Young's Photo Gallery
James W. Young,
Photographic History of Table Mountain
Part 1: Smithsonian Institute and
By James W. Young
retired astronomer from Table Mountain Observatory
Mountain? I’ve heard of that. Isn’t that somewhere in South
Africa?” Yes indeed, but not
this one! There are a
gazillion ‘Table Mountains’ around the globe, a term used to describe a
mountain just about anywhere. The most famous one is that found
in Cape Town,
South Africa, but
there are many others much less known. Among those there are a
number of such named
in the states of Washington and California, and in particular, this one
in Southern California about
which this history shall focus on.
Mountain (TM) lies on the northeastern slopes of the San Gabriel
Mountain range, only 41 airline
miles due northeast of downtown Los Angeles. TM is actually a
long relatively flat ridge
(above 6000 feet)
WNW to ESE. This ridge is the northern boundary of the Swarthout
wherein the small mountain community of Wrightwood lies.
This valley has a slightly
higher boundary to
the south named Blue Ridge, with these two separate ridges
approximately one mile apart. The two
are closest together three miles west of Wrightwood at a place named
‘Big Pines’ (not the same as 'Big
the Owens valley), at an elevation of 6862 feet. California
Highway 2 (the Angeles Crest Highway)
east-west through the Swarthout Valley, through Wrightwood, and cuts
between the two ridges
Pines. This road continues west through the San Gabriels exiting
the mountains some 60 miles
later in the La
Canada/Flintridge communities near the Verdugo Mountains.
Although getting to TM from
the greater Los
Angeles area can be made by a multitude of different ‘road’ ways,
the line you will access
Highway 2, if not for only a short distance. The average of these
is around 80 miles.
TM’s elevation is 7516 feet above sea level, with a secondary peak
(named Mt. Peltier) having an elevation
of 7473 feet, just over a mile to the east. Blue Ridge’s
elevation ranges from around 7800 feet near Big
Pines, to over 8500 feet (Wright Mountain) about four miles to the
TM. At Big Pines, the
‘Table Mountain Road’ extends 1 ¼ miles to the top of TM from
This road curves past the old
Big Pines Ski Clubhouse, through McClellan Flat, then past the Table
finally to the ski and toboggan play area parking lot. A small
controlled access road extends further up
the east and ends at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s “Table Mountain
This historical study will include the roads, communities, and
for the development of Table Mountain
for the purpose of scientific studies of the sun, solar system, and
atmosphere since the mid-1920’s.
Names of important people associated with all aspects of
Mountain’s history, along with extensive
photographic records of each step to the present twenty-first century
develop as an ongoing
project from the author.
Credits and Acknowledgments
Institutions, Organizations, etc.
Institute Archives (Ellen Alers), Washington DC - SIA
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Ray Newburn), Pasadena, CA - JPL
California Institute of
Technology, Institute Archives (Loma Karklins), Pasadena, CA
Jones & Stokes Associates, Inc. (Sharon Hoepker),
Sacramento, CA - JSA
Wrightwood Historical Society (Terry Graham), Wrightwood, CA - WHS
Camp McClellan Improvement Association (Dan Ziol), Pasadena, CA - CMIA
University of Southern
California, Archival Collections, Los Angeles, CA - USC
Frasher Fotos, Pomona Public
Library, Pomona, CA - FF
Los Angeles Public Library, Los
Angeles, CA - LAPL
Huntington Library, San Marino,
CA - HL
Hults & Whittlesey, Realtors
and Appraisers (Ralph Hults & Stephen Whittlesey), Pasadena, CA -
Note: Photo credits are to those
initials above, in white.
All others not identified are those of the author.
Magazines, Newspapers, etc.
Wrightwood and Big
Pines, Arcadia Publishing, 2004; Pat Corpe Krig, Barbara Van
A Trip Into Wrightwood's Past,
Mountaineer Publishing, 1977; Pearl Comfort Fisher
Barry Anklam (B&A Design Group), 2000; Pat Corpe Krig
The Mountaineers, San
Bernardino County Museum Association, 1972; Pearl Comfort Fisher
The San Gabriels, Gem
Guides Book Co., 2001; John W. Robinson
Long-Range Forcasting is
Scientists' Objective, San Bernardino Daily Sun, 1941; Howard C.
