Looking for the most Extreme mountain biking or hiking experience? Then check out Turnbull Canyon located near the city of Whittier, CA. The history of Turnbull Canyon has a checkered but interesting past. Over time urban legends developed and spread like a wildfire about the canyon, which created an infamous reputation of being a hotbed of tragedies and weirdness.
The History of Turnbull Canyon
The Native American tribes that inhabited the San Gabriel Valley referred to a canyon within the valley as Hutukngna which means the “night”, “the dark place”, or “the place of evil”. According to one story, the Spanish would force the natives who refused to convert to Christianity to spend several days in the canyon of evil. Later the east side of the San Gabriel Valley was named Rancho La Puenta by William Workman who was a banker and land developer. In 1876 Workman was ruined financially which led to his suicide four months later.
A Scottish immigrant by the name of Robert Turnbull moved to the San Gabriel Valley in the 1870’s and made a small fortune through real estate. After Workman’s suicide, an advisory committee was formed to regulate bank loans. While sitting as an advisor on the committee, Robert Turnbull came across an opportunity that allowed him to buy land in the canyon for a cheap price. Due to a stream of water running through this land he was successful at raising sheep. While making his name as a shepherd he also developed a reputation of being a drunk and a loud mouth. A group of Quakers moved into the area and decided to develop a settlement for their people. They made several offers to buy Robert Turnbull’s land, but Turnbull never accepted their offers. Until one day, the Quakers offered him $30,000; a fortune during that time period, and Robert decided to sell.
One night in 1888, Robert Turnbull was leaving one of his favorite taverns, the St. Charles Hotel, and was arrested for public drunkenness due to falling off of his horse. The next day he was released and while entering his home his housekeeper, Mary Kate, noticed that Robert had several bruises all over his face and body. She reported that it looked like he was involved in a brutal fight. After taking a long nap, Robert got up the next day and Mary told authorities that he didn’t seem himself and left the house wearing mismatched clothing including a hat that belonged to her. The next day two children found his body floating face first in the Los Angeles River. The coroner stated that Robert died from a blood clot that developed from a head injury and that it was very possible that Robert was murdered. Shortly after, the Quakers renamed the canyon to honor Robert, and that is how Turnbull canyon got its name.
During the late 19th to early 20th century, droughts were very common from the mid-west to the west coast of the United States. Rainmakers were coming out of the wood works claiming that they could make it rain for a small fee of course. Many rainmakers were eventually exposed as charlatans but some names were noted in history as the real deal. During the 1916 drought in San Diego, CA; Charles M. Hatfield’s method of controlling the weather was successful, so successful that he caused a heavy downfall of rain that caused a flood that claimed 20 lives, washed out the infrastructure of the city, and many homes as well. He was chased out of town and was never compensated.
In the early 1930’s, William Haight made his mark as a rainmaker with his invention of the Electrodome. His device would generate negative electrical currents into the atmosphere and create a pulsating direct current from the ground to the sky. His invention would allow people to create rain, displace fog, and could even prevent frost from forming on crops. His smaller model of the electrodome was a success, but to produce a more effective result Haight would require a serious financial support which he didn’t have. Due to some financial support from a Citrus farmer, John Dodrill, William was only able to build one big tower that was based off of an old existing oil tower located in the Turnbull Canyon. With the laboratory sitting on an 80 foot tower the Electrodome reached 125 feet from the ground to the sky. The final test of his experiment happened on New Year’s Eve at the stroke of midnight in 1932. There is no mention in the media of the results of the test. However, the Russian Government at the time was very interested in Haights invention and used it for themselves. Currently, more advanced versions of the Electrodome are currently being used by the United States government, Japanese government, and a company called the Australian Rain Technologies.
On April 18, 1952 a North continent airline, operating under Robin Airlines, was on a flight from New York City, NY to Burbank, CA. After making several intermediate stops flight 416W was redirected to Los Angeles International Airport due to bad weather in Burbank. The plane was on an instrument landing system approach to LAX. While the landing gear was fully extended, the left wheel of the plane struck a ridge near the Turnbull canyon causing the pilot to lose control causing the plane to crash into a steep hillside. The plane exploded into flames instantly and all 29 on board were killed. After the investigation was completed the officials stated that the cause of the crash was due to pilot error. The pilot was flying below the minimum altitude of the area. It was suspected that the pilot couldn’t see the runway due to fog build up and decided to fly below the minimum altitude which led to the accident. The investigations also found Robin Airlines had more than 40 violations that included, charges of overweight planes, demanding and excessive flying time for crews, and failure to use approved seats and safety belts. The investigation also discovered that the pilot of the plane was flying with a restricted medical certificate.
