Drive #1 – Soledad and Mint Canyons
Distance: 37 miles
Average Time: about 1 hour drive time
This drive begins at the intersection of Soledad Canyon Road and Sierra Highway. Zero your odometer here. Begin traveling east on Soledad Canyon Road. At 0.8 miles, the road bends to the left (north). The freeway ended here from 1963 to 1972. This stretch of the freeway was completed from here to Acton in 1963. The old ramps are still visible here. Continue heading east from here. At 3.7 miles, a stretch of road is visible that goes off to the southeast. That is an old portion of Soledad Canyon Road that was bypassed in mid 1995. At 4.4 miles, a road splits off of Soledad Canyon Road. It goes to the location of Lang Station. It was there that the golden spike was driven on September 5, 1876. It was the first north-south rail line in California. The station itself was torn down in 1971. Only a plaque exists to mark the location today. Another 0.3 miles beyond this road, you can see some reddish deposits in a road cut to the left. They are terrace deposits from the Santa Clara River. Here, the riverbed itself has risen while the river has stayed in its course. These deposits are only a few thousand years old.
The road makes a couple of 90 degree turns just beyond here and at 5.8 miles we make the final turn into the narrower segment of Soledad Canyon. The white rocks here are of some interest. They are known as the Anorthosite Complex of the San Gabriel Mountains. They have a very similar makeup to the rocks of the Moon. We will be following these rocks all the way through this canyon.
At about 6.2 miles, you pass through a tunnel. The Pole Canyon Fault is visible above the western tunnel face, the boundary between the lighter and darker rock. At 7.6 miles we cross the Santa Clara River.
This river usually runs during winter through to late spring. Only in more rainy years does it run year round. There are three campgrounds along the river in this canyon. They are the White Rock Campground, Oasis Park, and Robin’s Nest respectively.
At 10.6 miles there is a turnout. Pull off the road here. From this vantage point, you can see outcrops of the Vasquez Formation to the north and the Anorthosite Complex to the south. The Vasquez Formation are the same rocks as at Vasquez Rocks in Agua Dulce. Just to the east, there is a bench like area above the riverbed. This is another ancient terrace just like the one shown before. Continuing east for about 2.2 miles, a large fence line begins on the northern side of the road. This is a fence to keep lions from escaping. This place is called Shambala. They care for exotic animals. Inside they have lions, tigers, elephants and many more animals. You can see some of them from the road here.
At 12.6 miles we cross the river for the last time. Directly after the bridge there are a series of road cuts. The first couple are composed of a basaltic lava that makes up the bottom portion of the Vasquez Formation. They are about 30 million years old from the Oligocene Epoch. The last few cuts belong to the Anorthosite Complex. These are the same rocks as before. You may notice that the canyon has opened up quite a bit. This is because this area is composed of very old and fractured rock making it easier to erode. On that same note, the narrow canyon you have just been traveling in was formed because of a weakness caused by the Soledad Fault. From this point until Acton, there are many mines dotting the hills to the north. They are from the late 1800’s. At 14.6 miles, a road branches off to the right. This is the original alignment of Soledad Canyon Road. Just north of this intersection is an old copper mine. Malachite and some Chrysocolla can be found there. At 16.7 miles, there is a stop sign. We leave the Santa Clara River and the railroad here. Turn left here onto Crown Valley Rd. You are now going through the town of Acton. This town was founded in 1888. A couple of miles beyond Acton, you pass beneath the freeway again. Just beyond that there is a stop sign. Turn left here as you will be traveling on this road all the way back to town. This is Sierra Highway.
At 19.6 miles, a canyon branches to the right. In this canyon is the famous Red Rover Mine and the Governor Mine. The Governor Mine was named after a former Governor of California Henry T. Gage. He named the Red Rover Mine after his dog, Rover. The road has a fork 0.4 miles ahead. Bear right here. At 21.8 miles, we reach Summit. Here the Sierra Pelona Mountains are visible to the north. At 25.8 miles, we reach Mint Canyon Road. Turn here. This is the original Mint Canyon Road, old Sierra Highway, completed in 1921. This road is very twisty but in very good shape. It was bypassed in 1934. To the right (north) of the road is a stream terrace. It is one of the lasting remnants of an ancient valley floor. Uplift has caused its demise. At the stop sign, we return to Sierra Highway. At 28.1 miles, we pass a stone building. This was the cafe used in the movie “Duel”. It is now a French restaurant called “Le Chene”. We now begin to enter the narrows of Mint Canyon. The canyon remains narrow for a few miles until the Davenport Road intersection. At 29 miles, we pass some buildings on the left hand side of the road. These belong to what was once Callahan’s Old West. It was a museum with a lot of artifacts from the Old West including the very table that Wild Bill Hickock was shot at. The rock to the north (right) of us belongs to the Pelona Schist group. It has been offset by the San Andreas Fault on its northern edge. The rock to the south is granodiorite and other schists. Near the end of the narrows of Mint Canyon, rocks outcropping on the left side of Sierra Highway are partially composed of Augen Gniess. It is a highly metamorphosed version of conglomerate.
At 31 miles, we pass Davenport Rd. If you wish (MARK YOUR ODOMETER), turn onto this road and visit the old Sterling Borax Works. Howlite, Ulexite, Colemanite, and Jasper can be found there. It was an old borax mine that moved its operations to Ryan, California near Death Valley in the late 1920’s. There are large tailings piles that are gray in color. At 32.8 miles, look to the northwest. The cliffs that you see is where the truck in the movie “Duel” was driven off the edge. They mark the edge of a small mesa called Cruzan Mesa. It is an erosional remnant of an older valley floor. Uplift and increased erosion have left it high and dry, well above the present floor. At 34.8 miles, we enter the city limits of Santa Clarita and at 36.8 miles we reach the end of our journey at the intersection of Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon Road at Solemint Junction.