La Puerta (The Door)

This page is about La Puerta, but none of the photos show La Puerta. La Puerta is gone, its location somewhere under the Antelope Valley Freeway (Highway 14). The photos show an interesting geological feature of a fork in Elsmere Canyon up the northeast tributary. It is located about 1.3 miles, as the crow flies, from the assumed location of Lyon's station at the existing Eternal Valley Cemetary off of Sierra Highway.

In the History of Santa Clarita, Jerry Reynolds (Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society curator at the time) wrote:
"In 1838 Jacoba Felix del Valle petitioned Governor Juan B. Alvarado for a grant of land described as: Bounded on the west by the Arroyo Piru, which comes down from the mountains on the north and runs into the rivers called Santa Clara, and a line extended across ... to a large oak tree ... upon the top of a hill and standing alone ... a line drawn from said tree east through the hills until it reaches the door (la puerta) or bar which is in the high road from San Fernando to [Rancho] San Francisco ... and thence ... to the Arroyo Taburga on the east, following said arroyo in a northerly direction until it empties into the River St. Clare."
Here's how A.B. Perkins described La Puerta (here called La Puerca) in a Daily Signal article ("The Rough Road Behind Us") of March, 1964:
"By the time the Butterfield Stages were operating (1858), a new trail (starting at today's Tunnel Station) went over the only reasonable hogback in the range to the crest, and through a shallow cut, then wobbled on the skyline easterly to the original trail down the north slope. It wasn't good - but it was a big improvement. Near the foot of the north slope (nearly in today's Elsmere Canyon) the trail passed "La Puerca" (the gate) in a narrow arroyo that could be - and was - spanned by a couple of saplings, in such broken country that this one short barrier was adequate range fence between the herds of the Mission ranch and the herds of Rancho San Francisco."
It was also stated by others beside Perkins (see above) that so many cattle inhabited the Santa Clarita Valley that a fence (or bar) was placed across La Puerta to keep them from wandering into the San Fernando Valley.

In Grizzly Bear Magazine, February 1908, there is an article entitled "El Camino Real vs. State Road" by Mrs. A. S. C. Forbes (Secretary, El Camino Real Association). She writes:
"There was but one pass (now Fremont Pass) known to the padres that led into the head valley of the Santa Clara river and that was early closed to all travel by a secure fence which permitted of no passage by man or beast. This fence was placed there in 1797 and remained until 1822 and when it was at last torn down there was no road built throught the pass until our government troops made one."
In 1993 the Santa Clarita Historial Society, led by Jerry Reynolds, tried to get this geological feature designated as a State of California Historical Landmark called "La Puerta Del Camino Viejo" - The Door of the Old Road. They apparently were so desparate to stop the proposed dump that they ignored not only previous work on the old road (in particular Ripley) but common sense. Luckily, not only was the dump stopped, but the landmark designation failed (the landowner had to agree and the dump company owned the land).

Previous work on the subject state that La Puerta was located on the old road near the southest corner of Rancho San Francisco. The location of the old road was shown on old maps (like the one below) as not going into Elsmere Canyon, but coming from the San Fernando Valley, going up unto a high, flat area overlooking the San Fernando valley, heading down a ravine toward the east, and then, as the ravine turned north, to Lyon's Station Station near the present-day cemetary. (See "The San Fernando Pass and the Pioneer Traffic the Went over It" by V. S. Ripley in the Quarterly Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California for March 1947, Sept-Dec 1947, March 1948, and June 1948).

Crespi wrote that "we ascended by a sharp ridge to a high pass, the ascent and descent of which was painful, the descent being made on foot because of the steepness." William Lewis Manly (Death Valley in '49) travelled over the road twice. He wrote that both sides going over the San Fernando Mountain were steep. This does not fit the topography of an Elsmere Canyon road.

From Williamson's report of 1853 ("Report of Lieutenant R. S. Williamson, Corps of Topographical Engineers, Upon the Routes in California to Connect with the Routes near the Thirty-fifth and Thirty-second Parallels" - see my Old Road page in the Tunnel Area webpage): "Two small streams, rising near the crest of the Susannah range, and one-quarter of a mile apart, flow in opposite directions - the one north into the Santa Clara, the other south towards the mission of San Fernando. Between the two is a sharp crest, where the inclination is over 1,000 feet to the mile. This is the nature of this pass, which is only 8 3/4 miles from base to base."

In 1907, Eldridge and Arnold reported (The Santa Clara Valley, Puente Hills and Los Angeles Oil Districts, Southern California, USGS Bulletin No. 309) that "The Santa Ana Company has three wells high up on the north point of this ridge (the western face of Elsmere ridge), while the wells of the other companies are ranged along a tributary of Newhall Creek, west of Elsmere Ridge, in proximity to the Los Angeles wagon road." This places the old road very close to Newhall Creek and nowhere near Elsmere Canyon, which is east of Elsmere Ridge.

