at Dawn Mine
Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff
One Sunday afternoon while skimming through newspaper clippings
about the Mt. Lowe, California area, I came across an interview
a reporter had with a conductor of the scenic railroad. The conductor,
from memory, proceeded to recite his spiel and so the reporter
wrote it down.
A part that particularly caught my attention went like this; "We
have now passed around the Cape of Good Hope and are entering
Millard Canyon. Just ahead is the longest stretch of straight
track on this section of the trip. It is 225 feet long. Millard
Canyon below you now is a beautifully wooded canyon with a small
stream at the bottom. Below us in the canyon at this point is
the Dawn Mine, an early-day gold mining venture. Several of the
tunnels still remain but are boarded up and used as part of Pasadena's
water supply system."
Well, now that opened my eyes. A gold mine in Millard Canyon,
imagine that. Once upon a time I prospected around Randsburg,
the Cajon Summit and the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, moving
on only to research more about our Mt. Lowe Railroad. Now the
railroad seemed to be bringing me back to my golden beginnings.
The Dawn Mine
District is located in the southern part of the San Gabriel Mountains,
which separate the Southern California basin on the south from the
Mojave Desert on the north. Its boundaries are Eaton Canyon on the
East, Bear Canyon on the North, Arroyo Seco on the West, and to
the south of Altadena. The entire district covered roughly sixteen
square miles and is some of the most rugged terrain in the region.
The area reached its current elevations by several stages of uplifts
since the late Pliocine time. In the southern extremities of the
San Gabriel's the elevations range from one thousand to two thousand
feet, while in the northern end the height of 6152 feet is reached
at San Gabriel Peak.
The Dawn Mine District was compromised of four mines, Saucer Canyon
Mine, Dawn mine, Eagle Lutch Mine and Upper Dawn Mine. The first
three of these mines were all located on the same vein, the main
ore body being about two miles long.
Mine being the first along the vein in the small tributary of Millard
Canyon. Here the surface shows the appearance of a hematite in quartz
vein, dark brown to red in color 100 feet in width. The brave miner
that operated this claim had his cabin suspended in the air by steel
cables, which held it against the face of a sheer rock wall. The
auriferous vein of the Eagle Lutch Mine is at the upper end of the
first ravine to the west of Las Flores Canyon. It is believed to
be a branch of the main vein that heads in a southwesterly direction
from just above the Dawn Mine. The Upper Dawn Mine is located on
the south side of the trail from Dawn Mine to Switzer-land, about
one and one-half miles north of the Dawn Mine.
The main mine of the district was the Dawn Mine. Dawn is deep in
the folds of Millard canyon whose walls rise 1000 to 1500 feet.
Access was gained to the area by way of Millard Canyon Trail or
from above by means of the Scenic Mt. Lowe Railroad. From Millard
Canyon it is a pleasant two and one half-mile trip.
This prospect is said to have been found by a Spaniard, though I
would venture to guess the Gabrielino Indians of the area knew it
earlier. The first owner of record was Bradford Peck. Peck had come
from the Randsburg Mines where he was a partner with a man named
Ehrenfeld, whose daughter Peck was quite fond of. Her name was Dawn
and hence the Dawn Mine was named. Peck operated the mine for a
number of years with limited success. Although a minor gold rush
of sorts was occurring in the area the booming explosions of men
blasting their way through granite while creating the Mt. Lowe railway
bed overshadowed the mining ventures.
On July 10 1902
an experienced miner from Australia, Michael T. Ryan purchased the
Dawn Mine. Ryan extended the tunnels further into the mountain and
actually ran a profitable venture for a time. Ryan built a narrow
trail that switched back numerous times up the steep walls of Millard
Canyon to where it met the Alpine division of the narrow gauge railroad.
Ryan's two faithful and sure-footed burros were appropriately named
Jack and Jill. Once having traversed the precipitous trail the mules
had their load of ore transferred to a railroad car where it was
eventually brought down to Echo Mt. and then lowered again by way
of the great incline to Rubio Canyon and finally brought to market.
Assays at the time put the sulfide ore of the major vein at $25-27.00
a ton while the limonite ore from a lesser ore ran $13-17.00 per
The Pacific Electric Railroad, owners of the Scenic Mt. Lowe Railroad,
built a station stop at the top of the trail and called it Dawn
Station. For a time the trolley would stop at Dawn Station and the
adventurous tourists riding the rails would tramp down to the lower
reaches of the canyon to visit the workings of the gold mine. This
became a problem for the railway as the arduous trek back up caused
numerous delays. I'm told that someone had a phony gold mine built
just a ways down the trail to avoid future delays.
