Piute Mountain Trip
by the Numbers
By Marian Johns
Photos by Ed Jack and Allan Wicker
So, let’s start off with a high number and work our way down to zero.
8,000 – feet; the approximate elevation on Piute Mountain where we camped Saturday night.
38 – degrees temperature at our camp site Sunday morning. Wow, was it cold!
11 – participants – who were: leader, Marian Johns; co-leader, Doc (Dave) Hess; Dave Burdick; Nelson Miller; Allan Wicker; Dave Nichols; Devi Farmer; Danny & Norma Siler; Pat Nelson; Ed Jack.
9 frozen Saturday night campers – It was so cold we all tottered off to bed at 7:00 p.m. and didn’t get up until 7:00 a.m. That’s way too long to be in bed. Danny and Norma wisely had motel reservations down in Kernville.
4 potluck potato salads – we all had a good laugh when it was discovered that four people had brought potato salads. The only other potluck dish was baked beans. (There were also several snack-type contributions.)
4 Toyotas – belonging to Nelson Miller, Doc Hess & Dave Nichols & Marian Johns
3 Daves – Dave Hess; Dave Burdick; Dave Nichols
3 well-behaved dogs – belonging to Dave N., Devi, and Ed Jack
3 Ladies – Norma Siler, Devi Farmer & Marian Johns
3 Jeeps – belonging to Ed Jack, Dave Burdick & Danny and Norma Siler
2 Nelsons – Nelson Miller & Pat Nelson
2 miscellaneous vehicles belonging to Pat Nelson (Ram), Allan Wicker (Nissan)
2 photographers – Allan Wicker & Ed Jack
2 steep roads – one up Piute Mt. and one down; the one down has the best views which are spectacular.
1 Englishman – Pat Nelson hails from London.
1 archaeologist – Dave Nichols, archaeologist, works for the Mojave National Preserve.
1 doctor (retired) Dave Hess
1 professor (retired) – Allan Wicker
1 neat old abandoned rock cabin
1 old abandoned mine mill with cement walls that are covered with graffiti – some of it rather artistic
1 beautiful canyon – Caliente Canyon has a running creek that supports lush cottonwoods and lots of watercress.
0 trains on the Tehachapi Loop. We waited an hour and then gave up when no trains were in sight or hearing distance.
0 campfires - Not only was it miserably cold Saturday night, it was so breezy we couldn’t have a campfire to warm us up. ~ Marian
Death at Danby
By Steve Reyes
Driving east past the “ROAD CLOSED TO THRU” traffic signs on Route 66 casual visitors pass places forgotten by time. Chambless, Cadiz Summit, and then Danby. In Danby, a few buildings and residents remain. The town was situated in three places during its history based on the needs of the railroad, mining and the Mother Road (Route 66). Sitting in the midst of one of
these locations are the remains of three distinct graves. History tells us there are others buried nearby which have been reclaimed by the desert. For now, three homemade wood crosses hold vigil over forgotten souls. Yet, the question remains as to who is buried in the desert? A handful of articles from the Daily-Times Index newspaper published in San Bernardino from 1898 and 1998 paint a snapshot of life and death in Danby, California.
On December 28, 1898, a story buried on page five of eight of the Daily-Times Index and Evening Transcript reads “That Smallpox Scare – Hackberry, Ariz., Bagdad and Danby the Afflicted Points.” A Doctor Mackechnie was sent to Danby by County Health Officer Rene to investigate the matter.1” In 1898, smallpox was still a deadly disease and according to the Center for Disease Control Website three out of every ten people died after being infected. Smallpox was not eradicated from North America until 1952.2 It appeared the Sante Fe Railroad was so concerned it sent orders to San Bernardino asking doctors be sent to the camps to care for the sick men. The author went on to quote the below article from the Los Angeles Times.
