California Fool’s Gold — A Northwest Los Angeles County Primer

NORTHWEST PASSAGE — NORTHWEST COUNTY

Map of Northwest Los Angeles CountyPendersleigh & Sons‘ Official Map of Northwest Los Angeles County

Mountainous Northwest Los Angeles County is dominated by the Angeles National Forest and boasts numerous reservoirs, wilderness, and winding, scenic roads. In the northern portion there’s a series of small towns located around a series of sag ponds. The southern, San Fernando Valley-adjacent towns tend to be booming suburbs by contrast. For centuries, the dramatic landscape supported the Chumash, Kitanemuk and Tataviam nations. Today, most of it is still sparsely populated in comparison to other parts of Los Angeles County. The region is surrounded by affluent Ventura County to the west, the sprawling Central Valley to the north, the somewhat post-apocalyptic desertscape of the Antelope Valley to the northeast, the fairly pristine Angeles Forest to the southeast, and the famed San Fernando Valley to the south. The overall population is approximately 67% white, 21% Latino, 6% Asian and 3% black.

And now for the individual towns:

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AGUA DULCE

Vasquez Rocks, Agua Dulce

Agua Dulce is a small town of about 4,000 in Northwest Los Angeles County‘s easternmost point, above the Antelope Valley. It’s probably best known for Vasquez Rocks California State Park which has been used many times in film, including The Flintstones Movie, Duel, Rat Race, More Dead than Alive, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and, my favorite, the Star Trek episode “The Arena” where Kirk duels a Gorn… a fight scene sometimes regarded as the worst ever filmed. Here’s an improved version. The population today is 84% white (mostly German and English), 11% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 0% Gorn. It’s also home to the largest winery in the county.

(Here are some scenes of the famous fight scene improved by nerds):


CASTAIC

Castaic Brick, Castaic California

The name Castaic is derived from the Chumash word Kashtuk, meaning “eyes.” Not really sure what the connection is, but that’s what I’m told. After the original Ridge Route opened in 1915, several businesses arrived in Castaic. Castaic Brick was founded in 1927 and George Dunn‘s Wayside Dairy was founded in 1929. They, along with the no-longer extant Sam’s Place, were some of the earliest arrivals in modern times. The old Ridge Route is gone but Castaic still supports a population of nearly 17,000 people of whom are 47% white (mostly German and Irish), 32% Latino (mostly Mexican), 13% black and 6% Asian (mostly Filipino).

CASTAIC CANYONS

Station No. 2, San Francisquito Canyon, Castaic Canyons

The Castaic Canyons “neighborhood” is a sprawling region east of the town of Castaic. Though much larger in area, the population is less than half of Castaic’s. The make-up of the small population is roughly 74% white (mostly German and Irish), 17% Latino (mostly Mexican), 4% Asian (mostly Filipino) and 3% black. The nearby Castaic Lake replaced the St. Francis Dam, which was in San Francisquito Canyon to the east until it collapsed in 1928 and killed over 400 people in the Santa Clara River Valley. Within the Canyon’s outer borders remains the small, separate community of Green Valley. It’s also home to theBouquet Reservoir, Tule Ridge, Jupiter Mountain, Mount Burn, Brusby Mountain, Del Sur Ridge and Bee Mountain. The area was a popular filming location for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series.

ELIZABETH LAKE

Elizabeth Lake

Elizabeth Lake is small town in Northwest Los Angeles County‘s Lake Towns area in the north. Elizabeth Lake is one of a series of sag lakes surrounded by rolling hills and known to the indigenous Tataviam as Kivarum. In 1780, Father Junipero Serra named the lake La Laguna de Diablo because it was believed to be the home of a monster, now known as the Elizabeth Lake Monster. Other names it had include Rabbitt and La Laguna de Chico Lopez. Its current name stuck after a vacationing woman named Elizabeth Wingfield fell in (and was uninjured) in 1849. The population is roughly 76% white (mostly German, Irish, Canadian and English), 16% Latino (mostly Mexican), 4% black and 1% Asian.

GORMAN

Gorman, CA

Gorman is a small village in the northwestern-most corner of Los Angeles. There are only about a dozen homes located there but thousands of motorists stop there, knowing it as the last chance to refuel with gas and/or fast food for some distance.

GREEN VALLEY

Green Valley, California

Green Valley is a small village centered around the junction of San Francisquito Canyon Road and Spunky Canyon Road. True to its name, it’s a wooded, green area surrounded by hills, somewhat resembling the Ozarks or Appalachians. The small population of 754 people is 75% white (mostly German and English), 12% Latino (mostly Mexican and Argentine), 6% black and 3% Asian.


HASLEY CANYON

HASLEY CANYON Park, HASLEY CANYON

Hasley Canyon is one of the smallest towns in Northwest Los Angeles County. The population of 423 people is 61% white (mostly English), 27% Latino (mostly Mexican), 5% black and 4% Asian. It’s home to Hasley Canyon Park and Hasley Canyon Mobile Home Park.


