Pine Canyon Mines

This is the portal of the Surprise Mine in lower Pine Canyon. It seems to be a magnet for wild animals.

The Surprise Mine

County: Los Angeles

Primary Mineral: Gold

Years of Operation: 1893-1895

Nearest City or Landmark: Lower Pine Canyon, Above Altadena

Depth: Main Tunnel - 477 feet,  Left Fork - 90 feet,  Main Tunnel Exploratory - 25 feet

The small wall seen inside was probably used to anchor ore cart rails and water pipes.

The Lower Mines

Pine Canyon is an obscure, largely forgotten canyon that lies between Eaton Canyon and Rubio Canyon. It is located above the Altadena Crest Trail which runs east to west along the base of the Altadena foothills. This is a dry canyon which becomes progressively steeper and more overgrown as altitude is gained, but the lower two mines are fairly easy to reach from the bottom.

An alligator lizard trying to get relief from the blistering hot sun outside. This mine is bone dry.

During the late 1800's Pasadena was largely orange groves and vineyards, both thirsting for water. Mining at that time was one of America's top industries. Despite difficult terrain, the southern foothills of the San Gabriels were heavily mined for gold and water. There are no known natural caves in the San Gabriel Mountains, so when you come across something that looks like a cave in these foothills it is almost certainly an old mine or water tunnel. Gold was located in almost all of the canyons above Altadena, but never in quantities that would make mining truly profitable. Many tried their luck, but no one ever hit the mother lode on the south front of the San Gabriels.

Arboreal Salamander crawling through fresh scat from a very large mammal, probably a deer.

The Surprise Mine

The Surprise Mine is by far the largest of all the mines in this canyon. It was reportedly one the last two mines dug before operations ceased in 1895. However there are two other unrecorded mines which may have been dug after this one. The first one "dubbed the Unreal Mine" was discovered and excavated by Bryant Bohorquez of Brother B Videos. I have a theory about what this mine is and why it was never recorded which I will mention later on this page. Until recently, the Surprise was the only known mine blasted into the east wall of Pine Canyon, but a second one has been discovered above it, "dubbed the Scorpion Mine" after a scorpion found near the portal. This new mine has a very tight entry, and is still in the process of being widened, but has been measured at about 96 feet. The Surprise Mine is a forked mine that is easily visible after climbing a series of check dams and dry waterfalls.

The Surprise Mine the largest mine in Pine Canyon. Its main tunnel measures about 475 feet.

Wild Animals Like Mines Too

Because Pine Canyon has been nearly forgotten and is void of human life, animals seem to be quite comfortable visiting and making their homes in its mines. During my two visits to this mine I have found droppings from both deer and bear in and around the Surprise Mine. I also found an alligator lizard and an arboreal salamander inside (pictured on this page). The Carrie Mine in the upper reaches of the canyon was once home to a nesting turkey vulture and her gigantic chick. My point is, if you have an interest in finding and exploring these old mines you should be aware that animals like them too, and you should always make yourself known before you enter.  Bears, bobcats, mountain lions, snakes, scorpions, spiders, mice and bats feel quite comfortable in these dark places, especially if the mines are dry.

In the right fork are two old support beams. An old lumberjack shirt is draped over one of them.

Unnamed Mine: dubbed the "Unreal Mine" 

Primary Mineral: Undetermined, Almost certainly gold or water

Years of Operation: Undetermined, Probably around 1895

Nearest City or Landmark: Lower Pine Canyon, Above Altadena

Depth: Approx. 40 feet

Portal of a previously unknown mine, discovered and excavated by Bryant Bohorquez in 2013.

Around 2013 Bryant Bohorquez of Brother B Videos discovered a brand new mine. Bryant is a fantastic videographer and history buff who poked a stick into a small hole below and found this previously unknown mine. There were five documented mines dug in this canyon, the Summit, the Edith, the Carrie, the Pine and the Surprise, but this one is none of them. Was this another gold mine or an unsuccessful effort to find a water source to save the mining operation? You can see Bryant's excavation of this unrecorded mine in the video below...

By 1895 the Pine Canyon mines had been sold to a group of businessmen who named the operation the Loris Gold Mining Company. The Surprise Mine showed promise, and an immense amount of money was invested in erecting a new, secret milling process at the cost of $12,000. But there was a problem. 1895 was an extremely dry year, and the new mill required lots of water to power a 40 horsepower steam engine.  It is my belief that the unnamed mine rests on the approximate site of the original mill, and was a last ditch, unsuccessful effort to find a water source. Read the eyewitness account of the esteemed historical writer Hiram A. Reed below ... 

Was this an effort to find water to power the steam engine? History suggests it might have been.

It was then expected to steam up and commence regular work in two weeks …. There were fifty tons of ore ready for the hoppers. But the season had been unusually dry, and the water supply from the canyon, being small at best, was growing more scant by the day … the mill was ready for work but lying idle because there was not enough water at command for the necessary uses of the mill and camp.” 