The initial reports published by the Daily-Times Index painted a stark picture opposed to what was printed three days later. The page one article reads “Only One Man has Smallpox-At Danby Station and He is
Isolated and Is Recovering Now.” Evidently, J. H. West of Needles went to “Smallpox Country” and returned overland to report “the scare was greatly overrated.” Although overrated it was clear that smallpox was a feared ailment.3
The later edition printed on December 31st paints a humorous and most likely realistic timeline of events. The article leads with “Was Frightened Out – Dr. Mackechnie Was Afraid of the Smallpox.” Evidently, County Health Officer Rene received word of a potential smallpox outbreak and was allegedly tending to a fatally ill patient. As a result, Rene “deputized”
Dr. Machechnie and ordered him to travel to Danby and determine if there was in fact an infected patient. If the patient was infected he was to be quarantined. The following is an excerpt as described:
Soon after Supervisor West arrived at Danby and found the doctor had fled the scene. Supervisor West telegraphed Barstow and asked for Health Officer Renshaw to come to Danby. Renshaw determined only one person was sick and had a mild case of smallpox. Supervisor West and Health Officer Renshaw then sequestered the patient and paid a local to enforce the quarantine.4
By January 14, 1899 the public health emergency and panic at Danby subsided. The last story written about Danby and smallpox is a short paragraph on page
seven. There is no mention of the patient’s name, age or ethnicity. Did he have a wife, child or family? The author only writes the patient died at Danby and his effects and the tent where he “staid” was burned.5 Most likely he didn’t own the tent and his effects did not amount to much. He was probably one of the “professional tramps” or perhaps a “wandering Mexican.” All that mattered was the threat of smallpox was over. It is impossible to argue without a doubt the remains beneath one of the wooden crosses at Danby is smallpox infected patient who died in the desert. It is plausible to believe a death by an incurable infectious disease would necessitate immediate burial close to ones death bed.
1 The Daily Times-Index and Evening Transcript, San Bernardino, That Smallpox Scare, December 28, 1989, page 5.
2 Author Unknown, History of Smallpox, Center for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov/smallpox/history/history.html, Accessed March 30, 2020
3 Unknown Author, The Daily Times-Index and Evening Transcript, That Smallpox Scare, December 31, 1898, page 1.
4 Ibid, page 8
5 Unknown Author, The Daily Times-Index and Evening Transcript, The
Small Pox Patient at Danby Died Yesterday, January 9, 1899, page 1.
Liebre Gulch Instead of Liebre Mountain
By Leonard Friedman
Photos by Leonard and Rebecca Friedman and Bob Peltzman
Mid-morning on April 9, Rebecca and I met Bob Peltzman at Denny’s in Castaic, with the intention of driving Liebre Sawmill Rd (7N23) over Liebre Mountain. The two vehicle caravan first stopped at Sandberg Lodge, once the site of an upscale hotel on the Old Ridge Route. These days there is very little to see of the old hotel, but behind it we experienced some fantastic views down Liebre Gulch all the way to Pyramid Lake, and even saw some wild poppies. Bald Mountain, home to the Sandberg weather station and antennas, rose to the north.
We continued south on the Old Ridge Route, turning off to an abandoned Forest Service campground, requiring a bit of 4-wheel drive. After stopping there for lunch and conversation in the shade of a tree, we arrived at the beginning of Liebre Sawmill Rd, complete with a sign warning of a gate ahead. Sure enough, the gate was locked, though in past years it had been open. This time it was closed due to the Lake Fire of August and September 2020, which burned over 31,000 acres in the Angeles National Forest near Lake Hughes. So, we took out our Forest Passes, locked our vehicles, and went for a hike instead. (Only later did I
realize that that probably wasn’t allowed either.) The closed road was in perfect condition and the views over the forest amazing. We came across plenty of wildflowers, especially on the steep hills, and what looked like a series of giant “ant hills” running up the mountainside which we concluded must have been a fire break. Rebecca almost lost her sunglasses while photographing the wildflowers, but we figured that would have been an allowable 10% trip loss.
Two hours later, we returned to our cars, and continued south on the Old Ridge Route to the end of the road at Tumble Inn with its famous stone arch remaining. The gate on the Old Ridge Route was actually open, but we decided to heed the signs telling us not to continue. Well, we did walk in a bit, spotting lots of manzanita along the road, but left our cars at Tumble Inn. But then we noticed another dirt road heading back north and down into the canyon, Liebre Gulch. The road did not appear on the Auto Club map, but was hinted at in De Lorme, so with no gate or warning signs, we decided to give it a try. The road marker said 8N05, but checking various sources later, it is also known as Tumble Inn Road and Edison Spring Road.
At the bottom of the hill in Liebre Gulch, we came to a T-intersection. Bob quickly determined that there had been a major washout to the right that we might have had difficulty getting through, so we went left
instead, this time on 8N01 or Edison Spring Rd. Heading southwest through the gulch, we started climbing the ridge on the opposite side, next to a very steep drop-off. Once topping the ridge, the road curved back to the North providing spectacular views, and giving access to high tension power line towers for several miles and a buried crude oil pipeline. At the bottom of the next canyon, a sign was posted on a small fenced area proclaiming “West Fork Liebre Gulch North.” Who knew?
There were lots of forks in the road for eleven miles, but each time we took the one that looked more travelled, and we usually had the Bald Mountain antennas in sight. Eventually, at 5:45 p.m. we ended up at the aqueduct near Quail Lake Road, where I-5 and SR 138 meet. We started the trip seeking a mountain, but instead explored an impressive gulch. ~ Leonard