The most surprising hike I’ve ever been on took place a few weeks ago when I happened to have an extra day off work. Don’t three day weekends give you an extra burst of energy to go out and do something productive or something new?? Well, that’s what they do for me. I could use a few more 3 day weekends in my life.
As I was Googling interesting places to go in this crazy city, I stumbled across this little baby: Murphy Ranch Trail.
The hike begins at Rustic Canyon, which is part of Topanga State Park in Santa Monica.
It starts off like any other hike you might take in the mountains.
A gorgeous view, wildflowers, a few weird looking bugs and lizards.
You walk about 15 minutes along a path lined by a chain-link fence.
THEN- there’s a gap in the fence. Take the gap, take the gap!
As you veer left through this gap in the fence and stray away from the main path, you come across, what seems to be, an endless, cement stairwell that leads down into the canyon.
The stairwell takes you down an almost 200 ft. descent into the desolate, Murphy Ranch. (The DEscent is NOTHING compared to the AScent, let me tell ya…)
What is Murphy Ranch, you ask? OH..well…that’s where things get spooky.
I’m just going to let hikespeak.com explain it to you….they do SUCH a nice job. And I tend to ramble:
“In the 1930s Nazi sympathizers built a refuge in the Pacific Palisades. Herr Schmidt, Winona and Norman Stephens, and their followers occupied a self-contained stronghold in what is now Rustic Canyon between Sullivan Ridge and Will Rodgers State Park. Murphy Ranch was designed to serve as a hold out for fans of the Third Reich waiting for America to fall to the Nazis. Instead, the ranch was raided by U.S. authorities and closed in 1941. The abandoned buildings were transformed into an artists’ colony in the 60s and 70s, but were abandoned after the Mandeville Canyon Fire in 1978. Today the grounds of Murphy Ranch are uninhabited, dilapidated, covered in graffiti, and open to hikers. While much of the history is lost, several structures remain, along with long cement staircases that still link Murphy Ranch to Sullivan Ridge Fire Road, providing a 3.85-mile hike with 325 feet of elevation gain.”
Crazy, right?? Here’s where you start to see some graffiti action. Until…
BAM! It hits you in the face.
The first building you come across used to house a diesel generator and fuel tank. You’re free to wander inside…although I was hesitant. Even in broad daylight it just felt like I was in the middle of terrible horror movie and someone was yelling at me from the other side of the screen…”WHY WOULD YOU GET CLOSE TO THAT? RUN AWAY, STUPID! RUN. AWAY.”
Once you pass that building, you come across one more dilapidated shed.
Apparently these crazy Nazis had commissioned famed African-American architect Paul Williams to build a four-story mansion within the canyon, but those plans were never executed.
It’s amazing to me how much of this eerie piece of history was just left there. Not cleaned up and wiped away by the government or Parks Department. It’s just sitting there, rotting away. Which I guess is pretty symbolic in a way. To be able to see the literal destruction of such a misguided and terrible mindset.
So if you don’t vomit at the thought of climbing down over 500 stairs (and then back up!), you need to take this hike. It’s mind blowing and you come out of it thinking you might have just had a psychedelic, Nazi nightmare. But it’s totally worth exploring every step!