Week 228: Malibu Creek State Park

January 10, 2021

 Walking Los Angeles: Trail to the Chief—Reagan Ranch Trail, 2.4 miles. 

Like walking the city, there are fascinating pockets of history in the mountains and hills bordering Los Angeles that can only be investigated on foot. When Barbara and I decided to hike the old Reagan Ranch grounds in Malibu Creek State Park, the only thing we knew about the area was its famous name. Ronald and Nancy Reagan purchased the 305 acre ranch they named "Yearling Row" in the Malibu Hills in 1951 as a weekend retreat for raising thoroughbreads. Reagan, a horseman at heart, was in the midst of a film career that included six westerns and a hosting stint for GE Theater and Death Valley Days. But, though Reagan was the property's most famous resident, his ownership lasted only fifteen years. The Reagans sold the ranch to Twentieth Century Fox at a $1.8M profit when he became governor of California in 1966—a land deal that made him rich. After Fox filmed a host of movies and TV shows on the land, including M*A*S*H,  all three Planet of the Apes films, and a memorable scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Fox sold the land to the state in 1974 and it became part of Malibu Creek State Park. Barbara and I parked inside the ranch entrance at Cornell Road south of Mulholland, and began the hike on Yearling Trail, a paved road that once passed the ranch house (torn down) and barn (burned down);   and in the distance, the peak of the ridge—our goal. Instead of continuing on Yearling toward Lookout Trail, we turned right at the trail marker to connect to Deer Leg Trail for about a quarter mile. Deer Leg took us up to Malibu Lake Vista Trail and the heart of the hike. The Vista Trail took us up, up, up through charred skeletons of trees burned in the 2018 Woolsey Fire that wiped out everything in its 98,000 acre path. Yet, instead of being depressing, the remains proved the resilience of Mother Nature. Some trees were coming back to life. Black trucks were surrounded by green plants. Bluebirds and sparrows followed us, hawks flew overhead, and the higher we climbed, the more growth we found. And then a huge payoff: at the peak of the ridge we were treated to a view of Malibu Lake below, a man-made reservoir created in 1922 and planned as a weekend fishing and equestrian preserve with cabins. Today the lake is surrounded by homes (yes, I'll take one, please), a visually pleasant small community seemingly in the middle of nowhere. My favorite tidbit: Malibu Lake stunt-doubled for the end of Butch and Sundance's leap. Barbara and I stopped for a break, choosing exactly which house on the lake to claim, and then continued on as Lake Vista Trail led us back down to our starting point. A perfect hike for isolation—we met one hiker on our way in, and then  didn't see a single soul until we got back to the parking lot. Loved this place! 




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