The Hiram Roach Dark Canyon Sawmill, San Jacinto Mountain

The Idyllwild Historical Society has the following picture of an old sawmill that was said to be the highest-elevation sawmill in the Idyllwild area:

However, that picture was not otherwise labeled, so its actual location was unknown.

Tom was able to use the nearest ridgeline and horizon view of that picture to pin down the location, with the aid of Google Earth as the Sawmill Flat on the Sawmill Trail / Road, and the probable vantage point. This location in Dark Canyon is the site of the San Jacinto Lumber and Box Company site operated from 1908 to 1922 by Hiram Roach (Robinson and Risher, p. 97).

Robinson and Risher give the location of that sawmill as being about a half mile above the present Banning-Idyllwild highway. The Sawmill Flat is almost exactly a half mile above SR243 in the Dark Canyon drainage.

The following screenshot from Google Earth shows the mill site, outlined in red, now an unforested area dominated by mountain whitethorn, Ceanothus cordulatus, along with the horizon view with the horizon peaks numbered:

The nearest ridgeline is much lower relative to the horizon peaks because the vantage point in Google Earth had to be above ground level to show the unforested area that was the mill site. The five labeled peaks in the horizon view match up perfectly with the five peaks seen in the old picture. The following gives an enhanced version of that horizon view:

The double peak #1 isn't as clear in the horizon view since the notch between the peaks has been partially filled in by enhanced noise, which was necessary to bring out peak #5. The identity of the peaks is as follows. Peak #5 is Black Mountain, where the lookout tower is located. The #4 double peaks are peaks on what is labeled as the Black Mountain ridge on the topo map. Peak #3 is the peak with elevation 8452 on western Fuller Ridge. The #2 double peaks are the Castle Rocks. The #1 double peaks include the peak 8734 on the topo map and its counterpart to the east on the east end of Fuller Ridge.

On 28 August 2014, Tom, Dave, and Adrienne attempted to reproduce the historical picture. We were able to reproduce the horizon view exactly, with the nearest ridgeline in exactly the right place, but it is no longer possible (fortunately!) to see the mill site due to regrowth of the forest. We were also able to photograph five additional features seen in the historical picture that can still be seen today.

The following picture was taken from very close to the same vantage point as the historical picture:

We've labeled some of the features from the sawmill area, just to show where they would appear in the photograph if the forest were removed, to help with the comparison to the historical photograph.

The historical picture was taken from a bit to the west or east, since the modern picture does not show the little drainage seen in the historical picture going down from the location where the picture was taken. We didn't attempt to relocate that position exactly, since we were trying to find a vantage point that showed the modern-day unforested area that is the sawmill site. But we were not able to do that, despite walking the entire route from that vantage point to the sawmill site. Due to the trees, the sawmill site is only visible when one enters it.

In addition to the exact match with the nearest ridgeline and the five peaks in the horizon view, there are five ground features that match up between the modern-day unforested area and the historical photograph, marked in the following labeled version of the historical picture:

Additional rock clumps are circled in the historical picture, which should also still be present. We didn't attempt to locate those features on 28 August 2014.

The five ground features that match up are:

  1. The slope down from the vantage point to a drainage, with the sawmill site on the other side of the drainage.

  2. The orientation of the drainage

  3. The building remnant, oriented in the same way immediately on the other side of the drainage

  4. The large white boulder to the northwest of the building remnant (#1 in the photograph). We are not certain that this boulder is seen in the historical photograph; it is possible this boulder is hidden behind the tree present in that photograph, and what we have labeled as boulder #1 is something ephemeral from the sawmill operation.

  5. The clump of boulders on the near side of the drainage, southwest of the building remnant (#2 in the photograph). This is clearly a match between the historical photograph and the modern-day photograph, since the clump is dissected similarly in the two pictures.

The following modern-day photographs show the last three features. They are necessarily taken from different orientations, and from a much closer view, since due to the regrowth of the forest we could not take photographs of them from the same location as the historical photograph.

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Copyright © 2014 by Tom Chester, Dave Stith, Adrienne Ballwey, and Bob Smith.
Commercial rights reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce any or all of this page for individual or non-profit institutional internal use as long as credit is given to us at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Last update: 30 August 2014