Week 185: Vanalden Cave, Tarzana

August 25, 2019

Vanalden Cave in the Santa Monica Mountains, 1 mile

Don't let the shortness of this hike fool you. Hikespeak's brief, in-and-out trek into the Santa Monica Mountains challenged all of Barbara's and my hiking skills from strength to balance. But, oh, the payoff at the top! Vanalden Cave is a 25x25x50-ft. sandstone den with "skylight" holes at the top illuminating curious carvings that run from love messages to downright spooky faces from God-knows-how-long-ago. And because it's L.A. and we can't have nice things—graffiti galore. The history of the cave is undocumented, though one can assume that locals—from the native Tongva and Chumash that inhabited SoCal for 15,000 years before the Spanish arrived, to contemporary hikers of today—used the den for shelter, a hideout, or, like us, as a destination curiosity of nature to enjoy. We left the car at the southern, dead end of Vanalden Avenue in Tarzana, and set out from the trailhead of Vanalden Trail, a dirt path with no shade or trail markers. Last year's rain did a number on the trail, gutting it to the point where we were forced to awkwardly straddle loose ridge lines framing the rutted crevices. Fifteen-tenths of a mile up, we found our first unmarked junction, a split left leading to the oak grove that housed the cave. Scrambling under a fallen branch and climbing over others, within 0.05 miles we found the large oak that marked the second split. To the left, a ledge leading to the top of the cave; straight ahead and down, a trail to the cave's main entrance (our choice) merely steps ahead. And even though the cave's soft sandstone walls are covered with, uh, messages, it's just a totally cool place to stand, explore, and enjoy like so many others had for centuries. We peeked through the open crevices, awed at the holes letting in light from above, crawled through the "window," and squinted at some of the truly bizarre wall carvings. Having our fill, we climbed the steep path adjacent to the mouth of the cave, connecting the lower trail to the upper trail and the cave's roof. By that time it was barely 9 a.m., the temp had hit 84-degrees, and flies were circling us like helicopters at a crime scene, so we opted to head back. While were the only humans on the trail, from the beginning a covey of California quail (our state bird), followed us from treetop to treetop, while lizards did their best to scare the bejesus out of us in the noiseless hills. Short on Distance, long on Challenge, big on Payoff!

You Might Also Like


Popular Posts

Total Pageviews