Sonia Thompson Nature Center

The Sonia Thompson Nature Center is located next to the lodge about 1/2 mile from the parking lot. It was opened infrequently and manned by volunteers when it was open. I say "was" because it has been closed for some time now due to budget cutting by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. That doesn't sound quite right because there were no salaried employees running it, only volunteers.

Obviously, the center was named for Sonia Thompson, but who is Sonia Thompson?

Sonia Thompson and Andre
Andre and Sonia

About Sonia Thompson

In 1980, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) was created. Sonia Thompson was appointed as the first state employee of the organization. While not the Executive Director, she was the boss for nearly a month until Governor Jerry Brown finally appointed Joe Edmiston to the head position.

Sonia’s vision was more widespread then most. She knew that biologically the Santa Monica Mountains are not isolated, but are an integral part of a whole Southern California mountain ecosystem and that connectivity – not isolation – is the key to conserving this resource. So in Sonia’s vision the Simi Hills, the Santa Susana Mountains, and connectors into the Los Padres and Angeles National Forests were essential to the biological conservation mission of the SMMC.

Sonia took the lead in the SMMC’s advocacy of National Park Service acquisitions north of the 101 freeway. Before long the SMMC had obtained strategic properties from the Verdugo Mountains to the Simi Hills. Everywhere the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts wanted to put a landfill, Sonia was there first.

Towsley Canyon was one of those proposed landfill sites. However, in 1989, with Sonia doing the pushing, the SMMC acquired enough land at the mouth of the canyon to effectively stop the proposed dump. This would become the Towsley Canyon Park. That acquisition also started the movement that would eventually result in the current Santa Clarita Woodlands consisting of thousands of acres of public lands in Pico, Towsley, Wiley, Rice, and East Canyons.

So it is fitting that the nature center be dedicated to her.

Sonia now lives in the Pacific Northwest in Washington with her husband Bruce Barnbaum, a well-known architectural and nature photographer. She is working to preserve the wilderness there and is active with the Cascade Land Conservancy as a volunteer Trustee and Stewardship director. However, her new passion is agility and obedience dog training.

Entering the center. Volunteer Aileen at the desk ready to answer any questions.

Displays of rocks, minerals, fossils, and Indian artifacts. Only some actually came from Towsley Canyon. There is also a exhibit of fossils of the Santa Clarita Valley that I donated. None actually came from Towsley Canyon.

A 2003 Daily News article reports: A stuffed mountain lion the stalking position. How the cat ended up at the center is unclear. Wendy Langhans, a spokeswoman and lecturer at the center, said a mark on the right side of the wild cat's face provides a clue about its death. "This was probably a gunshot," she said. "Judging by its location, it looks like whoever shot it was an experienced hunter." One theory is a rancher shot it after it kept going after his cattle.

Center Irons
Center Irons

There are some oil artifacts here, but probably few came from Towsley Canyon. On the floor, this large square object with the extension on one side is one side of the center irons for a walking beam. The center irons connect the middle of the horizontal walking beam to the vertical samson post providing a pivet point for the beam as it moves up and down like a teeter-totter. I don't know what the object with the threads on top of it is. There is also an exhibit of Elsmere Canyon oil field artifacts donated by me.

There are also a couple of rare pictures of oil wells in Towsley Canyon. This picture of one photo shows Limbocker 1 spudded in 1941. In the upper right is the house of Charles Oliver Haws, Sr. (see the Haws page).

This is Hammon 1. The caption says 1926 but DOG records say 1929 and 1932, so the date is questionable. The bright spot is the reflection of the flash from my camera.