Astronomer Returns to Table
Mt. to Resume 50 Year Work, Wrightwood Mountaineer, 1977;
Outline of Activities, the
Planet Group, paper, 1940; James B. Edson
Venus Sunset Photographed by
Group from Caltech, Los Angeles Times, 1940; William I. Barton
Eight Caltech Students Map
Weather on Mars, Los Angeles Times, 1941 (author unknown)
Mars Weather Observed by
Caltech Men, The Pasadena Post, 1941 (author unknown)
Richfield Travel Guide of
California, Highway Automobile Map, H. M. Gousha Co., 1952
Shell Highway Map of
California, Highway Automobile Map, H. M. Gousha Co., 1947
San Bernardino County,
Highway Automobile Map, Automobile Club of Southern California, 1943
Angeles National Forest,
US Dept of Agriculture, Forest Service, 1915
Topography, California, San
Antonio Quadrangle, US Geological Survey, 1903 (reprinted 1910),
Reprinted by Novacell Technologies, 2007
California, San Antonio Quadrangle, US Geological Survey, 1941
California, San Antonio Quadrangle, US Geological Survey, 1956
Internet Web Site, 1999-2010, Walter Feller
C Preston Butler (1904-1985)
Alice Butler Ronald (1941- )
Aden B. Meinel (1922- )
Priscilla Edson Greenwood (1938- )
Patricia Edson Tombaugh (1913- )
Annette Tombaugh Sitze (1940- )
Alden Tombaugh (1945- )
Patricia Corpe Krig
Barbara Ballard Van Houten (1941- )
Pamela Templeton Schloesser (1931- )
Shari Waag Hedden
Allen & Bonnie McAlister
Shawn Lawler Troeger
Karen Ann Young (wife); proof reading and editing
Barbara Van Houten (local historian); reference and proof checks
Researching the history of just about anything,
there are seldom enough answers for all the questions one
puzzles over. Rather than avoid all the unanswered questions, I
some up front to you readers.
Who first named this mountain? Who were the first to stand on its
Several years ago, I posed
the following scenario to those who would listen; “I’ll bet someone
climbed to the top of (this)
Mountain with a picnic lunch in an old wicker basket, sat down amongst
the trees, ate their sandwiches and
admired the sprawling desert view below them!" Although I have
never done exactly that, I have gazed out
broad Mojave Desert north to Mt. Whitney (160 miles), northeast to
Charleston Peak in Nevada
(170 miles), and
southeast to Mt. San Jacinto (70 miles) for the last 47 years. It
had to be quite a sight
to the early Serrano
Indians/explorers, and potential picnickers coming up from the greater
area. Then I found this picture, much to my
surprise and amazement!
This image was taken of the first
Smithsonian people to come to Table Mountain in the early 1920’s,
including Dr. Charles Greeley
Abbot, on the right. They seem to be enjoying watermelon, out of a
wicker basket. SIA
These men were looking for a better field station for
Smithsonian Institute's ongoing solar studies.
Abbot, along with other Smithsonian researchers were engaged in an
solar research program
at Mt. Wilson Observatory (about 25 miles to the southwest) during the
1910-20's period. Although
Mt. Wilson was quite easy to access, Abbot wanted a better 'field
name and date) at Mt. Wilson suggestion to Abbot that “. . .Table
2000 feet higher,
and much drier.”
Who told Abbot about TM?
Someone had to have access to a very current (1900’s) USGS survey
map with names and elevations on it. And where did they
come to know TM had a much drier climate?
With these additional questions the author is still pursuing more
documents, and pictures.
Have some answers? Write me at 'firstname.lastname@example.org'.