By 1927, according to the Report of the State Mineralogist the Dawn
mine was idle. Perhaps Ryan was ill, as it was two quick years later
that Michael T. Ryan died. Ryan's widow let several miners work
the claims until 1933.
At that time Ryan's wife leased the mine to a group headed by L.
L. Hunter, H. L. Comstock, and L. L. Hilton. The group invested
large sums of money boring new tunnels into the mountainside bring
the total workings to a distance of 1200 feet. In 1935 after an
extremely wet season washed out some of the Mt. Lowe Railroads track,
the Hunter group built a small mill site one-half mile downstream
from the mine. At the mill there was a grizzly with one inch openings;
elevator to small bin, two vibrating screens, 20 and 30 mesh; oversized
to combined crusher and rolls, followed by one sand and one slime
table. It took four men to work the mill site.
The Hunter group
developed and sunk a wince 55 feet on the vein 3-4 feet wide. The
ore values in this wince are said to be $20-30.00 per ton. A raise
was also put in to connect with an upper tunnel where the vein is
said to reach five feet in width and contain better values. One
year the team hit a kidney pocket, which yielded $3400.00. Although
values were better and occasional good pockets brought prolonged
dreams of riches, the team's small profits went to larger losses.
Building the mill and other expenses simply ate up all hope of making
By the time the Mt. Lowe Railroad made its last run in December
of 1937 new trails were built for hauling the ore out and at one
time a couple of Model T Fords were even used. Just below the mine
entrance lying in the streambed half buried in the gravel's lays
an engine probably used for this purpose. The demands of World War
II cut off much of the powder and other essentials needed for mining
and operations were brought to an end.
A wooden door was placed across the opening of the mine tunnel but
it has failed to keep out impetuous explorers of the dark and damp
hazard. In 1954 the sheriff at the time, Pete Sutton, made an inspection
of the mine and recommended that the openings either be dynamited
closed or the openings be closed in by steel doors set in concrete.
The owner at the time a C. H. Finlayson of Hawaii was contacted
in regards to the matter but we can assume to no end as the mine
lies unprotected to this day.
strongly suggests that you stay out of this mine. It is dangerous
and not for the faint of heart. The exploration of mines should
be set aside for the professional and not taken lightly. Hiking
to the Dawn Mine is another matter. It is a beautiful trek to a
historic site that can easily be done in half a day.
Below is an account of a visit to the Dawn mine.
Our hand held
lights flickered against the cool walls of the tunnel as we traversed
the first fifteen feet of Dawn Mine in a crouched position. With
the low stony roof and watery floor one is constantly forced to
be aware of their position. We proceeded with a slow and shambling
pace into the damp darkness towards what appeared to be an island.
Two ancient square beams grew from the mound of soil that made
the island and though these beams stopped around waist level,
I imagine they at one time provided some means of support in the
The tunnel roof opened up above us, a shaft climbing to the height
of over fifty feet, and going, who knew where. It was a wormhole
of sorts to another world in these underground possessions. On
the right of our position another tunnel veered off in a northerly
direction. In the entry to this branch the floor again appeared
to be water logged and though not plainly perceptible at first,
it had the look of peril in the greatest degree. With lamp in
hand I maneuvered two steps closer towards this watery entrance.
My lamp finally reached its mark, fully engulfing the water filled
manhole that lay before me. The site of this watery grave jerked
my feet to such an abrupt halt, that I almost went head over heels
into this great abyss.
My fearless friends foreseeing my potential predicament grabbed
onto my jacket and jerked me back a step. A gesture I was most
beholden for as we peered on bent knees into the drenched depths
of what was later found to be fifty-five feet deep. My friends
and I backed up onto the safety of the island and then pressed
onward into another tunnel that led off to the west. This tunnel
proceeded in for a distance of one hundred fifty feet or so, with
numerous side passages of lesser extent to explore.
Deep in the folds of this subterranean domain when the wet walls
bluntly came to an end, my friends and I pondered the fate of
those with no lamp to light their way and so extinguished all
sources of our luminance. In the black nothingness around us the
only sounds we were to hear were the echoes of water droplets
hitting the occasional puddle on the tunnel floor and the sporadic
clearing of ones throat when one feels the insecurities of this
Lamps again lit we headed back to the island and one last look
into the murky depths of the water filled shaft. Looking out towards
the tunnel entrance, a glad and yellow sunshine was striving to
gain admittance and so we raced across the waterlogged planks
that lined the floor to give it a full and proper greeting. Once
fully in its presence, we stretched and strutted in its warmth,
'til we had our fill and then sat in the shade of the giant oaks
to snack and reflect upon our visit to the depths of Dawn Mine.