of Big Santa Anita Canyon


By Billy Orville Taylor
Many of the hikers and visitors have asked about the cabin ruins on the Lower Winter Creek Trail in Big Santa Anita Canyon.  As you leave Robert’s Camp area (green bridge) take the trail to your left, past emergency phone building #2, up the Lower Winter Creek Trail a ways.  On your right you will encounter a tipped over fire place and chimney, foundations, concrete steps, etc.  This is the remnants of the once proud cabin #112.  It was permitted and built circa 1917-18.

In the year of 1970, the pack station was owned by Bill and Lila Adams.  Dennis Lonergan, Bill's nephew, would spend his summer vacation helping around the pack station.  Dennis and his wife Jody purchased the pack station in 1984, when Bill and Lila retired and are the current owners.

Dennis was 13 during the summer of 1970 and was helping his aunt and uncle by doing odd jobs around the pack station.

On this particular day Dennis, and his helper Big Bob, age unknown, had delivered a load of supplies to a cabin located in the upper reaches of Winter Creek Canyon.  Big Bob was a four footed, fur covered, long of ear type of helper.

Bill Adams had a number of rules for Dennis to follow.  One stated, he could lead Big Bob but couldn't use him for transportation.  There must have been a good reasons for this rule, but that information must come from Dennis the next time you run across him in the canyon.

Dennis was dutifully following orders and was leading the mule, Big Bob, down the trail on his way back to the pack station.

As this pair of packers moseyed down the Winter Creek Trail and reached cabin #116, Dennis, the expedition leader, navigator, trail boss, packing director and operations manager, being more alert than Big Bob, noticed smoke oozing from Cabin #112.  It was never recorded what Big Bob saw, if anything, or if he even cared.

Dennis knew he needed to sound the alarm immediately and concluded he could make much better time if Big Bob was not in tow.  Big Bob's body design was more along the lines of a Peterbuilt diesel eighteen wheeler and not that of a thoroughbred Kentucky Derby contender.
He tied Big Bob to a tree, turned and ran, post haste, up canyon to the emergency phone #3.  Much to his chagrin, that phone was out of order and not working.  He then ran down canyon to phone box #2 at Roberts, passing Big Bob and the smoking cabin at full speed.  Again, we do not have Big Bob's thoughts on Dennis' down canyon speed demonstration.

Dennis cranked up the phone and announced to all and sundry, cabin #112 was smoking and somebody had better do something mucho pronto.  He waited at Roberts for the fire crew to arrive.  The trucks carrying the equipment were required to stop at Roberts as there was no road up Winter Creek.  Every one grabbed hose, pumps and what ever else they felt they needed and started up canyon.

By the time the fire brigade reached the smoking cabin, it was a little beyond the smoking stage, and had started to flame.  The fire fighters made ready and began to attack the fire.  Dennis was watching all of this activity and realized the cabin fire could set the woods a flame and if that happened, Big Bob could end up toasted while tethered to the tall tree.

Dear reader, remember this is 1970, just a year after the '69 flood and the stream bed had been scoured clean of any vegetation.  This year’s growth was just a little bit of the native grasses about six inches.

Up stream from cabin #112, about 50 yards, was a wide, flat, boulder strewn area devoid of any trees.  This appeared to be a safe place away from any combustible material.   Dennis led Big Bob out to the center of the area and tied him to a very large rock. Thus removing him from harms way in case of a forest fire.  Sound thinking for a lad of 13.  He then returned to cabin  #112 to watch the fire fighting efforts of the gathered professionals.

During that summer, as now, there was a water dropping helicopter stationed in the area.  That vintage chopper didn't carry the amount of water today's machines do, but did carry a couple of hundred gallons under the belly.  The chopper pilot either decided or was advised to show up at the fire just in case things got out of hand.

The pilot guided the chopper up Winter Creek canyon looking for #112.  He passed over the flaming cabin made a slow 180? turn and started down canyon while losing altitude. Perchance, to drop his load on the cabin or be in a better position to assist if the fire spread.

Apparently the pilot was concentrating on the goings on around #112 and lost presence of mind.  He misjudged the proximity and the height of a few Big Cone Spruce trees growing out from  the canyon wall.

There was a series of very loud bangs that gathered the attention of Dennis, the fire fighters in general, and the attention of the pilot in particular.  The top and a number of branches were removed from the tallest of the grove.  The tree garnered its share of rotor blade tips as well! The contest could have been considered a draw.

However, water laden helicopters do not fly well when a number of feet are missing from the ends of said rotor blades.

 The pilot immediately needed a flat place, clear of trees, on which to land his severely damaged chopper.  Perhaps "land" was not the term he had in mind at this point in time.  As he was up stream from #112 and fortunately there was a wide, flat, boulder strewn area devoid of any trees just beneath the rapidly dropping helicopter.

The only hazard to avoid was a large mule that sometimes answers to the name of Big Bob tied to a boulder dead center in the middle of the clearing.

Dear Reader, forgive the use of the word "dead."  Poor choice on my part, at least during this portion of this significantly historical chronicle here under way!

Either by design or beginner’s luck the chopper crashed, flat on its bottom, about fifty feet from Big Bob.  The water tank burst on impact and water sprayed everywhere, including on Big Bob.

Big Bob stood his ground and didn't bolt in a panic dragging his boulder with him, nor did he suffer a coronary at the sight of the water laden monster that fell from the sky and crashed next to him.

He was no-doubt thinking, as animals sometimes want to do, that Chicken Little was right after all, the sky is falling!  Some viewed his calmness as a territorial thing on his part, he was there first, and why should he give up his boulder to that noisy thing?  We will never know the reasons for his calmness or indifference.

The cushion of water in the collapsing tank saved the pilot's life.  The pilot walked away from the forced landing or controlled crash more or less unscathed.  However, some of his under-lovelys did need cleaning.  Some say that's why he walked awkwardly when he left his smashed machine.  Others  say it was the shock.  Only his shorts know and they won't tell.  Needless to say, the water dropper required a large amount of body and fender work.

The fire was finally extinguished, but cabin #112 was lost for all time.  The cabin site was cleared and later the fireplace and chimney were pushed over, for safety reasons, where it lies today.

Over the next week, the helicopter was taken apart, a piece at a time, and back packed to the flat area that was once Robert’s Camp.  The twisted metal, engine and the rest of the helicopter kit was loaded on trucks and removed from the canyon.

Dennis had a wild story to tell his school friends when he returned after his summer vacation.

It is not known if Big Bob mentioned the adventure to the other animals at the pack station when he returned to the corral.

The cause of the fire was never determined.  However, a family member had been in the cabin that morning and departed during the early afternoon.  The cabin stove was reported to have had a faulty door latch.  The family burned coal and not wood.  Was the stove a wood burner or a coal burner?  Did the door open after the family member locked up?  Did the coal fall through a burned out hole in the bottom of the fire box if it was a wood burner?

The cause of the fire that consumed cabin #112 is filed away with the many other mysteries of Big Santa Anita Canyon.

Back to Stories...

All rights reserved.