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Murphy Ranch

Murphy RanchMurphy RanchMurphy RanchMurphy Ranch

Murphy Ranch, more commonly known as the “Nazi Bunker,” sits in the hills of the Pacific Palisades.  It’s creepy because had Germany won WWII, this is supposedly the place where Hitler planned to rule the world. With a 375,000 gallon water tank, a diesel power plant, and many other amenities, this estate could’ve harbored a world fascism headquarters for an uninterrupted year.  To the misfortune of worldwide fascist domination, construction on the ranch was interrupted by the federal government the day after Pearl Harbor.

In 2013, it’s perhaps a comical ruin of what never was.  Hidden in LA’s 6th richest census tract and watched over by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, it has become home to local hooligans… beer cans scatter the grounds and graffiti covers every inch of poured concrete.  This current narrative fits in more with the area’s history.  After all, just down the creek from Murphy Ranch is the former Uplifters’ Clubhouse where bohemians hid out during Prohibition to keep the party going.

Despite its hidden nature, access is pretty simple.  If you go up Capri from Sunset, you turn right on Casale Road and just park wherever you can, so thank you benevolent Palisades homeowners for letting us use your street parking.  Anyway, if you turn back west an head down the road it will turn into Sullivan Fire Road.  After a short while, the gates to the estate will appear.  When there’s a fork in the road, turn left to find an unruly amount of stairs.  Good for simplicity’s sake, and good for sculpting your butt.

Top of Topanga Overlook

Top of Topanga OverlookTop of Topanga OverlookTop of Topanga OverlookTop of Topanga Overlook

…More like top of the world overlook, or at least that’s how it feels on these crisp Santa Ana mornings.  There’s a dinky little park with some benches and native landscaping.  But let’s be serious, this place specializes in views and it’s doing a mighty fine job.


Dixie Canyon

Dixie CanyonDixie CanyonDixie CanyonDixie Canyon

Most of the land along Mulholland is made of vast open spaces like Topanga State Park and Malibu Creek State Park.  But, there’s that strip of Mulholland people have heavily populated which straddles Sherman Oaks/Studio City on the valley side and Beverly Hills/West Hollywood/Hollywood on the city side.  For example, Beverly Crest has 13 times the people per square mile than Unincorporated Santa Monica Mountains.

The people who live along populated Mulholland drive over the hill and back again.  Back and forth, back and forth.  In a video for Pacific Standard Time, Ice Cube weighs the good and the bad about Los Angeles, “The bad: the traffic. Each freeway has its own personality.  The 405, bougie traffic.  The 110, ha ha, that’s gangster traffic right there. There’s a difference, you gotta know where you at.”  So, where are you at in canyon traffic?  Who are those Angelinos?

But, the more relevant question is who are the Angelinos hiking in those canyons instead of driving over them?

Well, I’ll offer that my friends and I used to come here a lot in high school, partly because many of my friends lived down the block, but mostly because we needed oxygen to breath.  I’ll bet the neighbors called us hooligans.  We thought we’d found freedom.

There’s probably something interesting to say about the fact that Warren Beatty donated this 20-acre parcel of land in the 80’s, but I’m flooded with nostalgia and the strong belief that Los Angeles does offer refuges when we’re smart enough to brake for them.

For more information about Dixie Canyon, check here:

San Vicente Mountain Park

San Vicente Mountain ParkSan Vicente Mountain ParkSan Vicente Mountain ParkSan Vicente Mountain Park

Remnants of the Cold War Nike-Ajax anti-aircraft base furnish aeriel views of the city, ocean, mountains and valley. Quite impressive. There’s also a self-guided tour around the park.

While the history is fun, San Vicente Mountain is most often visited for its convenient location at the edge of paved Mulholland.  Hikers, mountain bikers, and nature seekers can access dirt Mulholland and the mountains beyond from San Vicente’s parking lot.

For more about this park check here:

Mount Lee

Hollywood SignMt. LeeMt. LeeMt. LeeHeading up Beachwood to Sunset Ranch, there are many signs that declare “NO ACCESS TO THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN.”  However, the fire road to the summit of 1708 foot Mount Lee gradually rounds its way to the top with incredible views of both the city and the Verdugo Mountains.  Once you get to the top, the fences and barbed wire and NO TRESPASSING signs make it inaccessible, but you can still get pretty damn close.  This is not to say nobody’s accessed it before… some have even executed alterations like HOLLYWEED and GO UCLA. Go figure.


Calabasas Peak

Calabasas Peak rock formationCalabasas Peak: the hikeViews from Calabasas PeakViews from Calabasas Peak

A fire road off Stunt Road, about a mile south of Mulholland, leads you to the 2163 foot summit of Calabasas Peak.  While there’s a 1000 foot elevation gain, it’s a fairly easy stroll.  I’d highly recommended this on a clear day for far-reaching views of both the Valley and the Santa Monica Mountains.

Fryman Canyon Rope Swing

Betty B. Dearing TrailBetty B. Dearing TrailBetty B. Dearing TrailBetty B. Dearing Trail

Under no circumstances do I endorse this activity.  God only knows how sturdy those ropes are and that ravine isn’t messing around.  But, who doesn’t want their chance to play Tarzan?  If you’re feeling like a man of the apes, venture east on the Betty B. Dearing Trail from Iredell Lane.  There’s a nearby clearing with a creek and some fallen Eucalyptus for an after-swing picnic. Here’s a map:


Malibu Lake

Malibu LakeBack when it was cool to build dams, the “Malibu Lake Mountain Club” stopped up the two creeks that ran through here. Surprise surprise, the river’s gone. But, the lake remains for us to marvel at. I’d say we could boat around, but it’s not open for public recreation.

Escondido Canyon Trail and Waterfalls

So you park on Winding Way East, down on PCH.  You do your best to ignore the Mediterranean vernacular mega-mansions peppered along the mile of paved road.  You arrive at the trailhead and enjoy the stroll to a peaceful pond.

Feeling curious, you continue up the trail.  It gets steeper, but you’re still curious.  You stumble upon some ropes to aid your scramble and alas, arrive at the 150-foot falls.  High fives all around.

Questions are asked, “Where is the water coming from?” and, “Can we get to the top of the falls?”  Everyone agrees it is a terrible idea to continue, except for one adventurer.  “I’ll be back,” he says.

He doesn’t come back.  You wait.  He still doesn’t come back… Where did he go?  Having not prepared for this scenario when you left your cell phones in the car, you decide to hope your adventurer’s competence exceeds your expectations and head back down the mountain.

After you recover your adventurer, he reports: “I couldn’t find a way down, so I kept going up.  I was terribly thirsty.  I found a wall and figured I’d try and climb it.  I literally fell down the other side of the wall and heard someone yell, ‘CUT.’  I guess they were filming some TV show.  The PAs gave me water and bandaids.  One of them drove me back down.  Thank God for Hollywood.”

William Faulkner said, “Hollywood is a place where a man can get stabbed in the back while climbing a ladder,” Clearly, Faulkner’s first mistake was climbing ladders.  He should have been scaling mountains.

For more info on Escondido Canyon park, check here:

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