The Landmark application has the old road coming from the San Fernando Valley heading up the high, flat area and heading northeast down into Elsmere Canyon past "La Puerta", up again to the current Whitney Canyon road, and west toward present-day Sierra Highway and San Fernando Road. No traveler of the time (see Ripley) reports such an up-down, up-down trip that this would entail. The only road that could have come down into Elsmere Canyon would have to be near the existing utility road because there is a tributary to the east that would have blocked going in that direction. There are portions of an old unused road (see below picture) that runs down the south face into Elsmere Canyon near the existing utility road that someone might claim was the old road. However, where it reaches the bottom (at the same place as the existing utility road), the proposed La Puerta is still over 2000 feet away to the east, the opposite direction of Lyon's Station. This old road is probably the old road to the oil wells on top of Elsmere ridge built by Pacific Coast Oil Company before 1902.

If you ever hike in Elsmere Canyon take the left fork and continue up to the so-called "La Puerta" site, it can't be missed. Check out the slopes and picture a wagon going up or down. In fact could a wagon even get there? If you keep going up the left fork you will eventually run into a 50-foot water. Go up the right fork and you will be stopped by smaller waterfalls that are nearly impossible to get over. No cattle could climb up to the top, and even if they could, the San Fernando Valley is way to the south. Why would anybody need to stop cattle from going up basically two dead-end forks?

Jerry Reynolds writes in the landmark application:
"A curious spine of sandstone and weathered rock extended across the canyon, almost closing it off. It was named La Puerta ("The Door"), becoming something of a landmark in those early days. A couple of logs, laid across the narrow opening, prevented cattle from straying over the mountains from one mission land holding to another."
Huh? That statement may be true about the real La Puerta, but it is totally false about what the application claims is La Puerta. How did a fork in the canyon become "a spine of rock extended across the canyon, almost closing it off"? It is just one many false statements in the application about the fork in the canyon that Reynolds claimed was La Puerta. Also, it is interesting that Ripley, in the definitive work on the old road through the San Fernando Pass, doesn't mention La Puerta at all. It would seem that even the true La Puerta was not as important as Reynolds would lead us to believe.

To summarize, La Puerta was located somewhere under Highway 14. Apparently, in an effort to stop the world's largest dump in Elsmere Canyon, it was moved into the canyon with an failed attempt to make it a historical landmark. The good news is that the approval for the dump also failed.

Here is the first documentation of the fork misnamed as La Puerta. This is from the Ninth Annual Report of the State Mineralogist for the Year ending December 1, 1889, p. 205-206. There is no mention of any stagecoach road.

From above. It would be impossible for a stagecoach road to come down from the right (east) to the creek bed and then go up to the left (west). It is way too steep on both slopes. Also, it would be going in the wrong direction. The road was generally north/south. (3-10-2007)

From another angle (3-10-2007)

At the bottom looking directly at the fork (3-10-2007)

Another view of the fork (3-10-2007)

Filled up with sediment and ash after the November, 2004 rains. The plant life on the slopes was burned away after the July, 2004 Foothill fire. (4-12-2004)

This is a 1963 photo of A.B. Perkins at "La Puerta". Notice how the canyon is filled in with sediments. There was a major fire in Elsmere Canyon in 1962. I wonder if this is the reason the bottom is not rocky like it is now - the 1962 file burned the hills and the 1962-63 rainy season filled in the canyon. After the 2004 file, the canyon bottom also filled in with sediments (see above picture). Note also the lack of plants as compared to the next picture.

Photo used by permission of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society

Looking down like the above picture. The plant life made it impossible to recreate previous 1963 picture. (3-10-2007)

This is a Jerry Reynolds sketch of "La Puerta" obviously copying the Perkins picture from above.

An old road next to south face utility road. The current utility road makes a dogleg left that you can't see in this photo. This old road follows a straighter upward route next to the ravine to the right of the photo. This is near the bottom of the canyon. The alleged La Puerta is over 2000 feet to the left (east) of this spot. Lyon's Station would be in the opposite (west) direction. This road is more than likely the road build by Pacific Coast Oil Company before 1902 shown on Eldridge's 1902 map (see geologic map on geology page). (3-24-2007)

Title page of application for Historical Landmark designation

Early map of southeast corner of Rancho San Francisco from "The San Fernando Pass and the Pioneer Traffic the Went over It" by V. S. Ripley in the March 1947 Quarterly Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California. This is the definitive work on the San Fernando Pass.

Close-up of map. Based on topographic maps, Ripley said that Elsmere Canyon is "Dry Gulch" in red square at top. The "Tower Shaped Bluff" in blue square in middle of map still exists and is located just east of Highway 14. It can be seen from the highway (see below picture). The southeast corner of Rancho San Francisco is in the large red square at the bottom of the map. La Puerta is supposed to be somewhere in there. Unfortunately for history, that area is now mostly Highway 14.

This is the map in the Historical Landmark Application. The feature claimed as La Puerta is actually in the red dot (I used a GPS to get the location and put it on a topo map). That puts it about 2000 feet (as the crow flies) east of the proposed old road where it reaches the canyon bottom.

Here is the "Tower Shaped Bluff" from the above map. This view is toward the southwest with Highway 14 in the bottom right of the picture and Elsmere Canyon behind me. The map shows the old road would be where the freeway is today and nowhere near Elsmere Canyon.

Same bluff from opposite direction. Highway 14 is just to the left of the photo.