I headed out early from my Topanga Canyon digs on a 23 minutes drive to Malibu Creek State Park.
I would be hiking just over two miles (2.37 miles to be exact), on a fireroad called Crags Road, to the location set for the popular television series M*A*S*H (1972-1983). This state park was once the filming backlot for 20th Century Fox and many other tv shows and films where also filmed here, including the original Planet of the Apes. More on that film in a later post.
The level trail, which paralleled the rain-swollen Malibu Creek, was muddy from the rain over the past few days. Mist hung below the beautiful mountainous peaks of the Goat Buttes. The buttes are part of the Santa Monica Mountains, the only mountain range in California that runs west to east. I felt I was already in the “Korean” landscape of M*A*S*H. This landscape looked very familiar.
After I passed the side trail to Rock Pool, Crags Road began to climb upward in a muddy assent. The trail briefly leveled out and I headed down towards the former location of Ape City, built in the late 1960s for the sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes. But more about that in another post.
The fireroad now narrowed as it continued to parallel Malibu Creek. At this point I had not encountered a single person on my hike. I hoped that I would have the M*A*S*H site all to myself! The early bird, indeed gets the worm!
I followed the sign to the creek crossing only to find a wooden staircase the led into the waters of Malibu Creek! The creek was impassable here, unless I was willing to swim. I looked upstream and I could just make out a makeshift “bridge” constructed of logs and tree limbs. Perhaps “constructed” is too much of word to describe the crossing but I had to chance it to get to the M*A*S*H site, which was on the opposite side of the creek.
I started across the “bridge”, carefully choosing each footfall on wobbly and far too thin sticks and logs. Here having trekking poles helped afford two more points of balance during the crossing. One pole slipped off a log and I attempted to put the pole down on the bottom of the creek, only to find that it was so deep that my pole was suspended in midwater. I made it to the opposite bank without becoming fully or partial immersion. I made sure my journals were safely stowed in a dry bag.
I now bushwacked to find the trail, which at this point did not resemble a fireroad but a single track trail. I was now very close, perhaps 0.5 of a mile and I was waiting, with childlike anticipation, for my first glimpse of the filming site. As I rounded a corner, I saw a Korean War era ambulance by the side of the trail. This marked the edge of the filming set.
I briefly scanned the site, which included three interruptive signs, two burnt out vehicles (a jeep and an ambulance) from the series, picnic benches, and a replica of the iconic signpost that was placed just outside of The Swamp. But before I explored the site properly, I headed up to the helipad to do some sketching. And yes, I had the site to myself, in beautiful clear winter weather!
The featured sketch is a map of the M*A*S*H site. I drew this before I head down to Malibu and it helped orient me when I was visiting the location for the first time.