Just Where Does One Start….After
84 Years of History?<>
Before we begin at
the beginning, the following story may enlighten the reader to show
from ‘looking into the past’. The author spent 47 years at TM,
and finds the following recent series
of events most intriguing and noteworthy, especially into how his own
career parallels some of the
Early in 1940, a Caltech professor and a number of graduate students
formed the "Planet Group"
specifically to study the atmospheres of Venus and Mars at a remote
location. The professor was
James B. Edson (1908-2001), and one of
the his grad students was Aden Meinel (1922 -). Edson
knew about Smithsonian’s ‘Field
Station’ at TM, and contacted Preston Butler (1904-1985), then
the station director. “May we use your site to
conduct observations of the inferior conjunction of
Venus in June (1940)?” This
question is a purely hypothetical one, but in principle was the basis
for the Planet Group’s successful Venus
observations, as told by Meinel to the author in 2008.
Meinel gave the author some logbooks and
observational notes, along with several pictures of their
1940 telescope setups at TM . . . but those will come
later. Aden went on to graduate from the
University of California, Berkeley in 1949, with his
Ph.D. The author first met Aden at TM in the
late 1970s and again in 1989. With the history of
the site now fully kindled in my mind to examine
and write about, I searched the internet for Dr. Meinel and
found him residing in the state of
Nevada. After I was able to contact him, an invitation
for him to once again visit TM was extended,
all to ask him, first hand, about his visits to TM in the
early 1940s. Aden visited TM in late 2008,
and enjoyed reminiscing his ‘Planet Group’ days!
“But, why not get in direct touch with James Edson?"
he asked me. "Is he still alive?" I asked.
Butler in 1940, clearing the dirt road to the top of Table
Mountain. Delilah Butler (his wife)
took the photograph.
Here is Preston Butler back at Table Mountain in 1977, running some of
the original Smithsonian
instrumentation he ran in the early 1940s while the field station
director. He obtained similar results
in 1977 as he had done so in the 1940s for the solar constant.
James Edson at the telescope in
June 1940, during the "Groups" inferior conjunction observations
of Venus. Unknown photographer.
Aden Meinel at the 20-inch
telescope in late 1940, in preparation for Mars observations to be made
into the spring of 1941. Unknown photographer.
Going back on the internet, I ‘googled’ “James B. Edson”, and got
several hits. One was the alumni
page from the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Edson was listed
retired, but there was an
address and phone number in Colorado Springs, CO. I called.
number had been disconnected.
I called information, and got a different number and address. I
with a similar result - "no
longer in service". I then e-mailed the U of K alumni contact
person, and a
few days later received
a response with yet, another different address, but with no phone
number. The address also had
‘floor 400’ so I assumed it was some sort of complex, maybe a
retirement home. On the phone, I
called information for Colorado Springs, but the operator said,
“absolutely can not do," as I asked
for a reverse address search to get a telephone number. Now
Aden Meinel visited Table Mountain
Observatory in October 2008.
Back to the internet, I went to 'Google Maps', and typed in the
address. Wow! There was a big
building (as seen from above) on the southwest corner of the closest
intersection to the address.
And to my surprise (since I had never used it) there was also the new
‘street view’ to use. Instead
of looking down, I could now see the building as I panned 360 degrees,
and there was a telephone
number on the building corner! I zoomed in, but alas, the
resolution was just not good enough. I
panned all around the intersection until I found the name of a business
on the northeast corner:
a Chinese restaurant, with its name in big bold letters. I called
information and got the phone
number for them. Now, just how does one go about asking for the
telephone number of the
building across the street? The woman who answered was definitely
Chinese but knew English
well enough to converse with me. When I asked her what I wanted,
she snickered and talked to
someone else in the restaurant, all in Chinese, with considerable
amount of laughing. I tactfully
pleaded with her to stay with me, and that this was not a prank
call. I gave her some additional
details, and again asked her to please get the telephone number off the
building. She was busy
then. “Call me back in 60 minutes” was her answer, and she hung
up. How long is 60 minutes?
A very long time!
