Los Angeles, CA

This Historic Canyon Community Needs Your Help To Survive

Allison Burney

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Photo from sturtevantcamp.com

For centuries, people used mules and donkeys for transport because they were the best pack animals that existed.

Strong and agile, they could successfully navigate even the most challenging terrain—all while carrying up to 20% of their own body weight (up to about 200 pounds!) It's no wonder that people relied so heavily on them.

It was no different in California’s San Gabriel Mountains. According to National Geographic, pack animals have been navigating the rocky, unstable trails of Angeles National Forest since 1893.

Since then, though, modern infrastructure has greatly changed the way we do things. As roads were built and even the most remote areas slowly became accessible, donkeys and mules were replaced with vehicles and other modern conveniences.

But there’s one place where things have remained relatively the same over all these years, and a visit here is like taking a step back in time. Here, a “pack train” is still used regularly, and surprisingly, it’s not far from the big city.

Located just an hour outside Los Angeles is the historic Sturtevant Camp, a mountain resort in Big Santa Anita Canyon. Normally, the camp is open to the public and has accommodations that can be booked for overnight stays, including guest cabins, a honeymoon cottage, and a retreat cabin.

Sturtevant is one of a handful of historic mountain resorts left in the San Gabriels and the only one which still has a connection to a pack station. Having your gear packed in by donkeys is how they did it back in 1893, when Sturtevant Camp first opened.

And today, it’s either you or the donkeys. There are still no roads leading to the camp and no motorized vehicles are allowed. All modern conveniences end at the parking area at Chantry Flat. For the most part, everything you need, including groceries, propane tanks, water, etc. must be taken in with you.

There are also 81 privately owned recreational cabins tucked into the canyon as well that were built between 1907 and 1936. These, too, are completely off the grid and described as rustic.

According to the Big Santa Anita Canyon website, “There is no electricity, no municipal water, no septic, no garbage service and no address. The only ‘utility’ is the old crank-phone system. All supplies must be packed in and all garbage packed out.”

That’s where the Adams Pack Station comes in. The transport and delivery services it provides via mule and donkey train provide a crucial link (and the only link) between the private cabins, Sturtevant Camp, and the outside world. For a fee, they’ll do the heavy lifting and safely deliver your goods to you down in the canyon.

However, the normal operations of all of these pieces of the region’s history were halted when the Bobcat Fire in September of 2020 devastated the Santa Anita Canyon, destroying parts of some cabins and rendering the trails unsafe for public use.

Sturtevant Camp is operated by the Sturtevant Conservancy, a non-profit organization dedicated to “preserving this historic, living museum so that future generations may experience the San Gabriel Mountains as did the pioneers of Southern California.”

A Public Fire Update as of July 2021 says the canyon is still closed to the public, meaning no guests in camp but lots of work to be done to maintain, repair, and improve the camp after the fire damage. But without guest revenue to help pay for mounting expenses, they are reaching out to the public for help with monetary donations or volunteer efforts.

Adams Pack Station is also currently fundraising to be able to stay open and continue serving this unique canyon community for generations to come. A GoFundMe page set up by a community member on behalf of the Pack Station reads:

Given the extent of the fire’s devastation … the Pack Station may not be able to reopen as a business for one to two years, until the surrounding burn areas become safe for the public to return.

Whether you are able to spare a little bit or a lot, both Sturtevant Camp and Adams Pack Station are in need of help and would appreciate donations of any amount so that the rich history of this California community can live on.

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Writer & proofreader. I love travel, reading, coffee, and exploring nature. On a mission to keep learning, growing, and enjoying this adventure we call life.

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