Hiram A. Reed ~ History of Pasadena (written in 1895)

You can read a complete history of the mines of Pine Canyon further down on this page.

Powerlines spanning Pine Canyon. This ridge looks down on both Pine and Rubio Canyons.

The Summit Mine

Primary Mineral: Gold

Years of Operation: 1893-1895

Nearest City or Landmark: Upper Pine Canyon, Above Altadena, Below West Fuji

Depth: Approx. 10 feet

Of the two mines in the upper reaches of Pine Canyon, the Summit is the easier one to find.

The Upper Mines 

The upper mines of Pine Canyon are at a much higher elevation than the lower ones, over 1000 feet higher. In fact, one might argue that they're not actually in the canyon itself, but dug into a headwall completely above it. Generally speaking I do not find these mines on the first try, but I can tell you this, trying to find the upper mines by climbing up the canyon is NOT the way to go, in fact it gets progressively steeper the higher you go, and at one point it becomes suicidal to continue. I do not give directions on this website on how to reach these mines, but I will give you one hint, DO NOT climb up the canyon to reach these mines.

The Summit is a small exploratory mine, filled with crumbling debris from the hillside above.

The Summit Mine 

The Summit is the highest of all the mines in Pine Canyon. It was one of four recorded mines dug into the canyon's headwall. Of those four, only two have been discovered, the Summit and the Carrie. The Summit was one of the last mines dug before operations in this canyon were abandoned in 1895. It is a small, exploratory mine, about 10 feet deep.

I have searched extensively for the Edith and the Pine, with no success. Some have made claims that the Pine has been found, but after examining this small man-made one foot indent I have disregarded this claim. This indent does look like the beginning of a mine, but I can't imagine miners would give a title to such a minimal exploratory dig. I personally believe that the Summit stood alone, above all the rest, and that the Edith, the Carrie and the Pine were all dug along the same lower elevation, near an old trail called the Loris Gold Mine Trail. This mule trail once traversed the western wall of the canyon, but has since been completely wiped out by rains, landslides and overgrowth. The terrain in this area is steep and very brushy. Sadly the two remaining mines will probably be lost forever within the next fifty years.

I've only spotted two of these horned lizards in the last 20 years, and you can see why.

The Carrie Mine 

Primary Mineral: Gold

Years of Operation: 1893-1895

Nearest City or Landmark: Upper Pine Canyon, Above Altadena, Below West Fuji

Depth: Approx. 69 feet

This portal to Carrie Mine is slowly filling in. In about 50 years it will probably be lost forever.

A Great Place To Disappear 

The Carrie Mine is probably one of the most difficult of all the mines in all of the San Gabriels to locate. It is virtually invisible if you are climbing up from below and very difficult to find from above without a clear set of landmarks. It is also one of the most interesting mines I’ve visited to date. After 1895 the Carrie sat idle for nearly fifty years. But sometime around 1940-1941 the United States joined its allies in World War II and started sending out draft notices to nearly 400,000 young American men between the ages of 18-25. 

Frame of a hand-cranked upright Victrola, possibly looted from the Echo Mountain House.

Coincidentally 1941 was the exact year a scrapper was contracted to strip the abandoned Mount Lowe Railway of all salvageable materials on top of Echo Mountain, located just above Rubio Canyon to the west of Pine Canyon. The story goes that a young draft dodger decided to make his home inside of Carrie Mine to escape the war and the law. It has been theorized that he looted several items from the burnt remains of Echo Mountain House before they could be removed by the scrapper. The name of the draft dodger is unknown, and it has never been proven that the items within the mine came from Echo Mountain, but the odd nature of these items seem to support the story. The young man reportedly added a door to the front of the mine, and from time to time his loyal friends would come to visit him, never revealing his location.

Echo Mountain House before it burned down. Is this the same Victrola found in the mine?

What I Found Inside The Mine

Bear in mind that this is a very dusty and crumbling mine. The air inside is not that healthy, so I did not thoroughly catalog everything inside. There are two substantial cave-ins, and probably more items buried underneath, but here is a partial list of items I found … a wooden stool, the frame of a vintage crank-style upright Victrola, a magazine / brochure rack, a tool or tackle box, a wooden door, a glass window that went with it, a stove pipe, two or three portable stoves, glass bottles (the largest one looked like it was full of pee), wooden planks, a shovel with a makeshift handle, an aluminum pan, a can of Carnation malted milk and a large rusted bucket. There were probably other items I missed, but I didn’t stay in the mine for long.

The door that once covered the entrance to the mine. A glass window insert was found nearby.

History of the Pine Canyon Mines

In 1893, Eugene Carson and Jesse Dickey discovered gold-bearing quartz high in Pine Canyon, between Rubio and Eaton canyons. They built a burro trail up the steep west wall of the canyon and dug three mines - the Carrie, the Edith and the Pine Tree, from which they recovered about 100 tons of fair grade ore. Later they opened the Surprise mine on the canyon's east slope, far below the others, and the Summit mine atop the ridge. 

