July 27, 2018

Photo Essay: Chasing Phantoms in Malibu Creek State Park

Despite its proximity to the ghost town of Cornell and "Three Magical Miles," I'd really only hiked through Malibu Creek State Park once before, after I first moved to LA, to visit the set from the TV show M*A*S*H.

I knew there was more—a lot more—but since I wasn't sure what to find and where, I joined the Malibu Creek Docents on a trek through the Santa Monica Mountains.

Parking our car shuttles along Mulholland Highway, we set off on the so-called "Phantom Trail"...

...which would take us across the northeastern reaches of the park...

...up and above King Gillette Ranch and Reagan Ranch...

...past patches of black and purple sage and lots of late-blooming wildflowers...

...and scramblimg up periodic peaks that never seemed to end.

At one point, we found ourselves at the benchmark for the LA County Survey Control System triangulation station, set in 1968 and marked "Seminole" (for "creek").

That's when you know you're pretty high up.

And it wasn;t until we started to head back down that I finally asked, "Why's it called the Phantom Trail?"

"That's for the Phantom Stagecoach," the docents told me.

"Wait, a stagecoach went through here?" I sputtered. "A real one or a ghost one?"

As it turns out, the answer was more or less "both"—as a stagecoach called "Phantom" did once traverse these ups and downs along a single-track trail.

Of course, the topography may have changed a bit since the 19th century—including the slippery scars of erosion.

And nowadays, the only other living souls you're likely to come across on this under-the-radar trail include snakes and lizards (including this horned toad we found in the brush, a surprisingly mellow fella).

Among the morning glories, though, there have been some other ghostly sightings—not terribly unusual along decommissioned stagecoach trails throughout Southern California.

Our journey into the rare valley oak savanna habitat (a grassland preserved by the Liberty Canyon Natural Preserve), though, was interrupted by neither wheel nor Wells Fargo wraith... we waded through meadow and black mustard (Brassica nigra)...

...on our way to Liberty Canyon Fire Road, which would take some of us back to our cars at Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills.

Surely, traveling through here by stagecoach was no easy feat—for horse, driver, passenger, or cargo. Equestrians on horseback are still allowed on the trail, but no bicycles (or dogs, for that matter).

After researching the area, I'm left wondering whether the Phantom Stagecoach Trail is named more after the 1957 movie The Phantom Stagecoach, in which robbers craft an armored, driverless stagecoach to aid them in their thievery.

That movie was produced by Columbia Pictures and shot nearby at the Iverson Movie Ranch (somewhere near Garden of the Gods and Santa Susana Pass) and not at the former Fox Lot—a.k.a. Malibu Creek—but at this point, I can't find a better explanation.

Can you?

Related Posts:
Crossed Off the LA Bucket List: M*A*S*H at Malibu Creek State Park
Photo Essay: Along the Old Stagecoach Pass
Photo Essay: The Ghost Town of Cornell and Its Abandoned Lake Enchanto (Updated for 2018)

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