From Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park to the magnificent mansion of silent movie star William S. Hart, these five landmarks in the Santa Clarita Valley are a “must see” for every SCV resident.
The list combines nature and history, as well as one “offbeat location,” the Lady of the Charred Tree.
Here’s the “’short list” to visit before you have to play tour guide to visiting friends and relatives this summer.
Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park
10700 Escondido Canyon Road, Agua Dulce, 91350. Hours: Open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park is a 932-acre park located in Agua Dulce and visible from the Antelope Valley Freeway (California state route 14). The unique Vasquez Rocks formations are a familiar sight having been the background for many films and commercials. Rock climbing is the primary sport, but for a less perilous workout walk along the many hiking trails.
In 1873 and 1874, Tiburcio Vásquez, one of California’s most notorious bandits, used these rocks to elude capture by law enforcement.
Vasquez Rocks was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 because of its significance as a prehistoric site for the Tataviam people.
Vasquez Rocks is probably most famous for its use as “alien” planet locations on the original “Star Trek” television show. The most famous of which is “Arena”, where Captain James T. Kirk fights a reptilian alien called a Gorn (played by stuntman Bobby Clark, a resident of Agua Dulce).
William S. Hart Park, Mansion and Museum
Guided tours are offered hourly. As Hart’s gift to the public, the tours are free, guests are requested to wait outside the front door of the Mansion until the next tour begins, which is noted on a sign posted at the entrance.
The William S. Hart Park and Museum is the former retirement home of the famed silent film actor, author and director of more than 60 hit Western movies in the early 1900s.
His most well-known film may be the silent film “Tumbleweeds” originally released in 1925. It was re-released in 1940 with a filmed “talkie” prologue.
Hart is also the author of almost a dozen books, the best known may be “My Life East and West,” his autobiography. Published in 1929, the book has been deemed as “culturally significant” by literary and historical scholars.
To reach the museum and mansion guests are asked to walk a quarter-mile up the hill in Hart Park to the Hart Museum’s Mansion for the tours.
Effective Jan. 1, the Hart Mansion offers free year-round hours Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The last tour of the day will start at 3 p.m. 24151 Newhall Ave., Newhall 661-254-4584. Info: www.hartmuseum.org.
The Lady of the Charred Tree
This can be tricky to find and the best way to get here to take the Antelope Valley Freeway, state route 14, to the Agua Dulce exit. Turn left and follow the road all the way through Agua Dulce until to reach Sierra Highway. Turn left. You will pass Le Chene French Restaurant, (on your right) and then the previous home of the Canyon Theatre Guild (on your left). Look for a tree on the shoulder to your right that is decked out with notes, candles and other memorabilia. The tree is easiest to spot going south on Sierra Highway from Agua Dulce.
However, a beautiful drive north up Sierra Highway also brings you to this unique spot on the left-hand side of the road. (It’s easy to miss going north).
To find The Lady of the Charred Tree from the SCV, take Soledad Canyon Road to Sierra Highway and turn left. Drive past The HalfWay House Café (site many and Davenport Road on Sierra Highway and look to your left for the shrine. If you’ve reached the site of the old Canyon Theatre Guild (formerly Callahan’s Old West) you’ve gone too far.
What is the significance of this tree? When the fierce Buckweed fire of 2007 tore through this area, it left this lonely tree alongside the road charred and burned. Yet, the tree survives. Many see in the burned trunk the image of the Virgin Mary.
It is a unique and quirky place that is worth the effort to find.
St. Francis Dam Disaster Site
Completed on May 4, 1926, the St. Francis Dam stood nearly 200 feet tall, 700 feet long and covered 600 acres. It was the largest arch-supported dam in the world, with the ability to hold more than 12 billion gallons of water and it cost $1.3 million to build. Less than two years later, the dam collapsed at 11:57 p.m. March 12, 1928.
Nearly 500 people (maybe more) lost their lives as the wall of water swept down San Francisco Canyon to the Santa Clara River at Castaic and on toward the Pacific Ocean at Ventura.
All that is left of the dam are some mounds of the dam’s aggregate concrete, if you know where to look.
The dam site is not for the faint of heart and now takes some determination to reach. Use caution and common sense. It is difficult terrain, with jagged rocks, sheer cliffs and rattlesnakes.
Find the remains of the St. Francis Dam approximately seven or so miles from the intersection of Copper Hill Road and San Francisquito Canyon Road.
Heritage Junction is home to the 19th century Saugus Railroad Station and many historical buildings from old Newhall. It is located adjacent to William S. Hart Park. Tours of the train station (which includes a small museum and a 1900 Mogul Engine #1629, a class M4 train, weighing 75 tons) are given by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.
Buildings of interest include: The tiny six pew 1927 Ramona Chapel, 1860 Mitchell House Adobe, Pardee House, Saugus Train Station, Newhall Ranch House, Edison House and Kingsburry House.
24101 Newhall Ave., Newhall, 91321, 661-254-1275. Hours: 1-4 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays. Info: www.scvhs.org.