Taking a Haunted Hike to “Research the Book”

It isn’t every day that I get to bond with a fellow writer and take in an epic hike, so when Dario Ciriello told me he was going to explore the Cobb Estate and Mt. Lowe Campgrounds in the foothills beyond Altadena, I quickly invited myself along. Dario was happy to have company, and we set off for this dusty and picturesque destination in between my head colds and L.A.’s cold snaps in early March.

He was going to re-check all the details that he’d included in his story, Dry Bones, which is included in the anthology called Made In L.A.: Stories Rooted in the City of Angels.  It is being released in time for the L.A. Festival of Books; print books are already available, and ebooks—which can be pre-ordered—will be delivered on April 21, the first day of the festival. Set in Altadena, the story follows a fictional couple through trying circumstances and time-bending interactions with mysterious figures.

Upon meeting at the Cobb Estates trail head, Dario pointed to a rocky wash and said, “That’s where Roberto broke his ankle.” Upon assessing the steep angle of the land, I immediately informed Dario that I would not be hiking up that grade, but he laughed and pointed to a more reasonable path beyond the Cobb Estate sign that we would take. And thankfully, Roberto was one-half of the fictional couple in his story, not a real person.

Cobb Estate started off as a sprawling estate that had its own water and electricity produced and managed on-site. Well-to-do people from Los Angeles could catch a train ride up to the estate, admire the sprawling view of Los Angeles, enjoy social interactions at a swanky tavern, and take in the clean mountain air.

After its heyday, and after it had changed ownership a few times, the estate was purchased by the Marx Brothers in 1956 and not maintained. Its location presented a large risk, as the buildings were built out of wood and the area is affected by forest fires. Once it fell into disrepair, remnants of the buildings were removed from the area in 1959.

Cobb Estates was acquired as a public space in 1971. Nowadays, it is part of Angeles National Forest and, aside from a few picnic tables, is left in its natural state.

Given its long history, the Cobb Estate and Mt. Lowe Campgrounds are revered by some as Pasadena’s Haunted Forest. This is a theme Dario siezed upon when writing his story for the anthology. Here is an excerpt to show what I mean:

“It was night again. But instead of the flat, gravel- and pine needle-strewn campground, what loomed ahead was a stone and timber structure. Yellow light streamed from within. Tables and chairs stood outside in the cool shade of the pines. Above the steps to the main entrance, a quaint inn sign with the name “Ye Alpine Tavern” swung in the light breeze. Scattered groups of men, mostly, stood on the narrow terrace in front of the building, talking and smoking. A burst of laughter came from inside, where some kind of celebration was taking place, the whole underscored with the tinkle of ragtime piano.”

Hiking in the daytime didn’t lead me to any ideas about the place being haunted. In fact, it was quite peaceful to be above the hustle and bustle of the big city. If we listened, we could hear… nothing. It was incredibly quiet up there—a break for our ears, since we both live in town.

Much like hiking nearby areas like Griffith Park, it’s reasonable to expect a layer of silt on your legs (or pantlegs, if it’s cold) when exploring the trail. We climbed to the top, taking in sights along the way and then stopping for lunch. Then, we headed back down (and the trip back is always faster), philosophizing about modern news media, health, fitness, and writing. Along the way, I observed this environment: a surprising patch of moss here and there; the wild temperature swings in and out of the shade; and, as we got lower and lower in altitude, the sounds of the city surrounding us once again.

Then it was time for goodbyes and getting back to the usual grind, but with a refreshed feeling and perspective. I have no doubt that Dario captured the spirit and the scenery around this interesting and perhaps haunted setting.


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