Posted by: James Wapotich | January 13, 2015

Trail Quest: Malibu Creek State Park

If you’ve ever watched the television series “MASH”, you may have noticed that the landscapes of South Korea portrayed in the series have an uncanny resemblance to the chaparral-covered hills of southern California. And as you probably surmised, like a lot of television shows and movies, the exterior shots were filmed here in southern California.

The “MASH” site is located in the Santa Monica Mountains, in what is now Malibu Creek State Park, but was previously owned and used by 20th Century Fox, who produced the show for CBS. The 7,881-acre park is located within Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and is open to the public year-round. The hike to the “MASH” site from the trailhead is about 5 miles roundtrip. The trails in the park are also open to both equestrian and mountain bike use.

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 south towards Calabasas. Exit at Las Virgenes Road, and continue south on Las Virgenes Road, past Mulholland Highway to the entrance of Malibu Creek State Park on your right. Parking for day use is $12 per vehicle. Nearby car-camping is also available within the park.

MASH Goat Buttes Santa Monica Mountains Malibu Creek State Park hike trail movie ranch 20th Century Fox

The iconic mountains from the title sequence for M*A*S*H (aka Goat Buttes, Santa Monica Mountains)

From the lower parking area, continue along Crags Road westward; the unpaved access road leads towards the Visitors Center and the rest of the park. The lower parking area is also near where the Chumash village of Talepop was located.

The hike along the unpaved road offers some great views of Malibu Creek framed by Goat Buttes. And it’s these weathered, rocky outcroppings of volcanic breccia and basalt that are part of the park’s visual appeal.

At about the 1-mile mark, the road arrives at the turnoff for the Visitor Center, located on the other side of the creek, across the bridge. The center is open from noon to 4 p.m., and includes interpretive displays on the natural history of the area.

Just to the right, before the bridge, is the trail that leads upstream to Rock Pool. The site is a popular rock climbing destination located at the mouth of Malibu Gorge.

Goat Buttes Malibu Creek State Park MASH hike trail gorge

Goat Buttes frame a view of Malibu Creek

If you saw the first Planet of the Apes movie, you may recognize Rock Pool from the scene with the waterfall and pool that the astronauts swim in early in the story. Although here, the waterfall is conspicuously missing as it was artificially created for the 1968 film; it’s said that a dozen fire hoses hidden from view were used at the top of the large rock outcropping to create the effect.

Past the turnoff to the Visitor Center and Rock Pool, Crags Road climbs somewhat, bypassing the gorge, before then descending back down towards Malibu Creek and Century Lake. The 7-acre lake is not immediately visible from the road. Like many man-made reservoirs in southern California it has filled with silt and sediment, and is smaller now than when it was originally created.

As the road levels out, it arrives at the turnoff for the unpaved road that leads around the eastern side of the lake. It’s here, at this intersection, that the simian village from Planet of the Apes was located. Nothing remains of the set, however an online image search will turn up comparison pictures of the set and the site today, with the most recognizable feature being Goat Buttes in the background.

Planet of the Apes Goat Buttes Santa Monica Mountains Malibu Creek State Park hike trail movie ranch 20th Century Fox

Goat Buttes near Century Lake and where the Simian Village set for Planet of the Apees was located

The trail around the eastern end of the lake is less than a quarter mile and offers some good views across the lake; the trail ends at the dam. The dam was built in 1910 by the Crags Country Club to attract waterfowl; the lake was also stocked with trout. The Country Club served as a hunting and fishing retreat for prominent businessmen. By 1936, the club, however, had ceased operations due to declining membership. Foundations from the club’s lodge can be found on the knoll, on the west side of Malibu Creek, overlooking Rock Pool.

Filming in the area began as early as 1919, with numerous silent films taking advantage of the diverse and dramatic scenery found in this stretch of the Santa Monica Mountains.

In 1946, 20th Century Fox bought the land and renamed it Century Ranch. And for almost to 30 years, the 2,000-acre “movie ranch” served as the backdrop for a long list of movies and television series including Viva Zapata and Daniel Boone.

MASH Goat Buttes Santa Monica Mountains Malibu Creek State Park hike trail movie ranch 20th Century Fox

Signpost restored by volunteers outside of where the SWAMP was located

In 1974, the State of California purchased the ranch from 20th Century Fox, and expanded it with adjacent land purchased from the family of Bob Hope, and land owned by Ronald Reagan. In 1976, the park officially open to the public as Malibu Creek State Park. Filming, however, at the “MASH”. site continued until the final episode in 1983 under a special use permit.

Continuing past the turnoff to the eastern end of Century Lake, Crags Road continues upstream along Malibu Creek, and about a half mile later crosses the creek by way of a bridge. On your left is the beginning of Forest Trail, which travels along the south side of the lake. This scenic half-mile trail passes through redwoods that were said to have been planted around 1910; this trail also ends at the dam.

From the intersection with Forest Trail, Crags Road continues upstream becoming more of a trail, and about a half mile later arrives at the “MASH” site.

Both the 1970 movie “MASH”, and later, the television series “MASH” were filmed at the site. Both told the story of a group of army doctors and other personnel at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital serving in South Korea during the Korean War. The popular television series ran from 1972-1983. When the final episode of “MASH” aired, it scored the highest viewership of any television series, a distinction that it retains to this day.

In October 1982, a brush fire burned through the park during the final stages of filming and destroyed the sets. The effect was later incorporated into the storyline of the final episode, which included a scene of the camp destroyed by a forest fire.

After the show ended, the only noticeable vestiges of the set that remained were a rusting ambulance and jeep, and the helipad area framed by the iconic view of the mountains that one sees in the title sequence of the show.

MASH hike Malibu creek State Park trail

A restored ambulance at the M*A*S*H. site

In 2008, in preparation for the 25th Anniversary of the series’ finale, some additional features were added. A wooden sign post, matching the one in the television series was placed where it originally stood, just outside the “Swamp”. The “Swamp”, of course, being the tent where the surgeons portrayed in the show lived. As part of the restoration, ropes and stakes were added to mark the outlines of where many of the tents and buildings were located on the set. Interpretive signs were added, including one with a diagram of the set.

Surprisingly, the tents and buildings that made up the set were actually smaller than normal size, as the set was only used for exterior shots, with the majority of the interior scenes, and even some “outdoor” scenes filmed at 20th Century Fox’s studio in Century City. The exterior scenes were filmed in such a way to make the structures appear larger.

As part of the restoration, several picnic tables were also placed at the site for visitors; the tables are under a large wooden frame covered with camouflage netting, where the mess tent was located.

For fans of the show, the site provides an opportunity to connect with their favorite memories, and have a sense of how the show was filmed.

For more information about Malibu Creek State Park go to www.parks.ca.gov, and for information regarding docent led hikes go to www.malibucreekstatepark.org.

This article originally appeared in section A of the January 13th, 2015 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Planet of the Apes Goat Buttes Santa Monica Mountains Malibu Creek State Park hike trail movie ranch 20th Century Fox

Rock Pool, featured in the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes


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