Was there a local legend where you grew up that no one could explain?
Was there a spot that was shrouded in mystery?
We had such an area in Chino Hills called, “Green Mist.”
I graduated from high school in 1989, but it wasn’t until 1997 when I was a police officer that the mystery of Green Mist was finally solved for me.
When I was in high school the kids would talk about an area in Chino Hills called Aerojet or Green Mist. The words were used interchangeably.
The local legend said there was a missile launch site up there. It was also a place of animal sacrifice and satanic worship. There was talk about a Green Mist or fog that hung over the hills at times that couldn’t be explained.
This area was the forbidden spot that you had to visit at night before leaving high school. It was just something you had to do.
So, one night during my senior year, four of us drove up to Chino Hills in my ‘73 VW Bug to visit Green Mist.
We drove down Peyton Drive, which dead ended at Woodview Road. A right turn and then a quick left led you into a dark wooded area with no street lights. It was pitch black.
My car slowly went up the road as we waited for some satanic cult to appear in robes like zombies in the night. The trip up this road was like a conveyer belt with no reverse. There was no turning back. We were committed to go all the way to the top.
The goal was a locked gate with a security camera a few miles away. We just had to make it to the gate and back without the car stalling or some other crazy thing happening in the dark. This was Green Mist. According to legend, anything was possible.
This was the stuff horror movies were made of.
The road started to climb and curved back and forth as it went up the side of the hill. There were no guard rails and the drop off over the edge into the canyon added to the mystery of the area.
After an eternity in the dark we made it to the end of the road. No ghosts or people in robes attacked us so it was all downhill from here. Down we went, hoping not to encounter anyone. When we got back to Peyton Drive we were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. We even had a sense of accomplishment. Don’t laugh. It was just part of growing up in that area.
Let’s fast forward to 1997 when Aerojet came up again.
One night I was working when I stopped at a gas station. A man walked up to me and asked if his kids could look at my police car. I said sure and opened up the doors so they could look inside.
Out of the blue the father said, “I used to work for Aerojet.”
What were the odds of him saying that eight years after I graduated from high school?
I don’t know why he brought it up, but I’m glad he did.
“What was Aerojet?” I asked.
“We were a defense contractor.”
“What did you do up there?”
“We made weapons for the military.”
“Was there a missile silo up there?”
“No,” he said with a laugh.
He went on to tell me they used to put land mines up in Chino Hills during the Vietman war. He said they used to take human cadavers and blow them up to see how much damage was done with a land mine.
They would then take the body back and study it. They would then tweak the power of the land mine so it would maim rather than kill. When he saw the surprise on my face he said, “It was war.”
He also said every once in a while a cow would blow up and they eventually stopped doing that when more houses were built in the area.
That’s when he said the one thing that solved the mystery of Green Mist for me. During his story he told me how they exploded different gases to do tests. He said, “Sometimes there was fog and it would turn green from the gas. It was a green fog.”
That was the Green Mist! The mystery was solved.
Today, my son and I made the Green Mist journey. We drove up to Chino Hills and turned onto the old road that was narrower than I remembered. There were the same old trees with branches like arms and fingers reaching out to us as we made our way around the curves. At one point my 12 year-old said, “I can see how this could be scary.” I told him there was something weird about the area, and he agreed.
You can only go so far now because the road is closed. We drove to another spot and parked. We then hiked uphill all the way up to the gate, which is still locked. The security camera is still there and stands as a symbol of the secrets the hills still have after all these years.
The sign warned of “Danger- Explosives Hazardous Waste Area” as a reminder that this place was once a “war factory” in the hills that no one knew about.
We stood triumphantly in front of the gate as we took in the view of the valley. It was hot after our uphill hike and the afternoon breeze felt good. We then started down the hill back to reality.
It’s funny how this one spot had been the subject of so many high school conversations from the 1960s to the mid-1990s.
And here I was again in 2015 with my son. We even took a selfie up there.
Editor’s Note: John Roman is a traffic officer for an Orange County police agency who writes a blog, Badge 415 (badge415.wordpress.com/). His posts focus on the human side of police work and safety tips. Roman, a cop for 20 years, has handled more than 5,000 accidents as a collision investigator. behindthebadgeoc.com will share some of his columns