There are numerous artifacts in this mine that probably belonged to a World War II draft dodger.

In 1894 Carson and Dickey sold out to a group of businessmen headed by Ed Kennedy of Pasadena and financed by eastern capital. Kennedy named the new enterprise after his little daughter - The Loris Gold Mining Company. The company planned to try out a new, secret, patented process, invented by George McGee of Chicago, for extracting the ore. The process was reputed to be quicker and cheaper than the standard stamp mill method. A mill was erected, machinery put in, and a 40-horsepower steam engine set in place to drive the mill,  $12,000 being expended in the process. 

A view from the back of the crumbling Carrie Mine.  There a two cave-ins along the way.

Hiram Reed visited the mill soon after its completion and described what ensued: It was then expected to steam up and commence regular work in two weeks …. "There were fifty tons of ore ready for the hoppers. But the season had been unusually dry, and the water supply from the canyon, being small at best, was growing more scant by the day … the mill was ready for work but lying idle because there was not enough water at command for the necessary uses of the mill and camp.” In September, 1895 the Loris Mining Company abandoned the venture and removed the mill. Since then Pine Canyon mines have remained idle. 

Years ago a turkey vulture chick was found living inside. Photo courtesy of Bryant Bohorquez

A Turkey Vulture In Carrie Mine

About two years before I visited this mine there was a turkey vulture raising her young hatchling (pictured above) in this mine. Unfortunately by the time I found the Carrie it was long gone, but Bryant Bohorquez of Brother B Videos took a great shot of the chick. These gigantic scavengers seek out caves or hollowed out rock crevices to nest in, and the mine must have looked like a deluxe hotel to these birds. Fortunately the mother was not home at the time. Full grown turkey vultures have a six foot wingspan and could potentially do a lot of damage to protect their young.

A view from Carrie Mine, looking down on Pasadena. This is an extremely difficult mine to find.

Turkey vultures have very few vocalization capabilities. They lack a syrinx, so they can only hiss or grunt, which was exactly what the young chick did when Bryant entered the mine.  They usually hiss when they feel threatened or fight with other vultures over a carcass. Young chicks also grunt when they’re hungry.  I highly recommending watching Bryant's video of this mine on YouTube ...  Turkey Vulture In Carrie Mine

Toyon berries on the ridge between Pine and Rubio Canyons. Toyon is poisonous to humans.

Unnamed Mine: dubbed the "Scorpion Mine" 

Primary Mineral: Undetermined, Almost certainly gold or water

Years of Operation: Undetermined, Probably around 1895

Nearest City or Landmark: Lower Pine Canyon, Above Altadena

Depth: Approx. 96 feet

This unnamed mine has been dubbed the Scorpion Mine, after a scorpion found at its portal.

A New Discovery

Recently another mine was located, fairly close to the Surprise Mine. The mine’s small portal was found by Bryant Bohorquez and Jaime Salazar and is currently being widened by Bryant and Matthew Jackson along with Matthew’s father. A gentleman I recently met named Pete Beckley remembers this mine from his childhood about fifty years ago, although he did not know its name. This mine, like the “Unreal Mine” is not recorded in any historical claim or document. It rests in between two dry waterfalls, making it relatively difficult to reach, which probably explains why most people are unaware of its existence. 

This mine requires a 12 foot belly crawl, but then it begins to open up, total depth is 96 feet.

Dubbed the “Scorpion Mine” after a scorpion found at its portal, this mine involves a belly crawl of about 12 feet and has been measured at a total depth of 96 feet. As of yet I have not photographed the inside, as I have put on some pounds this year and don't want to get stuck in the portal. I am told there is a video in the works, which will eventually be uploaded to YouTube. Is this the last of the Pine Canyon Mines? My guess is no. Pete Beckley mentioned that he had heard of yet another one on the eastern wall, somewhere below the Surprise Mine. And I recently found an old shovel sticking out of what appeared to be a fully collapsed portal, also south of the Surprise, on the western wall. Should any new mines be confirmed in the future, they will be added to this page.

The Gooseberry Motorway was rebuilt in 2016-2017. It spans both walls of Pine Canyon.

The Gooseberry Motorway

A very difficult trail rebuilding project that runs through Pine Canyon has been in the works for the last two years, 2016-2017. This trail was abandoned around 1964 and originally went by several different names, including the SCE Tractor Road,the Old Edison Road and the Gooseberry Motorway. It spans the western wall of Pine Canyon, makes a crossing in the dry stream bed and then continues up the eastern wall moving south, eventually terminating in Eaton Canyon’s red zone area. This trail was originally built in 1923 to service Edison’s power lines, later used by the L.A. County Fire Dept. but was officially abandoned in the 1960s. The rebuild is impressive, especially in the area known as Gooseberry Crossing. I should add that this trail does not lead to any of the mines. Much of this work was done by Jeremiah Small, who has done an incredible job. You can see an aerial view, shot by drone of his hard work in the video below.