The Old Stagecoach Trail provides a chance to experience the struggles that western pioneers and early settlers encountered. On the trail you’ll appreciate the effort required to drive a team of horses up the sometimes steep rises needed to cross the pass. Climb the trail and you may even glimpse a scene from a favourite TV Western shot on the trail. But begin the journey in a quiet cemetery to visit the graves of some Hollywood Stars.
The Old Stage Coast Trail crosses the Santa Susana mountains in the north-west corner of the San Fernando Valley. The trail linked the Los Angles basin northwards towards San Fransisco. Enjoy the rocky landscapes familiar to any fan of TV or film westerns.
Oakwood resting place and the beginning of the route
Oakwood Cemetery’s owners, in 1924, promoted it as a place of rest “far enough away from the city to be free forever of its hustle and dust…”.
I’m not sure that this description would still apply today.
Nearby Chatsworth, popular in the Golden Age of Hollywood with many in the movie business, chose Oakwood as their final resting place. Perhaps the most famous of these movie great, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, can be found here.
One of strangest characters of the wild west also lies in this cemetery. Al Jennings’s life is almost a fairy story. A cowboy, lawyer, train robber, jailbird, evangelist, politician, author and movie star, he failed at them all. Captured after several unsuccessful train robberies he resided 5 years in jail. Al unsuccessfully ran for governor. Then, he told of his bank robbing sagas to author O.Henry and eventually ended up acting the the role in a silent movie.
Oakwood also boasts an unlikely warning sign.
The small Chatsworth Community Church built in 1903 and now lying in the grounds of Oakwood after its move in 1963 is designated a Los Angeles historical/cultural monument. This move was partly funded by Roy Rogers.
Roy Rogers, a well-known star of early western movies and TV, shot many films in the area on his own ranch, located near the Old Stagecoach Trailhead.
His horse, Trigger, enjoyed almost as much fame as Roy. The location of Roy’s ranch on Trigger St demonstrates this.
The Old Stagecoach Trail Begins
The local community are rightly proud of the historic nature of this trail. Just behind the cemetery the beginning of the trails are announced.
At this start sections include rare clusters of dense shade provided by native willow and oak trees.
Look southwest and see the San Fernando Valley below. To the left the train passes through a tunnel bored through the rocks and connecting the San Fernando Valley to the Simi Valley. And on the right in the distance the Cauhenga Pass links the valley to Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles beyond. Here you might see a bit of the famous Los Angeles smog noticeable on the horizon.
An abandoned tank lies a bit off-track and reminds us of the impermanence of man-made object in this unchanging landscape.
The Devil’s Slide
This incline, steeper than it looks in the photo, is a section of the actual Stagecoach route known as the Devil’s Slide. It is difficult to imaging a stagecoach moving on this. The steep climb required the passengers to get out and walk. Passengers also carried rocks to put behind the wheels to prevent the stagecoach slipping backwards.
Just as dangerous, the precarious descent required the driver to blindfold the horses to prevent them from spooking. The driver couldn’t rely on the brakes alone to slow the coach down and he had to resort to various ingenious solutions. One way or another they locked the wheels to stop the coach running into the back of the horses.
First Nation reminder
The Chumash tribe called the area home before they were wiped out. This first nation group lived by hunting, fishing and foraging. They made flour and porridge from the acorns from the plentiful oak tress around. Many acorn leaching basins can be found throughout the area where pulverized acorns are leached to remove the tannic acid so the mush is edible.
The Native Daughters of the Golden West
A sign erected by the Daughters of the Golden West in 1939 still stands. This ceramic plaque remains in good condition, despite a few bullet holes. What else would expect on a trail with this name. The Native Daughters of the Golden West, an organization founded in 1886 and dedicated to the preservation of California history still remains active.
Their mantras consists of:-
- Love of Home
- Devotion to the Flag
- Veneration of the Pioneers
- Faith in the Existence of God
I’m not sure if allegiance to all 4 principles is a requisite. However, on their web site they ask for donations.
As a final memory of the trail look east having hiked 680 ft up.
Now we have arrived at the end of the trail and the only way is to walk back down. If you want to find out more about the history of the Old Stagecoach trail then read this.
If you enjoyed the Old Stagecoach Trail then you can find more at Find a Walk – USA.
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