I called after an hour and the phone rang, and rang, then she was
gave me the phone
number, laughing and talking to others in Chinese, but I thanked her as
could. I called the
number, and a woman answered, “Medalion East” (a retirement
home). I was
Asking for Edson, she said I needed to talk to Isabella in ‘records’,
and I was transferred
upstairs. After inquiring about Edson, Isabella said Jim and his
wife Lilly had lived there for
many years, but that Jim had died in 2001, with Lilly passing away
some years later. It was very
disappointing after all that had been done, only to come up
empty-handed. But, wait - she said
the Edsons had a daughter, Priscilla, and Isabella knew her
how to contact her. So I gave
her my name, telephone number and e-mail address, all to
forward to Priscilla, since Isabella
couldn’t actually give out information to a perfect stranger
(even after I told her who I was,
and what I was doing). This was all in mid-October
2008. I waited, and waited. . .
After Thanksgiving, I called Isabella and told her that Priscilla never
contacted me. Then we
thought of another method. I would write a letter with details
of what I was actually trying to
do, along with phone numbers and e-mail addresses, all to
send to Isabella for her to forward
to Priscilla. My letter went to Isabella the next
morning, with a JPL envelope and postage. All
Isabella had to do was put on Priscilla’s
address and mail it. Much to my astonishment, the
envelope came back (to me) as an ‘unknown
address’. Neither myself nor Isabella thought about
the possibility that an incorrect address would,
unfortunately, bring the envelope back to me
(the sender, with TM’s return address), all
with Priscilla’s full last name and location (which
Isabella wasn’t supposed to reveal). I talked to Isabella and
explained I would not pursue
anything, to protect Isabella’s promise to Priscilla
of not disclosing her last name and address.
Isabella was busy, had no other address,
and I was not going to try locating her myself, for the
moment. I needed to think on this. I dropped
the issue, still very disappointed.
Early in January 2009, I received an e-mail from Priscilla Edson
Greenwood (1937 -) along with
her telephone number! Seems the original e-mail message
Isabella sent her in October was
misplaced, and Priscilla just found it. I called her that
very evening at her suggestion. We had
a long conversation, with her being excited at the thought
someone was interested in her dad!
She told me her son Anders had most of his
grandfather’s papers, along with pictures, etc.,
and Priscilla wanted to donate this material to my
research! (We met at her son's place in May
2009). Then, near the conclusion of our
conversation, she asked me very nonchalantly if I knew
about Patricia. “Patricia, who?” I asked. “No.” Who was
this, I thought? Priscilla then said,
"Patricia is my father's sister!” I responded, “And this is
important?" “Maybe, or maybe not"
she said. "Patricia, or Patsy as many know her, was married to
Clyde . . .
Clyde had discovered Pluto in 1930 at Lowell Observatory!
The author traveled to Union City CA, in May 2009, and met with
Priscilla, her son Anders, and his
family. They spent an entire day going over
numerous documents, and with many pictures, were
able to confirm much of the sketchy history I had
accumulated from many other sources as well as
from Dr. Meinel.
Anders Greenwood, the author, and
Priscilla Edson Greenwood in Union City CA, in May 2009. This
image was taken by Anders' wife.
The following weekend I traveled to Las Cruces NM, to meet with
Patricia Tombaugh, now age 94,
along with her son Alden, and daughter Annette. Here the
four of us went over all of the material
acquired from Priscilla (and Annette through e-mails)
again to confirm that all facts were correct.
The working relations of Edson and
Tombaugh will be touched on later, as well as the first JPL
astronomer hired at Table Mountain in
1962, Charles Capen, who worked with Tombaugh earlier
at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
Patricia (Patsy) Tombaugh and the
author in her home in Las Cruces NM, in May 2009. This image
was taken by Alden Tombaugh
End of story? Well, not
really. Smithsonian’s TM Field Station director, Preston Butler,
and his wife
Delilah (1903-1993), had a baby girl, Alice, born on Thanksgiving Day
1941, while at TM. There were
twelve foot snow drifts that
day, and Delilah was taken out of the residence's second story
to a waiting 'snow cat', transported down to the highway, and driven to San Bernardino for
of little Alice. Alice doesn't remember, of course!
Delilah Butler, with 6 month old
Alice just outside the main gate to Table Mountain, in May 1942.
Yes, those are 'snow plants' next
to Delilah. Photograph by Preston Butler.
The author, having known Pres
(short for Preston) Butler from Butler's 1977 visit to TM, knew of
Alice, and had already corresponded with her on numerous occasions
at Table Mountain as a
for the Smithsonian Institute.
