Tag Archives: state parks

A Dry Season: Malibu Creek State Park & Sycamore Canyon

droughtbanner 1droughtbanner 2Last month, as California experienced its driest year on record, Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in our glorious Golden State. (Which is currently more burnt umber than gold.)

images-1At a news conference held to make his case for the severity of the drought, Governor Brown used charts to show that this drought is historic — and that it’s time for Californians to conserve our precious water.

But most of us Californians didn’t need Jerry Brown’s earnest show and tell to inform us that we’re going through a shockingly dry season.

We have the clear evidence of our own experience.650x366_01191358_hd29

IMG_2877My wife and I took two hikes in the Los Angeles area this past weekend – and our state’s dire drought conditions were dramatically evident on both hikes.

On Saturday we went, as we often do, to nearby Malibu Creek State Park. However, right now there’s no creek.

Here’s a photo of the creek from one of our hikes in the spring of last year.img_1062

Here’s a photo of the creek as it appears now. All that’s missing is the creek.Drought Malibu

IMG_2938On Sunday, we took our second trip to The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Rancho Sierra Vista – Satwiwa — just south of the 101 Freeway on the eastern edge of Ventura County.

This wonderful park encompasses the area where the old Chumash Indian village Satwiwa once stood, as well as 8 miles of winding trail through Sycamore Canyon that the Chumash used as a path to the Pacific Ocean shore.

Victoria explores a traditional Chumash dwelling at the Satwiwa Native American Indian Cultural Center.

Victoria explores a Chumash dwelling at the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center.

IMG_2882Last year, in May 2013, a wildfire raged across much of this parkland – and the devastation from that conflagration is evident in the charred, blackened landscape.

Wildfires can happen in any season, in any year in Southern California, but drought conditions increase the danger of fire exponentially.

Fire is a natural part of the cycle of life in the Santa Monica Mountains. For ages, coastal Southern California chaparral land like that in the Santa Monicas has experienced infrequent but intense wild fires. These fires usually blaze in the fall, driven by dry conditions and hot Santa Ana winds. Unfortunately, the frequency of fires has increased due to human activity. And the drought doesn’t help.

IMG_2897But, while the ravages of the fire can seem almost apocalyptic as you gaze in awe at the darkened, denuded hillsides – you can also see signs of bright green life creeping back into view.

Within a few years, these hills surrounding Sycamore Canyon will be covered in greenery once again. Of course, a little rain would help that process of regeneration along.

Here we are at the fire line: the place where the fire stopped. On one side, you can see Victoria walking under a canopy of live oaks: a sylvan heaven.IMG_2899

But when you turn around 180 degrees – there’s no canopy of trees anymore: just a charred hillside.IMG_2900

IMG_2903Victoria and I hiked the trail that leads to what, in a normal, rainy winter, is a dramatic waterfall. But our hike along the waterfall trail brought home the deadly dry nature of this year’s drought. What follows are shots of the small pools of water that linger below the tiny trickle that, at this time of year, should be a dramatic cascade.IMG_2909IMG_2916IMG_2910IMG_2895IMG_2928IMG_2929IMG_2933


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Heaven Next Door: Malibu Creek State Park

IMG_1061Malibubanner1One of the glories of life in Southern California is the ability to quickly escape to the wilderness – whether it’s the ocean, the desert, or the mountains.

IMG_1056From our home at the southwestern end of the San Fernando Valley, we can reach the beach in less than a half hour, the high desert in a little more than that. And in about fifteen minutes, my family and I can be exploring the Santa Monica Mountains at Malibu Creek State Park.

photoWe’ve been coming to Malibu Creek since we moved to Woodland Hills twenty years ago. We go several times a year, and we’ve enjoyed it in all seasons. Each season has its own beauty — but of all the seasons, Malibu Creek shows itself best in the spring.

Located just south of the junction of Las Virgenes Road and Mulholland Highway, the place is a nearby paradise. After you paid the $12 vehicle fee and parked the car — within minutes you can hike to vistas where it’s impossible to tell whether you’re anywhere near civilization. You can almost imagine what the Chumash saw when they settled among these live oaks and sycamores 5,000 to 10,000 years ago.IMG_1062

IMG_1069When we first brought our daughters to Malibu Creek State Park, the length of our family hikes were largely determined by our little girls’ enthusiasm for the expedition. We had to carry them along the trail sometimes, but eventually they became just as excited as their parents about spending some quality time at Malibu Creek.

The chaparral-covered mountains that dominate the park are green in the spring and golden by fall – and have been coveted by Hollywood for decades: 4,000 acres of beautiful scenery within an hour of downtown Los Angeles.

They’ve been shooting movies at Malibu Creek since the silent film era — and in 1946, 20th Century Fox bought 2,000 acres of what’s now the park to shoot movies like How Green Was My Valley, Love Me Tender, Viva Zapata, and Planet of the Apes.

IMG_1070But the production for which the park is most famous was shot for the small screen. And that is why, the Barrosse family sets off along the trail to the M*A*S*H site: where from 1972 to 1983, the Santa Monica Mountains stood in for Korea on the classic sitcom, starring Alan Alda. When the girls were young, a couple of rusting Army vehicles were all that indicated you’d reached your destination.

Father Mulcahy at the reunion.

Father Mulcahy at the reunion.

But once you arrived at the M*A*S*H site, if of a certain age, you could easily recognize the jagged hills through which the helicopters passed and the plateau where they landed. You could even see the path that Captain Hawkeye Pierce climbed to meet the incoming wounded.

Since former cast and crew celebrated the 25th anniversary of the series’ last episode in 2008, the M*A*S*H site has gotten a facelift.

There are now signs that explain various features of the site, markers that lay out where the tents and buildings stood – and a freshly painted vintage ambulance offered up to the ravages of nature.IMG_1071

IMG_1060Along the trail to and from the M*A*S*H site, my wife Victoria, daughter and I were delighted to see the wildflowers starting to bloom. And we kept our eyes and ears alert for wildlife.

These geese weren’t that hard to track down. In fact, they just swam right up to Eva as though they were expecting her.IMG_1065

Can you see the well-camouflaged critter in the photo below?IMG_1072

And do you know what this nasty-looking insect is?photo[2]

It’s a Jerusalem cricket. They’re not really crickets, and they’re not from the Holy Land, but you might find one at Malibu Creek State Park.


Quick. Let’s have another pretty picture.photo[1]

And another.  Love those wildflowers. (That reminds me: I’ve got make sure to get out to Lancaster to see the poppies this spring.)photo[8]

Malibu Creek State Park is a large slice of heaven waiting just next door. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.IMG_1068

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