March 2005 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts







Bill Becher, L.A. Daily News outdoor writer and photographer went to Bodie with us in September. Read what he wrote about the trip. Click the photo to link to the story.




The birth of a new year is also the death of California campfire permits issued in 2004. Visit your local land management agency (BLM, NPS, USFS or State Parks) to renew your campfire permit for the 2005 calendar year.

Click on the photo below to read more about Cerro Gordo.



Ecological 4-Wheeling Adventures


Click on either graphic below to get there.

Ecological 4-Wheeling Adventures (ECO4WD) offers more than 20 exciting four wheel drive backcountry adventure tours, SUV excursions, 4WD classes and 4-wheeling trainings. Their adventure tours range from one-day outings into Southern California's mountains and deserts to SUV mini-vacations in Death Valley, whale watching (4WD not required!) on the Baja peninsula and a 12-day, surprising luxurious expedition (no camping) into the uncharted depths of Mexico's Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre). Their "clean and easy" eco-tour style is sensitive and responsible to the environment, your family and your four wheel drive vehicle.

Don't have a 4X and want to visit historic sites in Eastern California?

Capture the spirit of the past as it comes alive with true tales of pioneer families, prospectors, muleskinners, hero's and gunslingers. Listen to legends of lost gold, found wealth and superstitions. Journey back in time with Terri Geissinger - Historian, Interpreter and Guide

Click on Terri's yellow van for Terri's Ghost Town Tours or contact Terri by clicking here:



The Panamint Breeze is a new publication highlighting the history and legends California and Nevada.  

Click on the logo to request  subscription information.

The Great Floods of the San Gabriel Mountains  

Part II:  1934 Floods Wash Away La Crescenta and

Sunland-Tujunga Valleys

by Cecile Page Vargo

          After a brief respite from the rains of January 2005, I find myself sitting here at my laptop once again, listening to water pouring down my rain gutter spouts. The un-sidewalked side of my street periodically turns into a gushing streambed as I type, the dog yard behind my house is now a muddy pond.  Within two hours the rain gauge records four inches of rain. While I feel relatively safe that my house is not dangerously close to the San Gabriel mountain hillsides, and I have some faith in modern flood control, I am reminded of "Noah-type" storms of the past that wreaked great havoc on my community and the neighboring ones in the last century.   

Fast moving waters in the Tujunga Wash submerge a section of Oro Vista Ave. (far left), temporarily isolating the community of Riverwood.

New Years Eve Comes Barreling In

          Moments before 1934 arrived, the anticipation and excitement of a new year would quickly turn to terror as heavy rains sent great walls of debris, mud, and water down the San Gabriel Mountains to the unsuspecting residents of the Crescenta and Tujunga Valley communities below. The La Crescenta and Montrose areas reported at least 40 people dead, and 400 homes seriously damaged or destroyed. Amongst the dead were New Year's Eve celebrants at the local American Legion Hall.

          In his book, The Control of Nature, John McPhee, describes iceberg size boulders amongst the debris that washed down the mountains on that fateful New Years Day of 1934. Dozens of people were killed, hundreds of houses destroyed. One major debris flow came down from Pickens Canyon, past Foothill Boulevard, and through the business district of Montrose. An eight foot boulder laid to rest on Honolulu, three miles south of the mountain front where it originally came from. The streets of La Crescenta "were like braided rivers of Alaska, with channels of water looping past islands of debris." The square roofs of Model A's sticking out of the mud throughout the area, looked more like river rafts than automobiles.

Harrowing Train & Automobile Ride In The Deluge

          A letter submitted by Mrs. Bill Barker, of Ojai, appears in June Dougherty's Sources of History La Crescenta.  Mrs. Barker, who was known as Margaret Repath in 1934, describes a harrowing account of her family's New Year's Eve train and car trip from Santa Barbara to Glendale. The weather was relatively dry until they hit San Luis Obispo. By Oxnard and Chatsworth it was wet enough to delay their train travel progress.  Each side of the track was filled with water, slowing them even more. The train came to a halt between Burbank and Glendale, three hours behind schedule. After another two hours of starting and stopping the going was to rough to continue on.   

          At this last stop so close to Burbank, Margaret and her children ages three and five, suddenly saw Chuck, whom she was married to at the time, running through the train to them. He was "drenched to the skin, barefooted, trousers rolled up above his knees", and surely a sight for sore eyes. Chuck and friends had waited at the Glendale train station until it became apparent they were not arriving, then took off by automobile to get to them. 

          The drive to Glendale was even more terrifying than the train ride had been. Streets were described as "regular rivers" with abandoned  cars everywhere. The car stalled at San Fernando Road and water got in the distributor. Margaret and children waited in the back seat, while the men got out to find help. They must have watched in horror as the men were nearly swept off their feet by fast moving water. Inside the car, water was starting to come in the floor, and everyone braced themselves for the worst. At last, Chuck found two boys in a Buick helping people. Margaret and children were carried  across "the torrent" to some realm of safety. Meantime, the Packard they left behind had filled up to the running boards in silt. 

