Originally published February 25, 2015 at The Los Angeles Beat
“When I was sweet sixteen I was the juke box queen
Down in Devil Gate Drive
I led the angel pack on the road to sin…
Down in Devil Gate Drive” – 1974 Suzi Quatro song
It is highly unlikely that the British songwriting team of Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman had the devil-shaped rock located in the Arroyo Seco of Pasadena in mind when they penned Devil Gate Drive for rocker Suzi Quatro. But with the urban legend status of Devil’s Gate Dam as a “portal to hell” supposedly credited to creepy occultist Aleister Crowley himself, stranger references have happened. The song was definitely given an L.A. connection when it was performed by Suzi herself in the Happy Days episode “Fonzie and Leather Tuscadero”. Whatever the case, Devil’s Gate Dam is shrouded in an aura of somewhat dangerous mystery and makes for a interesting afternoon hike.
According to local legend, the idea that this spot holds otherworldly energies goes back to the first people who inhabited it. Unconfirmed stories say that the Tongva Indians avoided Devil’s Gate because they felt it was a gateway to the afterlife. They felt that the rapids in this part of the Arroyo Seco made a laughing sound which they accredited to a wager between the river and the coyote spirit. This area had always been the location of torrential floods which would routinely overflow and devastate Pasadena, Alhambra and parts of Los Angeles. After particularly brutal flooding in both 1914 and 1916, the first flood control dam in the L.A. area was constructed here in 1920 and named after the scary demon-like rock formation at its base.
Afterward, stories are told of strange occult rituals taking place in the 1940s connected with JPL’s founder Jack Parsons, future Scientology founder L.Ron Hubbard and their Crowley- based occult order Ordo Templi Orientis. Their group apparently conducted sex magick at Devil’s Gate Dam after Crowley told them this was one of the Seven Portals to Hell. Through these rituals they hoped to eventually spawn a prophesied anti-Christ who would overthrow Christianity forever and bring the world into a dark place where their occult order had the riches and the power. Megalomaniacs and devil worshipers aside, the dangerous reputation of this area continued into the 1950s when at least four young children disappeared mysteriously, never to be seen again, while playing or hiking in this canyon.
So… if you still have the courage to explore Devil’s Gate Dam it is surely worth it, merely for the legends alone. Though the 210 freeway is above, buzzing with traffic, it is still somewhat quaint and serene. A bubbling, stone-filled brook flows peacefully through, though empty beer bottles and graffiti suggest that teenagers regularly use this place to party. Entrance is through a forebodingly dark cement tunnel above on Oak Grove Drive which leads to a dirt trail leading down into the canyon.
The Devil’s Gate is at the bottom of the dam, next to the devil’s rock and surrounded by a moat of water. Those who have managed to enter through this hard-to-reach gate have found another long dark tunnel, sealed at one end, with water leaking from the seams, suggesting a flood being held at bay. Two creepy wooden structures stand tall and looming in this area, creating a decidedly strange and uncertain Blair Witch Project vibe. If you haven’t had goosebumps by this time, you might now. Gazing upon an inexplicable swing set with swing platforms nearly 15 feet above the ground, too tall for even the tallest adult, you may actually begin to believe the tales of this devil’s playground.
Devil’s Gate Dam: 123 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91001.