LAKE HUGHES

Lake Hughes

Lake Hughes is a small town in the Lake Towns area of Northern Los Angeles County, adjacent to Elizabeth Lake but very different in character, even though the population breakdown (76% white (mostly German, Irish, Canadian and English), 16% Latino (mostly Mexican), 4% black and 1% Asian) is, statistically speaking, almost identical ethnically. The town of Lake Hughes was named for Judge Griffith Patrick Hughes, who broke his town off from Elizabeth Lake in 1924, hoping to create a recreation area. The center of culture is the Rock Inn, built by Joel Hurd, Sr in 1929. It originally served as an inn, general store, post office and gas station and today it still attracts a lot of bikers. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans also moved to Lake Hughes in 1947 and there established their Sky Haven Ranch. Paul Newman founded the Painted Turtle camp in the town in 1999 for use by terminal and chronically ill children.
 


RIDGE ROUTE

Ridge Route vintage photo

Ridge Route refers both the the Castaic-Tejon Route highway and the large, unincorporated locale around it. There have been several overland routes through the mountains. One included a deep cut known as Beale’s Cut, which was lowered in 1904. The Ridge Route highway, when paved with concrete between 1917 and 1921, became the first paved highway linking the Los Angeles Basin with the San Joaquin Valley. Naturally, several businesses opened to serve travelers: The Reservoir Summit Café, Kelly’s Half Way Inn, Tumble Inn and Sandberg’s Lodge offered luxury to wary travelers during their short lives. Today, only the foundations, concrete steps and partial walls remain of these 20th century ruins.

It’s home of the large Castaic Lake, an artificial lake on Castaic Creek formed by Castaic Dam. The sparse population of under 2,000 is 70% white (mostly German and English), 20% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 5% Asian (mostly Thai). The area also includes Mount Tejon, Mount Pines, Bald Mountain, Liebre Mountain, Redrock Moutain, Reservoir Hill, Burnt Peak, Slide Mountain, Mount Hiway, Whitaker Peak, Townsend Peak, Loma Verde, Warm Springs Mountain, Sawmill Mountain, Sawtooth Mountain, Quail Lake, Pyramid Lake, Elderberry Forebay and Castaic Lagoon.

SANDBERG

Ruins of the Sandberg Inn

Sandberg is a small village located southeast of Quail Lake. It was formerly home of the luxurious Sandberg’s Inn, which served travelers along the Ridge Route Highway until it was destroyed by a fire in 1961. A small number of inhabitants remain and there’s a Sandberg post office.

SANTA CLARITA

Santa Clarita, Saugas Hills

It may surprise you that Santa Clarita is now the fourth largest city in Los Angeles County (after Los Angeles, Long Beach and Glendale). Urban in size but thoroughly suburban in character, it’s a prime example of a boomburb with a population of about 160,000 people of whom roughly 69% are white (mostly German), 21% Latino (mostly Mexican), Asian (mostly Filipino) 5% and black 2%. When it was incorporated in 1987, it was created from a union of the pre-existing communities of Canyon Country, Newhall, Saugus, and Valencia. The first documented discovery of gold in California took place there in 1842, in Placerita Canyon. It was a popular location for filming, often westerns featuring William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Harry Carey and John Wayne. It’s also home of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) and Six Flags Magic Mountain; the latter was featured in films and TV series including Rollercoaster, National Lampoon’s Vacation (as Wally World), Step By Step, Entourage, CHiPs, Wonder Woman, Way Out Games, Knight Rider, Beverly Hills, 90210, The King of Queens, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park


SANTA SUSANA MOUNTAINS

Ed Davis Park at Towsley Canyon

The unincorporated region of the Santa Susana Mountains geographically surrounds the separate towns of Stevenson Ranch and Val Verde. The sparsely-populated area also includes Pico Canyon, Sand Rock Peak, Ed Davis Park at Towsley Canyon, La Quinta, Rocky Peak, Indian Springs Open Space, Santa Clarita Woodlands Park, East and Rice Canyon, Michael D. Antonovich Open Space and (on the opposite side of Oat Mountain) Michael D. Antonovich Regional Park at Joughin Ranch. The population of roughly 4,525 people is approximately 58% white (mostly German), 19% Asian (mostly Filipino), 17% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 3% black.

STEVENSON RANCH

Stevenson Ranch

Stevenson Ranch is an affluent community of tract homes situated in the fire-prone foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains. In 1875, the oil town of Mentryville was founded in the same area. The planned community of Stevenson Ranch was approved by the county in 1987. The suburban “edge city” has a population that’s about 65% white (mostly German and Irish), 14% Asian (mostly Filipino), 13% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 2% black. It’s been featured in films and TV series including Weeds and Pleasantville.


VAL VERDE

Val Verde, California

Val Verde is a small, rural town that was established by Spaniards in the 19th century after gold was discovered in the area. In the mid-1920s, a town named Eureka was established in the same place, designed as resort community for blacks who were otherwise largely banned from public beaches and swimming pools in the county. It was nicknamed the Black Palm Springs but after racist restrictive housing codes were abolished, the black population largely fanned out to other areas. Today the population is 50% Latino (mostly Mexican and Guatemalan), 38% white (mostly Irish), 7% black and 1% Asian.

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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, or listicles and jobs must pay more than slave wages as he would rather write for pleasure than for peanuts. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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