Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Mill Creek Canyon in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California is one of the most dangerous places to live in the state. Catastrophic floods, rock and mudslides, avalanches, earthquakes, fires, and a deadly waterfall frequently feature in headlines. But it is also a uniquely beautiful and hidden corner of California.
Situated near Mount San Gorgonio, the highest peak in the southern part of the state at 11,503 feet, the canyon also boasts Southern California's highest year-round waterfall. Many seasonal waterfalls also grace the 12-mile length of the dead-end box canyon.
This small, beautiful valley was also the scene of many firsts in the history of the lower part of the state. Before the 1830s, the construction of most sailing ships on the Southern California coast was with salvaged materials from shipwrecks. Trapper William Wolfskill arrived in California in 1831 via the Old Spanish Trail and decided to hunt otter along the coastline. During the summer of that year, he and a crew went to Mill Creek Canyon to cut and saw lumber for a schooner. Abundant, quality timber was available there at lower elevations than elsewhere. His ship, El Refugio, was the first ship built with virgin timber in the southland to sail the coast. The canyon's tall pines figured in another first in July 1847 at the close of the Mexican-American War. A detachment of soldiers traveled from Fort Moore in Los Angeles to Mill Creek Canyon to cut two trees and haul them back to the fort. There, the soldiers fashioned the trees into a 100-foot flagpole, lashing them together with rawhide. They raised the Stars and Stripes on that pole for the first time over Los Angeles during their July 4th celebration. Notably, Mill Creek, which flows down the canyon's center, powered the very first sawmill. It was built in the 1840s and milled oak casks for French vintner Jean-Louise Vignes' famed El Aliso winery in the Pueblo de Los Angeles. However, Mill Creek's greatest fame is the generation of the world's first three-phase AC power transmission on September 7, 1893, for the Redlands Light and Power Company. Three-phase AC power continues to light much of our world.
Copyright 2020, Shannon E. Wray. All Rights Reserved. No reprints in whole or part without permission.