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Hiking: Malibu Creek State Park

In Step With History

March 26, 1995|JOHN McKINNEY

Across Mulholland Highway from the main body of Malibu Creek State Park is an arm of parkland called Liberty Canyon, as lonely a place as you'll find in this popular state park.

It's an area rich in history, believed to have been continuously inhabited by prehistoric peoples and more recently by the Chumash from 6000 BC to the early 1800s. Talopop was the name of the native Chumash village located here; it's now the name of the loop trail that circles the tribe's ancestral land.

In 1834, the land along Las Virgenes Creek became part of the Las Virgenes Rancho belonging to Domingo Carrillo and Nemisio Dominguez. Dominguez's daughter Maria married Pedro Sepulveda in 1859, and the couple built an adobe near the banks of the creek.

Sepulveda was a harness and saddle maker by trade. He also cut firewood and made charcoal that he traded for household items in Los Angeles. Maria and Pedro Sepulveda raised 12 children in the two-room adobe that still stands near the corner of Malibu Canyon road and Mulholland Highway.

While the story of an early California Latino family in the last half of the 19th Century would likely have a great deal of interest to park visitors, the Sepulveda adobe remains, deteriorating behind a chain-link fence. The California Department of Parks and Recreation, owners of the adobe since 1977, has no plans to restore the structure.

The Sepulveda adobe is located near another closed-to-the-public treasure, the White Oak Farm, an early 20th-Century dairy and ranch. Bob Hope's brother James lived there and managed the ranch for more than 20 years. The ranch house, long coveted as an interpretive center by Southern California historians, is a residence of a park ranger.

"White Oak" refers to the stands of white oak dotting the hillsides and clustering in the canyon bottoms. Local flora expert Milt McAuley, author of "Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains," notes there is no such tree as a white oak. "Of the two native oaks in the area--coastal live oaks and valley oaks--the 'white' oaks must be the valley oaks, which have lighter bark than the coastal live ones," McAuley explains.

The Liberty Canyon hiker will be better rewarded than the history buff, but there is still one frustration: The two major trails--Liberty Canyon Trail and Talopop Trail--don't connect. From the crest of Talopop Trail, the hiker looks down at lovely Liberty Canyon (so near, yet so far!) with consternation: Alas, you can't get there from here.

Frustrations aside, walks in the park have their moments. The path through Liberty Canyon is fairly flat and jogger/stroller accessible for parents with tykes not yet ready to hike. Talopop Trail, its trail head located only a few miles from U.S. 101, could be a great after-work way to unwind, a quiet place to wait out the rush hour.

Directions to trail head: From the U.S. 101, exit on Las Virgenes Road and drive 3 1/2 miles south to Mulholland Highway. Park in the small lot at the southwest corner of Las Virgenes and Mulholland or in one of the small turnouts along Mulholland.

The hike: Walk west along Mulholland over the pedestrian-friendly bridge over Las Virgenes Creek and join the unsigned trail on the north side of the road leading toward the Sepulveda adobe. Continue past the historic site, crossing a meadow and heading toward the tiny Crater Substation power plant. At the paved power plant road, turn right, walk 200 feet, then join the dirt road on your left, which soon leads past the ranch house and barn of White Oak Farm, skirts an oak-dotted meadow, then crosses a footbridge over Las Virgenes Creek.

Arriving at a junction, you briefly join Liberty Canyon Trail before coming to a second signed junction. Liberty Canyon Trail continues straight ahead while Talopop Trail veers right, rising above the canyon floor and following a grassy ridge that offers excellent vistas of the area. To the north you can see housing developments creeping south toward the park boundaries. South, pretty as a picture, is White Oak Farm nestled in a green hollow, with the wilder parts of Malibu Canyon providing a dramatic backdrop.

The trail dips and climbs a couple times before descending a sage- and scrub oak-smothered hillside east to a junction. The left fork leads a quarter-mile east, then bends north to the state park boundary and Lost Hills Road.

From the junction, Talopop Trail leads an easy mile back to White Oak Farm, where you can either return to the trail head or join Liberty Canyon Trail for further exploration.

Liberty Canyon Trail: From its junction with Talopop Trail, the wide path heads up the oak-filled canyon, bends around a private ranch and continues to the state park boundary. At the trail's end is Patrick Henry Place and suburbia. To the left is an unsigned junction with the Stagecoach Trail, which heads south back to Mulholland Highway (at a point a mile or so west of the trail head).

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Liberty Canyon, Talopop Trails Where: Malibu Creek State Park. Distance: Talopop Loop Trail is 3 miles; Liberty Canyon walk is 3 miles round trip. Terrain: Oak- dotted hills and canyons. Highlights: Much regional history in undiscovered part of popular park. Degree of Difficulty: Moderate. For More Information: Mountain Parks Information. (800) 533-PARK.

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