Tony Krizan

Another forgotten stagecoach road

By Tony Krizan

Pickaxe marks on a sandstone boulder along the road.
Pickaxe marks on a sandstone boulder along the road. Special to Sierra Star

Wherever I travel within this golden state of California, someone introduces me to part of its history. Recently I visited friends in Southern California at the western end of the San Fernando Valley. From the 118 freeway I could see miles of irregular rock formations identified as the Chatsworth Mountains. Just east of those mountains, below those gigantic rock formations, I could see the town of Chatsworth.

Local history states in 1910 the movie industry used these mountains to film the early westerns. Such famous names as Tom Mix, Gary Cooper, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Dale Evens and the Lone Ranger were just a few of the famous actors during the 1940s. Western movie towns were also snuggled within its rugged canyons.

Spahn Ranch, with its 500 acres, created an excellent backdrop for those early films. One cannot forget the historic town of Corriganville located on the northern side of the Santa Susana Pass in Simi Valley. Time and population growth has stolen the personality of these historic locations. The Spahn movie ranch was destroyed by fire in 1970 and the 1,500 acres of the Corriganville western town suffered the same fate. For those of us who remember those early westerns, we have our memories.

On the northern border of Chatsworth Park is the Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park. Guess what? They have hiking trails.

One famous pathway is the Santa Susana Stagecoach Road that was carved into the mountain side by the local Indians between 1850 and 1861. This original path over the mountain was a game trail they used for centuries. There were three tribes who called this area their home: Chumash, Tongva and Talaviam.

One very steep area was named The Devils Slide which had a 21% grade. Logs were placed into wagon wheel spokes to lock the wheel and keep them from rolling to control the wagon’s descent. The Old Wawona Stage Coach Road into Yosemite also had its steep grade called the Washburn Slide. But its grade was only 12% descending into the valley.

The Santa Susana Pass Road was once a route for the famous Butterfield Overland Stage Company. Wells Fargo Stage Lines also used this road between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara before the introduction of the railroad. Traveling during California’s early history must have been quite an experience compared to our mode of transportation today.

I took four separate hiking adventures while visiting this historic state park. My guides were John Luker, Wendi Gladstone and Sharon Shingai. Our first adventure was the Santa Susana Pass Road climbing from Chatsworth over the pass into Simi Valley. Here I experienced Devils Slide and that 21% grade.

Today erosion has removed most of the carved areas, but the groves from the wagon wheels still remain imbedded into the sandstone rock surface. Pickaxe marks on the large sandstone flat slabs still are visible. This hike was moderate to strenuous and lasted only three hours.

The second hike was an adventure trying to locate the original stagecoach road dropping from the pass into Simi Valley. Once again those pickaxe marks were displayed along this overgrown brush road. We were rewarded with a date carved into a sandstone rock; 1918 with the initial T between the forgotten road and overgrown brushy trails leading through those remote canyons. This hike took over three hours.

One has the tendency to forget the hardships of desert heat, those sharp prickly yucca plants and loose scree on the mountain sides while trying to rediscover our past history. Most of the seasonal streams have been dry since early spring. When hiking cross-country those dry stream beds made excellent trails. The colors associated with this ancient sandstone are unique to these Chatsworth Mountains.

On my final day I was invited to meet Ray and Ann Vincent at their ranch. They are both associated with the Chatsworth Historical Society. Ray is the Research Director and Ann is the Editor of their newsletter called “Smoke Signal.”

As we were touring their ranch something looked familiar about the landscaping. I asked myself; was my memory playing tricks on me? In 1968 I was filming a movie called “Blaze Glory” in which I had a part as an actor. With the knowledge of Ray and Ann Vincent knowing this area; yes, this was that movie location. I am truly thankful for their generous hospitality by inviting me to their ranch. I rekindled memories of my past experiences and they have another story to introduce to the Chatsworth Historical Society.

Book signing

A book signing for Krizan’s new book, “Mountain Secrets Revealed, will be held 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Sept. 17, at Branches Books (in the new location in the Old Mill Center in Oakhurst).

The book features Krizan’s adventures into Kings Canyon searching for a missing Curtiss Wright P-40 aircraft, and other journeys along the High Sierra Route looking down on the John Muir Trail. Trails that have been forgotten over time are introduced in separate chapters.