Why Can't We Drive Into Mentryville?
By DARRYL MANZER.
Published in The Signal, 2-26-2006.
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Last month I made a short pilgrimage to Mentryville, along with my eldest son. It was a time to share memories and see if any progress had been made on restoring access to the old town since my last visit.
Alas, the private road was still closed between the end of the county road and Mentryville. We had to walk from the lower gate. During that walk, the smells of the canyon brought back one of my most cherished memories of nearly 42 years ago. The memory goes like this:
My father was "at work" for Standard Oil and had just completed a tour of the wells in Pico Canyon. That day in 1964 was cold and wet. A light rain was falling.
I had just completed most of my morning chores milking the cows, feeding the hogs and fattening steers and I was feeding the calves in the barn. I was already wet and cold when he told me that we had some cattle up the canyon that had wandered near the wells, and that I should go herd them back towards the house and barn.
The last thing I wanted to do was get on a horse and ride up the canyon to gather in those cattle, but I knew it was a job that had to be done. I finished with the calves and got out the saddle and bridle. I don't remember the exact horse I rode, but it must have been our mare, Suzy, since she knew to keep close to the barn in such weather.
Once I had Suzy saddled inside the barn, I put on my military-surplus poncho and an old, leaky rain hat. Leading Suzy out of the barn, I mounted up and headed up canyon in the cold drizzle.
Sometimes cows just wander. They don't know exactly where they're headed, but "the- grass-must-be-greener-over-there" syndrome takes over and they wander. I found them walking in a single file up by that famous oil well, CSO No. 4. It didn't take long and I had them turned back around and headed down the canyon.
On the way down canyon I gathered a few more strays until I had 15 or 20 steers ahead of me. A few snaps of the whip above them and those cows kept on the road until the canyon widens just past the old Cochem bakery foundation at Minnie-Lotta canyon. Soon they were spread out along the creek bottom and headed to the flat area that is now the Mentryville parking lot. My job was done.
No sooner had I finished when the sky opened up. It seemed all the rain came down at once. It was a cloud burst.
Now, old Suzy didn't mind the rain so much but would prefer a warm stall and something to eat. I was getting just a little more wet since that leaky rain hat was directing the water off my head and down my backside between me and the poncho. I gave Suzy a little nudge with my boots, and before I knew it, we were back at the barn.
We stopped at the barn door and I dismounted, soaked. I pushed open the big door and we walked inside. Taking Suzy to one of the stalls, I removed the poncho and hat and then removed the wet saddle, blanket and bridle from the wet horse.
Suzy settled in the stall with some oats and alfalfa as I started drying the saddle and hung the blanket to dry. As suddenly as that cloud burst had started, it stopped, and the sun peeked through the clouds, warming the canyon.
That was when I remember those delicious smells of the sagebrush, eucalyptus and pepper trees and alfalfa bales stacked in the barn, blending into a real "nose feast." The back of the barn was open to the creek in those days, so I could hear the stream splashing over some rocks as the warm sunlight dried the ground.
I sat there in that warm sun, cleaning and oiling the saddle, adding yet another odor to that fragrant soup that had already taken over my senses. A great memory made.
I had many more rides up and down Pico Canyon, but that ride sticks in my memory because of those smells. I can still shut my eyes and almost smell them today. Funny how those things stick with one.
Today not many folks could have that experience. First you'd have to get a horse (and some cows) to Mentryville. Not that hard if the road was fixed, but it has been more than a year since the floods that washed out the private road to Mentryville, and the lower gate was still shut as of last month.
The culvert across the creek to the parking lot is back in place just below the barn, but the public can't yet drive to Mentryville.
Why is that? What is stopping road repairs?
Until the road is repaired, you'll have to hike from the lower gate at the end of the county road to get to Mentryville. Not a bad walk. I used to do it every day, twice, going to and from my school bus stop.
Try the walk just after a rain storm when the sun is breaking through the clouds. (And stay to the far side of the road, away from the creek when on the road up and down the canyon). The closer you get to the barn, Big House and Felton School, the more those smells will invade your nose and make you some "last forever" memories.
You've got to walk to do it. The road isn't open yet. Why not?
Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.