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Going for the Gold

Open house to offer panning and other pioneer activities.


This Sunday, consider taking your kids on a gold-panning expedition in the wilds.

They'll love it. Kids, like the rest of us, are enthralled by the idea of instant riches. And for this particular excursion, you won't have to drive up the state to Sutter's Mill, but just to the Santa Clarita Valley--which is where gold was first discovered in California.

The site, on the grounds of the Placerita Canyon Natural Area, is where a herdsman found gold particles clinging to the roots of a wild onion he pulled up to eat one day in 1842.

This Sunday is the 10th annual open house at the park facility--the one time of the year when kids, or anybody else, may pan for gold in the stream bed, just like in the old days.

Ian Swift, a recreation services leader for the Placerita facility, which is administered by the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, says that in the 1900s, miners took out $100,000 worth of gold particles from Placerita Canyon. Within a few years there was the discovery in Northern California, which produced more gold and more notoriety.

Nature reclaimed the site until oil was discovered there a generation later, Swift explained. Then the area's black-gold boom faded, and nature returned with such a vengeance that it became popular with movie location scouts, who considered it a perfect locale for westerns.

Nevertheless, the family of Frank and Hortense Walker who lived on the site for a long time, occasionally found gold dust, which all in all amounted to a few ounces. The state bought the site in 1949 and it has since become a nature area.

The open house will include many activities besides gold panning. There will be lessons on tomahawk throwing--with real steel tomahawks, and for others, an event billed as "wash clothes the way your great-grandma did."

There will be sand painting and other Native American crafts, a farm-animal petting corral and a wild animal show starring a great horned owl.

But probably nothing is going to draw the kids like the gold-panning opportunity.

This is the stuff of dreams, Ian Swift tells visitors to the park. The initial gold discovery occurred, the story goes, when herdsman Francisco Lopez awoke from a siesta beneath a large oak.

The tree is still there, now named "the Oak of the Golden Dream," because when Lopez awoke, having had a dream about finding gold and becoming wealthy, he was hungry and pulled up a wild onion for lunch. That was the one with the gold particles in the roots.

Swift says the park administration permits kids to pan for gold one day a year because gold fever burns eternal.

For that day, contemporary kids can join the gold rush.


Placerita Canyon Nature Center Annual Open House, with gold panning, tomahawk throwing plus a wild animal show, Sun., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; free admission but parking is $3 per car; 19152 Placerita Canyon Road, Newhall; (805) 259-7721.

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