Week 150: Mentryville

October 21, 2018

Take a Hike into a Ghost Town—Not far from DTLA, 3.1 miles

Barbara and I couldn't resist a hike through a ghost town 10 days before Halloween and, thanks to the hike Charles Fleming posted in the February 17, 2017 Los Angeles Times, we found one. Anything for a theme. Actually, there are more than 350 ghost towns in California. Some were mining towns abandoned after the end of the 1848-1850s Gold Rush, other towns abandoned after natural disasters or being bypassed by the railroads. But our destination ended up on the National Register of Historic Landmarks! From the Valley, we drove 20 minutes north on the 5 into the Santa Clarita Valley, and then a bit into the Santa Susana Mountains to locate Mentryville. Quiet. Definitely abandoned. A dusty, grizzled remnant from its late 19th century days as an oil "boom town." Charles Mentry, an employee of the Star Oil Works was sent to Pico Canyon in 1875 to search for oil. He drilled well #1, nada. Wells #2 and #3, nothing. Well #4—Black Gold! In fact, Pico No. 4 was and still is famous: a separate National Historic Landmark because Pico No. 4 was the 1st commercial oil well in California, and its oil flowed through the 1st CA oil pipeline to Newhall, CA's 1st successful oil refinery. Barbara and I started our hike at the entrance to Mentryville. From 1876 into the 1920s, 200 drillers and their families lived in the saloon-free town Mentry built. By 1962, the oil flow had slowed and the town was abandoned (though Pico No. 4 wasn't capped until 1990.) Today all that's left of the town is Charles Mentry's 13 room home, a few shacks, and the rickety old house Disney built in 1984 for a movie set. From Mentryville, we hiked a mile up a quiet, flat road to Johnson Park and the remains of Pico No. 4. The history here is a little shady: definitely the site of the well, but apparently the dilapidated derrick I'm standing under in the pic was rebuilt or relocated here. Nevertheless, we found the well but no spirits...unless you count the cawing black crow that followed our every step around the park and the well. Spirit messenger? Watchman? He was bold. Insistent. Or maybe just lonely. From Johnson Park we walked another half mile up a paved trail into the hills, passing friendly mountain bikers and dog walkers coming from the miles of Canyon trails above. A beautiful, peaceful, easy walk on a stunningly clear October day. 

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