Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hike 2012.039 -- King Gillette Ranch and Paramount Ranch, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Hiked Saturday, June 23. Well, I was way out in Woodland Hills, again. So back I came to the area I've been visiting quite frequently recently. I actually planned to try for seeing Malibou Lake, but wound up doing something different.

First, I visited the new Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area visitor center. Didn't realize until about a week ago it was right there: U.S. 101 (Ventura Freeway, 19 miles east of I-405 (San Diego Freeway), exit at Las Virgenes, head south, left at Mulholland. Once heading east on Mulholland, be on the lookout for the sign and the (long) driveway to King Gillette Ranch, on your right.

During my visit here, I learned that King Gillette (King being his given name) made his fortune selling razors (surprise!), and bought a bit of property here for his mansion. His mansion later passed though several religious groups before eventually winding up in the hands of the National Park Service. The visitor center opened earlier this year, set to replace the previous Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area visitor center. It was built as a "net zero" impact building. Solar panels shade a portion of the parking lot out front.

Inside the visitor center are scads of staff and exhibits. It's an interagency visitor center, with NPS, CA state parks, Santa Monica Mountains and Mountains and Recreation conservancies, and possibly one or two other groups represented. The bookstore offers maps and, uh, books, for sale. There were also some clothes, water bottles, sunscreen, and assorted other knick-knacks. I bought several maps and picked up the free handouts of several areas within Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Actually, I did all this a little later in the day, because it turns out that, as I was arriving, a ranger-led hike was scheduled to start. Yes, and a big crowd it was: All one of me. Well, there was the ranger leading the hike, the newer ranger who was shadowing the older ranger, and me. So I was outnumbered by rangers two to one. Can't argue with that.

I think I had pretty much every plant, every lizard, and every bird we passed interpreted for me, which is kind of cool. I also learned why woodpeckers, which are bug-eaters, "plant" acorns in tree trunks and telephone poles: They're basically leaving some "bait" for insects. Then they come back in a few months and eat the little buggers that are munching on the acorn they planted.

The walk took me around King Gillette's mansion, out of NPS land and across Conservancy land, then (I think) into state park land, all within the one mile from the visitor center to Inspiration Point. Apparently, they shoot "The Biggest Loser" down on the ranch, too.

There's a large coast live oak at the top of Inspiration Point (pictured at the top of this post). Malibu Creek State Park is just to the west, across Las Virgenes Road. Rolling hills and rocky crags are all around. There's also a loop you could turn this trail up into, adding about a mile and a half to the 3/4 mile or so you took to get here.

After I got back to the visitor center, I gathered the material mentioned above and decided to visit the Paramount Ranch. That's about three miles west of here. Huell Howser visited there when he came through, so I decided I ought to see it, too.

I drove west on Mulholland Highway, across Las Virgenes and maybe two additional miles, to Cornell Road. A sign there pointed right, to the Paramount Ranch. The entrance there was less than 1/2 mile from Mulholland, on the left.

Walked through Western Town, the entrance for which is across a bridge from the ranger station. I don't get the idea that the ranger station is a visitor center, but there are flush toilets and running water adjacent to the ranger station. Even better, there are drinking fountains attached to the restrooms. And they're *refrigerated* drinking fountains!

Western Town is a pretty small place, with signs advising that this is a stage, not a town, so don't lean too heavily on anything. Inside one of the buildings, a wedding party was having some pre-wedding pictures taken. Outside, a seating list was posted.

From the west end of town, I took the Ooyote Canyon Trail to its end, then turned back down canyon and visited a picnic bench area on the northern loop of this trail. Near the picnic area, I came across what I thought was a spider eating a bee. On closer inspection of my pictures back home, the "spider" turns out to be a winged beetle of some sort, with a pointy snout that looked to be sucking the brains out of the bee. Yuck.

Without even having seen one before, I concluded this must be an assassin bug. Nasty. And yuck, again.

After leaving the picnic area, I headed down to the Hacienda Trail, then the Medicine Woman Trail, then reached the dead end at the park boundary. Had to backtrack the way I came.

Worked my way across the Backdrop Trail, which weaved some more among the rolling grass-covered, oak-speckled hills. Then the trail dropped a bit, to a crossing of Medea Creek. A couple of 2x8 boards provided a bridge across the water. A tree canopy hung low over the water.

After crossing the creek, I had only a few hundred yards before I reached the north boundary of the federal lands. Then I turned around, re-crossed the creek, snapped a few more pictures, then headed south on the Bwana Trail. Near Marco Polo HIll, I worked my way down near the stream, then crossed back into Western Town.

By now, not only had the wedding guests arrived, but they had been seated, and the ceremony was well under way. Before I left, I heard the "I do" exchange. Then the newlyweds walked back the aisle as husband and wife, while the sound system played Ray LaMontagne's "You are the best thing". I only know the song because it appeared in an episode of "Eli Stone," one of a long series of television shows that I liked but apparently few others watched. Incidentally, when listening to more of Ray LaMontagne, I later learned he also sings the song, "Trouble," which plays in a tv ad for an insurance company that features a dog worried about keeping his bone secure.

I'm guessing 2 1/2 to 3 miles total on these trails here. Add to that the mile or mile and a half on the Inspiration Point Trail, and I'll say 3 to 4 miles total for the day. Not much, but I did get to combine it with a trip to a local telescope store, where I picked up a new mount.

All of these trails are short enough to be pretty easy, with multiple options for cutting the trip short if you get tired. Dogs are permitted on NPS trails, but not on Conservancy or state park trails.


  1. Hey its jeremy from calihike. I love the post. now everytime I shave I'll think of u. lol, thanks a lot

  2. Back from Yosemite, eh? Great time to visit, though kind of dry this year, I guess.

    Glad you liked the post.