Alice had supplied me with numerous pictures and articles about
her father at TM back in the early
1940s. After my initial contact with Priscilla, I related this
story to Alice, wherein she then
added the following note: After the Butlers and Edsons moved on
different endeavors, separated
by different job and career changes, they coincidentally ended up in
the Washington D.C.
area in the
late 1940s. Here, the Butlers and Edsons lived and worked,
but still managed to socialize and
together for dinner and other events occasionally. Well, are we
actually we’re not. It
seems very ironic and extremely coincidental that when I was hired by
JPL in 1962, I started work at
Table Mountain on November 12, and my first assignment was to assist in
observations of the Venus
inferior conjunction, occurring that very day! In less than
3 months, I would find Pluto for the first
time, not yet knowing
all this history to be later uncovered!
Alice Butler Ronald and the author
at Table Mountain in May 2008. Photograph taken by Bruce Ronald.
Astrophysical Observatory's (SAO) Research Field Stations
Smithsonian Institute's interest in solar research began before 1900,
but soon thereafter, Charles
Greely Abbot became the driving force into the development of 'field
stations' to conduct research
far away from the environs of Washington, DC. Just exactly what
the sun was sending into space in the
form of all kinds of radiation was the interest. Was the sun
stable in this outpouring of solar radiation in
the various wavelengths then being studied? To make
it plain and simple, this was called the solar constant;
a measure of flux, or the amount of incoming solar
electromagnetic radiation per unit area. The smallest
due to pollutants and moisture is
minimized by finding high elevation sites that are dry and far
from pollution found in large
moisture, and other pollutants never permitted careful
and statistical anaylsis of minute changes made
from the sea level circumstances of Washington, DC.
Abbot established many worldwide field
stations over the next two decades in Asia, Africa, South
and North America. One attempt was to go all
out by building a facility atop Mt. Whitney in California.
In 1909, with donations and grant funds, a building was constructed on
the very summit of Whitney,
to house a full array of various instruments. Abbots primary
purpose was to study the atmosphere
of Mars from this site, as well as the earth's atmosphere. The
trouble was getting there, and even
staying there. It was soon
The original 'hut' built for
Smithsonian's atmospheric studies on the summit of Mt. Whitney in 1909.
Smithsonian Institute Archives
Here is an image of that same
'hut' taken in 1991 by the author. The author's daughter, Eileen
in the foreground.
With the 'hut' on the right,
several tents and instruments are seen in this image also from 1909.
Smithsonian Institute Archives photograph. SIA
During the 1910s, Abbot was very
involved with the newly established Mt. Wilson Observatory in
Southern California. Again, they conducted solar research using
several facilities at their disposal.
The Mt. Wilson 'Snow Telescope' in
the early 1910s. It was completed in 1904, and George Abbot
used this facility during many of his visits to the mountain. The
white coverings helped control the
temperature inside the long narrow 'tunnel' where the solar radiation
instruments were located.
The 60-foot solar tower at Mt. Wilson. This was built and
completed in 1908, affording additional
methods for conducting solar radiation research. The instruments
were well above ground, to
keep heat waves and ground radiation at a minimum. SIA
Although Mt. Wilson was used
during the early 1910s, other facilities that proved very effective
were constructed in Chile,
Egypt, and the southwest United States.
The 'field station' at Montezuma, Chile in the early 1920s.
The 'field station' at Mt. Harquahala, Arizona in the 1920s.
The above mentioned 'field
stations' are significant to the eventual development of the facility
at Table Mountain. The
site at Montezuma had been the SAO's most useful and prolific data
station in the quest for
pinning down an accurate number for the solar constant. But
always looking for
improvements in the calibration
of data, a second station was needed to produce data of similar
confirmation. Such a station was established at Mt. Harquahala,
Arizona, about 90 miles to
the west of Phoenix.
