HISTORY OF THE SANTA CLARITA VALLEY BY JERRY REYNOLDS
A few thousand years ago the valley floor was a dense forest of pine, cedar and oaks. As time went by the rains diminished and the area began to dry up — a process that continues today.
The oaks were adaptable, sending their roots deeper into the soil for moisture. Seven species survive in the Santa Clarita: Interior Live Oak, California Black, Blue, Scrub, Engelman, Valley and Canyon Live Oak. They would prove in time to be an important food source for the Indians.
High up on Newhall Pass, Bear Divide and the Sierra Pelona are the last remnants of once-extensive stands of Jeffrey pine and big-cone spruce.
Today there are three ecological zones running through this region. Rich alluvial soil supports grasslands and scattered oak groves. Cottonwoods and western sycamore crowd stream banks in the canyons, while low-growing manzanita, chaparral and chamise dominate dry, sandy hillsides. This brush is the principal fuel for fires that annually breakout in late summer and fall.
Rainbow trout is planted by the state Department of Fish and Game in Bouquet and Piru creeks. In the late 1940s local anglers were catching native rainbow in these and other streams, including Castaic. Soledad Canyon still supports one of the last schools of unarmored three-spined stickleback to be found in California.
Biologists count four varieties of salamander, the California newt, three types of toad and six different kinds of frogs in the Santa Clarita Valley. There are thirty-six species of reptiles (including a native turtle), sixteen lizards and nineteen snakes. Among the latter, rattlesnakes are in abundance. Most common is the large, dark Southern Pacific rattler.
Birds include curved-bill thrashers, sparrows, black and bluebirds, scrub jays, Bullock's oriole and ravens. Hawks and an occasional eagle are seen gliding through the sky; an even rarer occurrence is the sight of one of the few remaining California condors wafting along on wings that stretch eight to ten feet across.
Mule deer bound over the broken terrain. Raccoons dine from urban trash cans while skunks wander at will. There are ground and tree squirrels, gophers and moles to contend with. Coyotes howl in the hills, mountain lions and bobcats prowl the underbrush, and one might even run across a brown bear or two.
Not so very long ago, herds of pronghorn antelope grazed the banks of the Santa Clara, bighorn sheep stood silhouetted against the skyline, and grizzly bears snorted and snarled up the canyons. Their extinction can be directly attributed to the high-powered rifles of twentieth-century man. A man named Cornelius Johnson killed the last grizzly in Sand Canyon in 1916.
Other ecological modifications resulted from changing climatic conditions. The average annual rainfall is about seventeen inches, usually falling between November and April. Once in a long while winter snow carpets the land, causing a carnival-like atmosphere among the local residents.
Scorching Santa Ana winds blast the valley during the fall. Wildflowers color the hillsides in spring. Summer brings days of hundred-plus temperatures, but pleasant, cool nights.
The stage is set for the arrival of man!