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Entries in Hike (7)


Intrepid Road Trips: Willett Creek Hot Springs

First step: get to Ojai.

Let's back up -- the first step, for me, when I decided to join some friends on a 20-mile round-trip trek to the amazing Willet Creek Hot Springs in the Sespe Wilderness, was to put together two days of bare essentials in my trekking pack. If you're anything like me, the list of what you normally bring camping will get cut by a few items. My list wound up looking like this:


Sleeping bag

Change of clothes


Hula hoops


Fire poi

Panda suit

Giant bag of mushrooms

Eleven 40's of Panther Malt Liquor

Violet Wand

Net for catching sloths (do not hide from me, sloths)

Hardcover copy of "Infinite Jest"

Be ruthless with your packing, your back will thank you later. Now about this hike: the 9-mile trek in gives you a little of everything -- vast desert expanses, glistening river-and-stream vistas, treacherous river crossings, bracing shadow-groves of snow and pine, and in the last four miles, ALL THE HILLS. Hills that make you think "Who put this thing here? I'll kill that motherfucker," and "How am I actually seeing my future descendents making their way to the top of this thing ahead of me?" and "Why are my future descendents Chinese?"

Finally, you crest a ridge, and below you opens up a valley of rock gardens and sandy riverside beaches shaded by sycamore trees. This is Willet Creek Campground, where you drop your backpack and go up one last face-kicking 3/4 mile slope to the springs. By this point in the hike, if presented with a choice between trudging up one more hill and nibbling Dan Rather's balls, you'd probably have to sit down and think about it. But you go anyway. Because up top is a treasure.

Nestled inside a verdant canyon is a tub big enough to fit ten (or more, depending on cozy you and your friends are) redolent of sulfur and wet rock, soundtracked by the whisper of the running springs. You're technically not allowed to get naked, but if Johnny Law wants to schlep into the middle of nowhere just to write you an ass-ticket, se la vie; it'll be worth it, just to float unencumbered in that toasty warm tub, letting the water ease your weary spirits back to life. Beyond the hills, the sun goes down; later the sky will become a riot of stars. You know, in the back of your mind, that you still have to trek another 10 miles to return home tomorrow, but as Lou Reed once said, "that's just some other time."

For now, you've got nothing to do but sit and soak and lay your burdens down. 


  • WHAT: Willet Creek Hot Springs Trek
  • WHERE: Start at the Piedra Blanca Trailhead
  • WHEN: Good year round, best when it's not too hot
  • $$$: $10 for parking

Full Moon Rambler

Maybe this is just the fantasy-nerd in me talking, but if you're going to call your organization "Treepeople", there better be some 30-foot-tall half-tree/half-human motherfuckers up in there. Otherwise, you're just inviting disappointment. 

Alas, Treepeople failed to live up to my imagination. (Most things do.) They turned out to just a non-profit that owns an open-to-the-public "urban forest" atop Coldwater Canyon. But what they lack in Lord Of The Rings-style ambulant fauna, they more than make up for in other ways -- for example, full moon hikes.

How it works: RSVP online (the next hike is on February 7th), get to the park before 7:30 PM, pick whatever hiking level you feel comfortable with (long, medium, kiddie hike), and a young hippie-ish guide will lead your group off into the darkness to SACRIFICE YOU ALL TO PAZUZU show you the splendor of tramping through a forest by moonlight.

Flashlights bouncing, you descend the wooden steps of an outdoor ampitheater and on through tunnels of trees. Distant mansions distance flicker like candles in the black. You'll hump your way up hills and down gulleys. Mountain bikers with headlamps snake past like lightning bugs. Packs of prowling coyotes can be heard in the hills, shrieking to cause disorientation and panic in their prey; it's not a coincidence that they sound like the stabbing violins of a horror movie score. You find yourself overlooking the glowing sprawl of the  valley, blankets of sodium lights looking almost ethereal in the haze. The night ends with you and your fellow ramblers pausing atop a perch to howl at the moon. It's all tinged with a rare kind of beauty and danger.

Bring water, a flashlight, and a week's worth of frustrations to howl at the heavens.



The Hidden Delights of Malibu Canyon

Photo courtesy of Makaela TrussellIt's easy to forget that there's more to Malibu than the windswept curve of the PCH, the golden span of Zuma Beach, and Highway Patrol officers who can't wait to hear your theories on how the Jews started all the world wars. But let me put your mind at ease; Malibu contains multitudes.

First off: hidden up in the canyon, there's the Malibu Cafe, which wins my award for Most Magical Restaurant That Almost Nobody Knows About. Nestled in the glades of the Calamigos Ranch, the site resembles a hybrid of the Shire, a game room, and an aging gay cowboy's backyard. Let me explain...

The restaurant is on an open-air deck overlooking a lawn, where you can have your lunch hidden away in a cabana or do it picnic-style on your own little island in the nearby lake. 20-foot-tall steel rose stems bloom flames that act as heaters for the tables on the deck. Scattered around the grounds are an outdoor pool table and a shuffleboard set-up, poised under chandeliers hung from trees. Locally grown wines pour freely and plates of lobster cobb salads, devilled eggs and smoky pulled pork sandwiches glide past. You'll probably be seated by a long table of local ladies on a girls-day-out who pull off the remarkable feat of all looking and sounding like exactly the same person, but that won't matter. You'll spend the entire time with that tingly sensation of having discovered something special.