The Montezuma station was doing extremely well, until a mining
company began operations very near
to the SAO facility. This created a pollution problem that showed
up in their data, and from then on the
Montezuma facility no longer could be used effectively. On top of
that serious problem, the Harquahala
station suffered severe problems due to the yearly summer monsoon
activity that came from the Gulf of
Mexico in the form of thunderstorms. Abbot and the SAO
researchers were continually looking for some
additional sites in the southwest United States. One was Clark
Mountain, near the Nevada border with
California (near where Interstate 15 is today). As mentioned
earlier, Abbot had been advised of Table
Mountain, which was just a mile or so up from the newly developed 'Big
Pines-L.A. County Camp'. The Los
Angeles County Board of Supervisors had purchased considerable acreage
from local ranchers in the
upper, or west side of Swarthout Valley. The old road through the
valley had been re-graded through
Lone Pine Canyon, making passage more tolerable up the steep grade from
the Cajon Pass out of San
This is a copy of a 1912 USGS topo
map of the then 'Cajon Pass' area. The railroad was already
in place, and the roads were
primitive, but passage up Lone Pine Canyon was possible in the cars
of the early 1920s. Along
Lone Pine Canyon Road, were placed water stops to fill car radiators
as needed. Cars
would usually have to stop half way up to cool, and get their radiators
The road was full of
ruts, especially after the winter storms. Rocks were placed at
the side of
the road for 'chocking'
car wheels on the steep grade while their engines cooled.
This is a 1903 USGS map (with 1910
revisions) showing the top of Lone Pine Canyon on the extreme
lower right, and extending into
the 'Swartout Valley'. Notice the incorrect spelling of Swarthout.
The 'bench mark' (BM) in the upper
left says 6862, and was located at Big Pines. Table Mountain
was only a little more than a mile
up a steep and rut-strewn access road to near the top. The author
has placed a small red circle at
the actual summit of Table Mountain. This USGS map shows an
elevation contour line of 7500
The Big Pines-L.A. County Camp
was initially started in 1922-23, and by the late 1920s, had facilities
for skiing, tobogganing, and ice
skating in winter, and full campgrounds, playgrounds, and cabins for
rent year-round. There
was a large lodge, restaurant, shops, gas station, and even a post
This large amount of activity far out-shined the small community of
Wrightwood, then developing
three miles to the east.
When Abbot was told about Table
Mountain sometime in the late 1910s from someone at Mt. Wilson,
(as mentioned earlier) he traveled to the area to see if this area
could be a replacement site for the
ineffective Mt. Harquahala, Arizona site suffering from weather related
problems. The travel from
Wilson to Table Mountain took appoximately five
hours! Once again, here is the picture taken during
his initial visit with a few of his partners, unidentified.
Charles Abbot on the right, with a
few partners, eating watermelon near the top of Table Mountain
in the fall of 1924. SIA
Abbot and partners survey the top of Table Mountain here and the next
four images (1924). SIA
This, and the next two images appear to have been made later,
with snow on the ground. There is no
indication who the gents are, but the one on the left was with Abbot
during the initial visit in 1924. SIA
In this 1915 map, the route used by most travelers to the Big Pines
Camp (and Table Mountain), is
highlighted. The newer route bypassed the lower Lone Pine Canyon
out of Kennbrook, by going past
Camp Cajon in the Cajon Canyon area. USDA Forest Service Map.
This is the Camp Cajon area, taken sometime in the 1920s.
Somewhere at the top of this picture,
a road goes across the wash on the extreme upper left into Lone Pine
Canyon. Some sort of wash
barrier is seen above and to the left of the camp to protect the area
when the wash was especially
active during severe rain storms. FF
The author spent the better part of two days locating the area
from where the previous picture had
been taken. In the lower center is the original roadbed seen here
about where the main entrance to
Camp Cajon was located. Note the historical marker, with the
author's car next to it. With the
extensive changes to Interstate 15 through the Cajon Pass in 1972, much
of the land and
hills were either removed or 'shaved off' to accommodate the widening
freeway and 'truck
This was the closest place the author found that duplicated the
previous location used in the 1920s
When Abbot and his partners arrived in the upper Lone Pine Canyon, they
saw this mountain peak.