KKK, Satanic Cults, and UFOs..ooh my
Many locals of the area of Whittier Heights claim that Turnbull Canyon is home to KKK rallies and Satanic Cult activities. During the depression era of the 1920’s rumors were spreading that people in black outfits with hoods were seen walking around at night and some stories claim that orphan and runaway children were being sacrificed in the area. Video’s of UFOs and orb sightings in the Turnbull canyon are also all over the internet.
In the depths of the brush of Turnbull Canyon lies Hell’s Gate. There is not a lot of information about the origins of this notorious gate on the Web. The location of Hell’s Gate is between the intersections of Skyline Drive and Descending Drive. There is a dirt path that cuts through the overgrowth of vegetation that leads to a chain linked fence with a “Private Property” sign along with another sign warning intruders that there is a dog. One story that is floating around the Web is that behind the chain link fence there use to be an insane asylum that was notorious for neglect and abuse of the inmates. The facility eventually burned down. Years later some teenagers decided to visit the abandoned asylum and supposedly came across a device that was used to administer electrical shocks to the inmates. Joking around one of the teenagers applied the electrode probes to his head got electrocuted and was killed. As the story goes…the electricity was shut off 20 years ago before this alleged incident.
While digging deep on the internet I have not been able to find any validation of an asylum in the area of Turnbull canyon or no proof that a teenager was killed by self-electrocuted shock to the head. I have found some Youtube videos of brave souls exploring beyond the chain link fence. Behind the fence is a lot of vegetation overgrowth along with some remnants of concrete slabs with pipes coming out of them. The notorious Hell’s Gate was still present but the rod iron gate that was shown in these videos did not live up to the infamous reputation that have developed overtime. No dead babies, hell hounds, or internal flames coming out of the ground, just an ordinary rod iron gate. According to one of my sources, one person made a journey beyond the Gate of Hell which just led to someone’s backyard.
Many locals claim that there is a gravity hill somewhere located in Turnbull Canyon. Gravity hills have been found all over the world and locals in the areas of these mysterious hills will tell stories of spirits or aliens that are to blame for the phenomenon. For those of you who don’t know what a gravity hill is, don’t feel bad, I had to look that one up myself.
A gravity hill is a hill that appears to be going up and people in cars will travel up the hill without applying any gas. Balls have been placed on these hills and they would roll up the hill. A gravity hill is an optical illusion, sorry to disappoint everyone but there is no prankster ghost or alien messing with us. When standing on a path of a gravity hill the horizon is obscured from the person’s viewpoint which creates the illusion that the hill is going up but it is actually going down.
The Hanging Tree
There is supposedly a tree somewhere in the Turnbull Canyon that is referred to as the “Hanging Tree”. While reading up on the Turnbull Canyon, I came across two different stories about this elusive tree. One story states that a man hanged himself on a branch of a tree and at the time and day of his death you can see his ghost dangling from the branch. Another story that I came across involved a teenage couple who decided to take a drive through the canyon and ended up having car troubles. The male told his girlfriend to stay in the car and not to let anyone in while he goes and gets help. After a while, the female started to hear sounds on the roof of the car that resembled the sound of light rain. After several hours waiting for her boyfriend to return she ended up falling asleep. The next day she was woken up by taps on the window from a police officer. While the police officer was asking her to step out of the car he instructed her to not look up. Supposedly she disregarded the officer’s advice of not looking up and saw her boyfriend was dangling from a rope tied to a branch and his blood was dripping on the roof of the car. While searching for any validations to these stories I came across quite a bit of uncertainties from other curious minds of where this “Hanging Tree” is located and there are so many different trees that are being referenced as the phantom tree of death.
I always love to hear a good ole ghost story and the Turnbull Canyon is riddled with them. There have been actual deaths and horrible tragedies that occurred in the canyon. Walking around in the wilderness especially at night will naturally create some healthy paranoia. But after my journey of reading up on Turnbull Canyon the only real threats to be aware of are: rattlesnakes, white supremacists, mountain lions, and drift car racers.
The canyon also has some great mountain bike paths. If you decide to go hiking on these paths, bikers going down hill have the right away. Gravity trumps their brakes so to avoid any collisions get out of their way when you see them.
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