          The family was slowly driven through Glendale, stopping often at apartment houses asking if there was room for them to stay until it was safe, but every place was already full of flood refugees. As they reached North Glendale the Buick stalled, and they were stranded once again. The men shivered from their wet clothes as they tried to wrap up in a half wet auto robe. Then at last a man in oilskins managed to wade to their car and offered them the comforts of his home. They were provided food and a place out of the rain to sleep, while the owner of the home kept an eye out in case the wash half a mile away decided to change course and head towards them in the night. The next morning, the family neighbor was called to come get them in his big car and take them to their home on Crown Street in La Crescenta. Although the street ran "curb to curb" with water, they felt they were in a safe haven at last.

          Before the debris was hauled away, Margaret and her family managed to get down to the flood areas of Montrose and La Crescenta. Margaret's last paragraph of her letter describes what they saw,  "We stood back about 100 feet from where they were digging out a woman and her children. They had been drowned like rats in their bed and covered with silt and debris at least 10 feet deep."  The scene was too horrible for her to continue to describe in her own words at this point, and from here she relies on a Times reporter's account: "It is impossible to believe such a tragedy could happen, unless actually seeing it." The end of Margaret's letter to her mother notes that  "rainfall are 17-1/2 inches for this section in the one storm, believe it or not.  Los Angeles received about 8 inches only."  

Read More  


The Great Floods of the San Gabriel Mountains  

Part III:  The Floods of 1938 and Beyond 

by Cecile Page Vargo

           The floods of March 1938 came with an even stronger vengeance to the Sunland/Tujunga area and the mountains above, than those of the previous years. People found themselves stranded in all of the canyons, with at least 260 cut completely off from the outside world in Big Tujunga alone. As small streambeds turned to full blown raging rivers, many started to overflow, and canyon residents found themselves without food or shelter. The Big Tujunga dam filled to capacity. When the decision was made to release the dam waters to prevent an even larger disaster, a fifteen foot wall of yellow water roared past the community of Sunland. Normally dry washes  filled with torrents of water and uprooted the trees and boulders along the harrowing path they decided to take.

Canyons Communities Destroyed, Rescue Efforts Begin

          The Wildwood Lodge, La Paloma and Vogel Flats were damaged when the flood water and debris came through. Peaceful picnic areas and the roads and bridges that went to them were all destroyed. Thirty-two people were marooned in Trail canyon, 20 homes damaged at La Paloma and Vogel. Just above Detention Camp #15, the ranger station across the stream was

The floods of 1978 nearly buried cars in the office parking lot of the Wildlife Waystation in Little Tujunga Canyon.

 destroyed. One CCC camp worker body was found below the Big Tujunga Wash Bridge , 300 other CCC workers found themselves stranded at their camp. Two SERA workers were found dead just below the dam, as well.  A total of 447 cabins were either destroyed or damaged in the canyons hit by the heavy rains and the flooding that followed.

         Radio transmitters were installed at both Big Tujunga and Pacoima Dams so ham radio operators could relay messages to canyon residents. Food was dropped by airplane to Big Tujunga and Trail Canyons . Rescuers came in on horseback to bring any that would brave the ride out of the flood zones, and the American Legion Hall provided shelter for those who needed it. Those who either refused or couldn't leave their cabins and camps received messages dropped from airplanes, telling them to use white cloth strips that were a foot wide and ten feet long to form large letters on the ground that could be used to spell out the following code: 

  •       A  -  no help required today, return tomorrow

  •           E  -   food needed at once for ten persons

  •           H  -   food for twenty

  •           K   -  food for 30

  •           L   -   food for 40

  •           T   -   food for 50

  •           V   -   first aid kit urgently needed

  •           X   -   medical aid urgently needed

  •           O   -   no casualties in our camp

  •           Y   -    followed by a number indicated number of camp casualties

Read More  


2005 Tour Information

We're still in the process of revising our 2005 schedule.

Please contact us at for current tour information.

Explore Historic California!

     Not too many years ago, the family station wagon was the magic carpet to adventure. Today, that family station wagon is likely to be a four wheel drive sport utility vehicle or pick up truck. SUV's and other 4x4's are one of the best selling classes of vehicles. Ironically, industry statistics show that once purchased, few owners will dare to drive their vehicles off the paved highway. Click your mouse through our website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them. If you are interested in taking one of our guided tours with your vehicle, please visit our ECOLOGICAL 4-WHEELING ADVENTURES.

     Several years ago, we bought our first SUV. We went to a one-night class at a local community college entitled "How to 4-Wheel Drive" by Harry Lewellyn. The following weekend we attended the hands-on day tour. We liked what we were doing so much that we began going out nearly every weekend and learned how to negotiate a variety of dirt roads. Our spare time was spent doing research on the history and ecology of our favorite areas. A one-day outing turned into 16 years of leading others on mini-vacations throughout Southern California and the Owens Valley.

     Our 4WD outings involve driving on easy to moderate dirt roads and are ideally suited to novice and intermediate level drivers. All tours are suitable for stock vehicles in good condition, although some tours do have vehicle size restrictions.

     Our tours are operated under permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and other authorities.

     We share our knowledge of the backcountry over the CB radio with our guests. We frequently stop to explore mining areas, old and new, and ponder the rocks, plants and animals we may encounter. We'll occasionally visit an old cabin or deserted mountain lookout.

     California has a fascinating history, from geologic unrest and prehistoric petroglyph scribes to the "Radium Queen of the Mojave" and the "Human Mole of Black Mountain." Load up your 4X, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to explore historic California.

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