Onwards. Next stop is a hike at The Paramount Ranch, a fake western town built by the titular movie studio in 1927. It's played the OK Corral for Gary Cooper and ancient China for Cecil B. Demille. More recently, it was the set of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and HBO's Carnivale. Most importantly, last year it housed the production of Insane Clown Posse's Big Money Rustlas (which, for those philistines unfamiliar with ICP's body of work, is the Old West "prequel" to their 2000 think-piece Big Money Hustlas. It stands as a deeper, more nuanced examination of the duo's pet themes: morality, class warfare, and being fat despite doing a bunch of meth.) Any self-respecting film buff must pay a pilgrimage to this hallowed ground.

It's spooky and silent, a favored hangout for coyotes and quail. Thin arteries of hiking trails snake up into the canyon, leading you to cinematically monikered places with names like Witches Wood and Marco Polo Hill. It's all easy hiking, but it's got its charms.   


•WHAT: A dreamy lunch spot and a ghost-town hike in Malibu
•WHERE: The Malibu Cafe, Paramount Ranch
•WHEN: The Cafe = Thurs-Sun, 12-10 PM, the hike is all week dawn to dusk
$$$: Cafe = $12 a plate, hike = free


Secret Silver Lake: Hidden Trails And An Underground Museum

Silver Lake has some wild-ass stuff going on behind the scenes, and no, I'm not talking about insert-hacky-joke-about-whatever-celebrity-is-living-there-now. Here's a few fun open secrets...

Start on Riverside Place and Silverlake Ave, climbing a set of stairs onto an unpaved trail that used to be the site of the Red Car Trolley Line, connecting Silver Lake and Glendale until the mid 1950's. The trail starts off spooky and derelict, eventually leading you to the Silver Lake Stonehenge, a series of cement blocks that once housed the trolley trestles over Fletcher drive. This site currently features a clever bit of street-art: word puzzles that, when sounded aloud, become the names of places that have recently overthrown dictators. (Zuccotti Park is, sadly, not listed.)

Flip a u-turn, head south, and you'll end up in a lush gulley, shaded by trees and steep slopes, dotted with gardens and a makeshift memorial to a long-deceased local. You'll ramble through a field which, in the springtime, is waist-high with anise and wild mustard. If you've got a copy of the Secret Stairs book -- and if not, why not? -- you'll find a stairhike that includes a hunt for hidden bears. (There is surely a joke here about finding entire bars full of bears a little ways west of here, but I'm dodging that bullet. Or should I say "tranquilizer dart?")

At the end the trail, you'll find the creepiest fucking museum in America: the Holyland Exhibition, an appointment-only house of ancient artifacts. It was founded by Antonio F. Futterer, an archaeologist/Jesus nut who, when he wasn't plundering the Middle East, was known for delivering sermons that lasted 20 hours. (I can't even do enjoyable things -- sex, watching the Food Network, making fun of Herman Cain -- for 20 hours.) Call in advance and you'll be shown around by an old woman so terrifyingly severe she seems to have been conjured from one of Alfred Hitchcock's therapy sessions. She will lead you down to the basement and through a labyrinth of claustrophobic rooms, chockablock with 2,000-year-old coins, lamps, daggers, jewelry -- even an Egyptian mummy's sarcophagus.

And they say Venice Beach is where the weird shit is...


•WHAT: Stonehenge and hiking and museums, oh my
•WHERE: Hike starts here, HolyLand Exhibit is here
•WHEN: Good year round (call in advance to visit museum)
$$$: Free


The Perfect Post-Halloween Rehab Hike

Photo courtesy of Makaela TrussellLet's say you had kind of a wild Halloween. Maybe it started with your neighbour trying to teach you how to spit fire using Bacardi 151 in your front yard, then rolled on to involve swordfighting, drugs, nudity, a Jessica Rabbit impersonator armed with a flogger, and you awaking the next morning to discover some evil bastard repogrammed your iPhone to autocorrect to the word "BUTTSEXX" in place of "lol." I'm not judging you.

But perhaps it's time to get some fresh air.

For an idyllic dose of post-Halloween rehab, we suggest Big Santa Anita Canyon. Up here, you'll find the majestic pounding water of Sturtevant Falls, the winding, leafy splendor of Chantry Flats, and even Adam's Pack Station, a ramshackle beer-and-burger joint so charming it made LA Weekly's "Best of 2011" list. My favorite, though, is the Lower Winter Creek Trail; a 5-mile loop, shaded by canopies, soundtracked by gurgling streams and lined with swimming holes, the LWC trail is one of the few places near LA where you can go experience some fall colors. The ground is blanketed in orange and gold that crackles under your shoes, foliage blooms fire, and the air has that autumnul crispness you almost foget exists in our city.

Toward the end of the trail, you'll notice a sign reading "May your search through nature lead you to yourself." Comforting thought, especially this week.

•WHAT: Hiking through fall leaves in Big Santa Anita Canyon
•WHERE: The top of Santa Anita Canyon Rd, Sierra Madre CA
•WHEN: Open daily, road closes at 8 PM
$$$: Parking is $5