June 25, 2012

Photo Essay: The Hidden Fire Roads of Tuna Canyon

I was supposed to go to a BBQ in Santa Monica on Saturday, so I took the opportunity to go head west early and go hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains, an infrequent destination in my explorations of the various trails of LA County.

I didn't feel like revisiting Solstice Canyon (one of my favorite hikes), and I'd already been to Temescal, Topanga, and Will Rogers, so I set my sights on the lesser-known Tuna Canyon, just west of Topanga State Park, not to be confused with La Tuna Canyon in Burbank.

I knew it would be a bit off the beaten path, and solitary. I knew the trailhead would be hard to find, requiring you to wind through the surrounding hills, up and around the canyon park rather than the straight shot Tuna Canyon Road, whose short one-way stretch prevents approach from the south.

Its elusiveness drew me in.

When I arrived, I wasn't sure I was in the right place except for the one landmark I knew to look for: an abandoned phone booth. As I was confirming my location and surveying my surroundings, two blonde dogs came bounding towards me, sniffing and barking, cowering at my outstretched hand.

I looked for an unmarked yet obvious fire road...

...which turned out to be marked...

...and obvious.

A short walk up from the trailhead, there are two choices of fire roads to take: on the left to Hearst Tank, and on the right to Big Rock.

I took them both.

On the Hearst Tank fire road trail, the path winds around, steadily ascending in a gentle slope, with the ocean gradually revealing itself in the distance, looking south upon Santa Monica.

The sky and the ocean were equally blue.

Less than two miles in, I reached a saddle, a couple perched atop. Not wanting to disturb them, I kept moving...

...til I reached the end of the trail, where fellow hikers have laid out a kind of maze made of stones and trinkets...

...with messages of love and peace and belief spelled out in pebbles...

...and a variety of shells...

...placed in a variety of positions.

Heading back north towards the Big Rock Lateral...

...the ocean breeze was cooling under the hot sun...

...even when I couldn't see it.

Soon, amongst the power lines and the ridges in the distance, the ocean opened up again...

...passing old rusty vestiges...

...and other traces of others who have trodden [Ed: corrected from "have tread"] this path before.

Unlike the Hearst Tank climb, the Big Rock Lateral trail actually descends...

...dropping a few hundred feet towards the ocean...

...with plenty of vegetation...

...and the shores of Malibu spread out below.

All in all it's just over five miles to do the whole thing, though there are some extension trails and various other offshoots you can take to lengthen the hike.

Once you're done and back to your car, it's a relatively straight shot back down to the PCH, now going the right way - heading south - along the one way Tuna Canyon Road which had to be bypassed on the way up.

I changed into my party dress at my car, wiping the sweat (and dirt) from my face with the towel I keep in my car for swimming. Mid-change, another dog - this time a black one - came barreling towards me, panting and sniffing as I pulled my hiking pants off from under my skirt.

A few minutes later, I was back in civilization, and could barely recall how I'd gotten to Tuna Canyon in the first place. I may never find it again.

To become a fan on Facebook, click here.


  1. Beautiful piece!

    "... others who have tread this place before." Not "have tread", but "have trodden".

    I'm an English teacher, which can be a curse. ;-)

    1. Oh crap. Now that I'm focused so much on learning French ( my English has gone to shit.

  2. Ne t'en fais pas, Sandi, sois heureuse!