its gold mining history. I’ve climbed up almost as far as the headwall of the canyon, an extremely hard area to get to. No ghosts, although I have often heard voices that seem to come from nowhere.  Actually those sounds came from people hiking on the Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain high above. 

Las Flores Canyon is a long forgotten gold mining hotspot, also known as the Haunted Forest.
Las Flores Canyon has been largely forgotten and has long been rumored to be haunted.
Where Does Las Flores Canyon End?

Las Flores Canyon ends almost directly below the area where the old Circular Bridge of the Mt. Lowe Railway used to stand. Theoretically you could climb down into the canyon from the fire road that leads to it if you wanted to. I considered trying this, but the brush was so heavy I decided against it. This road begins in Millard Canyon, above the parking area, and it follows the route of the original Alpine Line, that transported tourists for a thrilling ride through the San Gabriels from 1893 through 1938. Mt. Lowe Railway's total length was seven miles, and although the rails are long gone you can still see placards marking famous sites along the way. The fire road passes several features of the rail line, including the site of the of the old Dawn Station, which transported ore from Dawn Mine, the Cape of Good Hope, the Circular Bridge, Sentinel Rock and others.

Mt. Lowe Railway's Circular Bridge in 1910. Directly left you can see the beginning of Las Flores Canyon.

 All watermarked photos are copyrighted and cannot be used without my consent.