Hikers on a special trip around the lake in Franklin Canyon see where Martin Lawrence fished in a scene from "Big Mama's House" and where Ron Howard, as little Opie, tried to skip a stone in the opening credits of "The Andy Griffith Show." Ranger Diane Isaacs stops the group along the trail to show a photograph of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert hitchhiking on that very spot in "It Happened One Night."
The hike devoted to film history at Franklin Canyon Ranch is just one of the numerous public excursions happening every weekend (and some weekdays) in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Bird walks, educational hikes for kids, camping, aerobic jaunts, workshops lead by Native American docents and Sunday concerts in the park are some of the activities offered free to the public within the boundaries of the 150,000-acre Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
The mountain range, which extends about 50 miles from Griffith Park along the coast to Point Mugu State Park, is a natural refuge for animals and birds as well as an oasis for Angelenos looking for a little exercise, a respite from city noise or a fun excursion with the kids.
In 1978, Congress established the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area as part of the National Park Service. The programs offered are as varied as the parks themselves and include a patchwork of sites overseen by the National Park Service and state and local agencies.
About 30 organizations present programs and promote conservation of the area, from the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society to the Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Assn.
For instance, anchoring Franklin Canyon's conglomerate of trees, hiking trails and duck ponds are the Sooky Goldman Nature Center to the north and the Doheny House to the south, on land that was donated to the state by the wealthy Doheny family.
Much of the public land in the recreation area once belonged to prominent citizens, including Will Rogers State Historic Park, the Peter Strauss Ranch, Ramirez Canyon Park (the former Malibu estate of Barbra Streisand) and Malibu Lagoon State Beach (featuring the ornate Adamson House, built by descendants of Malibu's founding family).
Some of the facilities are in the mountains far from civilization; others, such as Franklin Canyon in Beverly Hills, are in the city's backyard. Wildlife ranges from ducks to eagles, rattlesnakes to bobcats, so visitors are not encouraged to explore alone.
The following events slated for this weekend are just a sample of the free activities offered in the Santa Monica Mountains. For a more complete schedule of year-round events, maps and phone numbers, get a copy of Outdoors, the free quarterly calendar that is available at the visitor centers, or write to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, 401 W. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks, or check the Web site, at http://www.nps.gov/samo.
Twilight Hike: The Sierra Club will lead an easy evening hike into Caballero Canyon, departing at 7 p.m. Friday. Reseda Boulevard and Mulholland Drive, across from the Braemar Country Club, Encino. Information: (323) 848-7004.
A Family Affair: Children and their parents can learn about nature and gain an appreciation for the great outdoors in a two-hour program presented by the nonprofit William O. Douglas Outdoor Classroom on Saturday, at 10 a.m. Sooky Goldman Nature Center in Franklin Canyon, south on Franklin Canyon Drive, where Coldwater Canyon and Mulholland Drive meet. Information: (310) 858-7272.
Every Day Is Earth Day: Explore Franklin Canyon while learning ways to protect the environment on a two-hour, moderately paced hike from the Sooky Goldman Nature Center in Franklin Canyon. Saturday, 9 a.m. (310) 858-3090.
Nature of Nothing: Learn how "nature therapy" can relieve stress in a two-hour program on Saturday, beginning at 1 p.m. The program includes a low-impact nature jaunt, from Sooky Goldman Nature Center in Franklin Canyon. (310) 858-3090.
Franklin Canyon 101: Strollers and wheelchairs are welcome on a leisurely one-hour trek around the lake. Hikers will get an overview of the rich history and diversity of plants and animals in Franklin Canyon. Sunday, 10 a.m., from Sooky Goldman Nature Center. (310) 858-3090.
Satwiwa Sundays: Dennis Garcia explains traditional dances and customs of the Chumash tribe on Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., at Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa. Meet at the Native American Indian Culture Center, Lynn Road to Via Goleta, in Newberry Park. (805) 370-2301.
Sunday Concerts in the Park: The Hangan Family Band will perform acoustic blues and gospel music at a free concert, held from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Peter Strauss Ranch, at Mulholland Highway and Troutdale Road. (805) 370-2301.
Other upcoming events (in addition to a regular slate of nature programs) include "From Set to Screen," a ranger-led walk through the old Western town at Paramount Ranch on the first and third Saturday of each month; "Hikes en Espanol," in Franklin Canyon on Sept. 23, and Halloween ghost stories and mask making on Oct. 21, at the "Spooky" Goldman Nature Center. Call the National Park Service for more information (805) 370-2301.
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Picnics OK. No fires. Leashed dogs. (805) 370-2301.