This is now known as Circle Mountain, and is located at the eastern
edge of Swarthout Valley. This
image was taken by them, and they even considered it (see note
Although there were trees,
there was no water whatsoever, and Table Mountain then became their
This is a note Abbot sent back to Smithsonian, and refers to what is
Circle Mountain. His quote of
an elevation of 6917 feet means he had access to a then-current USGS
map, which indeed, does
show "6917", however, current maps show a true elevation of only 6875
In this image taken by the early SAO visitors, this photograph of the
Swarthout Valley from well
west of the valley center, Circle Mountain is the predominate landmark
in the center. Blue Ridge
is off to the right (south). The primitive road can be seen from
the center of this image running
off to the right side. SIA
The author spent a day in the spring of 2007 locating the same spot
where the previous picture was
taken from. The actual spot has too many trees in this direction,
so the above image is about 30
feet higher and to the left of the original one.
By late 1924, Abbot decided to
use Table Mountain for the new 'field station' to replace the one
at Harquahala, Arizona.
The following images are from additional trips to the mountain to
for building the site to house the field director, his assistant, and
various instruments. They show
the developing Big Pines Camp, road, and the new cabin area at
McClellan Flat a half mile up Table
Here is the road leading west out
of Swarthout Valley to the Big Pines Camp area in the early 1920s.
Courtesy of Rich
The sign above reads:
"...Length 14.67 miles..."
This is the Big Pines Lodge,
constructed in 1924, and prior to the expansive development soon to
come with the addition of the arch
over the road (about where the tree to the left stands).
tree on the extreme right also was
This image taken in 1926 shows the
road above Big Pines, just before McClellan Flat (to the
the image). This
image was taken 200 feet southwest of Cabin 13 (later described), and
due south with the
north western slopes of Blue Ridge in the background. Photo found on 'eBay',
dated, but with no other information.
The 1926 Table Mountain Road had a jog in the far west end (left on
map) that can clearly be seen
in the picture above this map. The blue colored line is the best
estimate of the original road to the
top of the mountain, and the road bed can be traced in parts of
McClellan Flat (noted herein as
'Camp McClellan'). Looking forward four images, you will find a
closeup of a map of the McClellan
Flat area. You will note the jog just west of Cabin 1 on that
map. The road then follows a north
side approach to the general topography to the 'Smithsonian
Observatory'. No documentation can
be surfaced as to when the three changes were made (as shown in red),
but the large parking lot
was made in the 1950s to accomodate the skiers after the Ski Chalet was
built in 1954 (green dot).
In researching all the 'paper'
material at the Smithsonian Institute Archives, there are a few small
excerpts that talk
about the road
change to the south side of the summit area, and although no date
is mentioned, the reference
leads to the late 1930s. It is the author's opinion that this
made because of the terrible
snow drifting during winter on the north side. The author can add
47 years of on-site experience
to that fact alone!
This image the author acquired in
October 2008 from virtually the exact same spot as the image
above (82 years later)! Note
Highway 2 (The Angeles Crest) in the right center on its way up to
Part of the road just before McClellan Flat, looking southwest with
Mt. Baden-Powell in the center.
The early development of
McClellan Flat: The original 13 cabins were built for the Los
County Board of Supervisors and
their families, using some used wood from torn down buildings in
other parts of the county.
Here is an image of Cabin 8, also
with a house tag number of '617', the significance is unknown. USC
Here is Cabin 8 as it stands in the year 2010.
