When day begins near ocean spray
We start our journey P.E. way;
Through orange groves to mountain heights
And romp in snow before the night.

Snow On Mt. Lowe
By Jake Brouwer

In Southern California a semi-crescent shaped range of mountains named the San Gabriels, sweeps some fifty miles in length offering views not quite like any other afforded most travelers. Its stark contrasts are most apparent in the winter months though not so much in recent years as it was in years long past. California’s greatest winter playground near the turn of the twentieth century became the San Gabriel Mountains most prominent landmark and to this day beckons hikers to its sometimes-ghostly haunts. It was known as the Scenic Mt. Lowe Railway and incorporated such colorful names as Rubio Canyon, Echo Mountain, Crystal Springs and Inspiration Point. Thaddeus S. C. Lowe was the artist and the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains were his canvas.

the beach at noon snowballs at 4:00
The beach at noon snowballs at 4:00

Thaddeus Lowe, not new to winter wonderlands, was born and raised in the White Mountains White Mountains of New Hampshire. He had more than a vision in mind when he created and built the Scenic Mt. Lowe Railroad. The Professor sought to and successfully did wed the fastness of the mountains with the wonders of modern life. Walkways and trails skirt for miles along steep canyon walls, across babbling streams, through idyllic forests bringing you the traveler to the choicest views the Professor could find. His electric railroad brought thousands of tourists to California’s vacation Mecca and it also allowed a view of unsurpassed beauty and endless recreation to the local residents in the valleys below.

For men of letters like George Wharton James, John sharp, and John Stoddard perhaps the best literary contrasts they could present to portray the splendor of the Mt. Lowe Railway were ones of winter. Where else could these men boast of swimming on the beaches of Santa Monica Bay at noon, than strolling in groves of oranges to pick a snack at two o’clock, and later to be frantically evading a catapulted snowball by four that same afternoon.

snowmanThink of it! Pasadena’s rose gardens and sleighing at Inspiration Point the same day! Chasing butterflies in Rubio, then snowballing near the Tavern! Watching humming birds along Sunset Trail in the morning and than building a snowman in the frosty white before dinner! Who would not want to go?

A clever Pacific Electric ad announced SNOW ON MT. LOWE! Most distinct novelty in California. Go and take the "kiddies." Think of what a treat it will be for all of you, with no hardships or severe exposure to the cold. Comfortable cars all the way. Alpine tavern provides every comfort while you stay, with meals a la carte. Go today and enjoy the "beautiful." Think of the rare sport to be had. And the snow cannot last very long. Five trains daily.

sleigh ride

And so they came. Through the valley floor where the odor of oranges and roses struggle for precedence, across the semi-tropical fields of Altadena aglow with golden poppies, and into the depths of Rubio Canyon for the spirited ride up to the heavens on a white chariot. Climbing through the clouds to this "White City," this Echo Mountain, this first stop on the way to sights of Norwegian grandeur on the Alpine Division was a cool adventure in itself. Pulling sweaters and mittens on as the chariot rose. Then, huddling with your neighbor against the cold until you turn to look at the car falling from above as someone so graciously has pointed out, and then you quickly turn back as the breeze created as it passes bites at your exposed cheeks. It is quiet most of the rest of the trip up.

"Landing" on Echo was a good feeling. It was swell to be on solid ground. After a short stop we’ll head on up the line. Just want to stretch my feet a bit if it’s all right with you.

Echo House

Echo was sometimes blanketed in snow adding to its serene beauty but mostly you would be amazed at the delicate flowers that were flourishing in this wintry climate. For here in Southern California winter brings to our canyons their greatest allure. Nature is busily at work. From the rock streams water, flowing over mossy canyon walls, filling pools, forming cascades, giving moisture and renewed life to all sorts of vegetation. Patches of brown transform to rich green and once bare spots sprout winter flowers.

Snowball party

A Charles Lawrence photograph
courtesy of the Charles Seims Collection

Toboggan"Enough of this!" shout the young ones. "On to the snow" And so we board the Alpine Division of the Scenic Mt. Lowe Railroad. Bundling up even more. As we climb in elevation the excitement starts to escalate. "How much further will it be?" Then not more than a thousand feet above the flowers at Echo came the first patches of snow. "Hurray!" Come the shouts from young and old. Then as the electric car climbs higher and higher the snow gets deeper and deeper. Soon even the motorman has some concerns about the depth of the newly fallen snow, or so it seems. He stops the car as if to inspect a particular problem and as natural as can be half the car is soon emptied and a snowball battle ensues. What an unexpected pleasure this was as a prelude to Alpine Tavern.

Crystal Springs, Ye Alpine Tavern, and Mt. Lowe Tavern, all one in the same, depending on when you were there, could be covered by a layer of snow for several weeks during the year bringing crowds to this winter wonderland. The mountain atmosphere is dry and pure and even though a foot or more of snow may blanket the ground the cold is not at all as severe as it is in other mountain resorts.

Exiting the train at the Tavern was a welcome occurrence. The cold had taken its toll on the passengers and they eagerly headed inside to check into their accommodations for the evening. After thawing out around the grand fireplace it was "up and at ‘em" again. An elegant sleigh was taking on hearty passengers for a ride among the pines and to points unsurpassed for looking at a variety of scenery.

Later in the early evening you walk alone through the moon lit darkness towards the tavern, a light flurry of snow causes you to raise your collar. There is a deep silence, the silence of nature. You feel better for having been there and quietly go to your room.

C. Seims Collection
C. Seims Collection

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Last modified: February 12, 1999

No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without written permission from:
Jake Brouwer
All articles and photos were provided by:
Land-Sea Discovery Group
Copyright 1999