This is a copy of an original drawing (cleaned up, with identified
cabin numbers) of the McClellan
Flat area, with cabins and out-buildings (garages and storage
sheds). The original Table Mountain
road, coming up from the lower left side, enters the area and fans out
to the various cabins. An
extension of the road swings around cabin 1 to the south, and swings
around to the northeast and
eventually to the northwest (upper right corner) on its way to the top
of Table Mountain. JSA
This is a reconstructed map of McClellan Flat as it appeared in
the 1950s (and still is today). Table
Mountain road was altered somewhat in the time since the 1930s,
but for the most part follows the
same path as the original. Note the small building to the
east of cabin 8, as it is a garage, and its
significance will later be described. Look again at the image
of cabin 8, and you will see the very
edge of the garage (with a curved roof line) on the far right side. JSA
In the wintertime, getting up
Table Mountain was just not possible for most automobiles. Here,
can see the tracks of snowshoes
that had to be used by SAO personnel to walk for supplies and the
mail at the Big Pines
Camp area. SIA
This is the road just above McClellan Flat showing Mt. Baden-Powell
in the background. USC
making a final decision, tests of the sky clarity, moisture
content, and other measurements
were made during early spring of 1925. After concluding the site
was perfect for their new field
station, Smithsonian purchased part of the Big Pines-L.A. County Camp
property, namely the summit
Mountain, from Los Angeles County. The LA County Board of
Supervisors also helped with
the road improvements from McClellan Flat to the top. Table
Mountain was then surveyed for
building placements by additional trips of SAO personnel to the summit in the late spring of
The Smithsonian records do not actually indicate where all
the wood was obtained for
but one could presume it came from local woodcutters, located in Saw Mill Canyon in the
Valley. Local wood had been used for many of the buildings at
the Big Pines Camp, and
have been used for the field station buildings on Table Mountain.
An unknown Smithsonian researcher
made initial tests on the summit of Table Mountain during the
winter 1924 to spring of 1925. SIA
An additional piece of test equipment used in 1925. SIA
One of the first dated documents made from Table Mountain data.
Now it was time to build the
necessary facilities for the new field station at Table Mountain.
the summer of 1925, A. F. Moore of Smithsonian took charge of the
construction of five separate
buildings; two residences, a garage, a shop, and a tunnel 'bunker' for
instruments. As with
all previous field stations, the site director and assistant were
expected to live
on the mountain,
year-round. The road was plowed in the winter for access to the site,
and the snowplow needed
to be housed in a garage. A shop/office for computations use was also
constructed. A water
pumping facility with a storage tank was also necessary.
This is the director's residence,
with a kitchen, living room, full bath and large bedroom. SIA
The assistant director's residence
was much smaller, but had similar rooms to the director's home.
The garage for the snowplow, which
later became the bunk house. SIA
The shop and computations office. SIA
The two 1200 gallon water tanks
with one directly behind the other as seen in this view. SIA
The pump house contained a
model T engine for pumping water to the top of the mountain, and later
in the 1930s, a water storage tank was installed near the pump
house. On the last USGS map, dated
1956-68, the pump house and tank are shown. SIA
tunnel/bunker set-up. The opening faces due south. SIA
Sometime in the 1930s, after much difficulty with winter snows
completely covering the access
road on the summit's north slope, a new route was chosen around
to the south side of the final
summit climb. The following four SIA images show some of the
snow difficulties there.
Looking for a better road to the
top of Table Mountain
The south facing slope contains much less snow. SIA
This picture shows the area where the current road arrives at the
summit of Table Mountain. It
is looking northeast, with the site entrance itself at
the far right. SIA
This is a year 2010 image of the previous picture.
Before we get into the further
development of Table Mountain by Smithsonian, we shall look at some
maps and notes concerning methods of getting to the site.
In this 1931 map of unknown
origin, the distance from Los Angeles to Wrightwood is listed as 90
Courtesy of Rich McCutchan
The extension road from Highway
138 at 'Mountain Top' into Wrightwood was completed in 1937.
This is a 1943 Automobile Club of
Southern California map.
In this Shell Oil Company map,
dated 1947, we can see the progress of the Angeles Crest Highway.
This is a 1948 revised edition of
a USGS topo map. There is no mention of Table Mountain, or even
an elevation. In fact, the
elevation contour lines are very poor at best in that area.
(center) is still listed as having
an elevation of 6917 feet.
Richfield Oil Company map dated 1952.
In this most recent USGS topo map, dated 1956 (with revisions in violet
color for 1968), it shows
several new buildings at Table Mountain (JPL owned/operated as of
1962), and a mistake that has
showed up elsewhere over recent years. "Smithsonian Observatory"
is listed 1/2 mile east of the
actual facility. The violet colored dot (1968) refers to
the JPL solar test building constructed
there in 1965. Smithsonian never was out on that point with any
instrumentation or building during
their 1924-1961 occupancy of Table Mountain!
End of Part
1 Part 2
You are visitor numbersince December 7, 2009
Page last updated June 13, 2010 (under