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——–At the Northwestern edge of the San Fernando Valley lies El Escorpion Park, a small park (three acres) with a short trail lying below a quiet, gorgeous view of lush greens, rolling hills and caves.  It’s often confused with Bell Canyon Park, just a few miles north, although it is nowhere related to it. Both parks are part of the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, sometimes referred to as Ahmanson Ranch.

The Las Virgenes Preserve has a curious history. Prior to the 20th Century, the native American Chumash tribes lived in most of the land. Castle Peak was the alleged site of a village with an ethnic blend of Chumash, Tongva and Tataviam tribes, well before European settlers ventured into this region. Not much else has been known or said about them that is verifiable. By the time Hollywood film crews “discovered” the spot, the Chumash and other native tribes had all but disappeared from view. In 1914, the Lasky Company acquired 4,000 acres of the ranch land, to use as location shooting for The Rose of the Ranch. From then until 1958, other films were made at Lasky Mesa. Perhaps the most famous one made was Gone With the Wind, filmed in 1939. After GWTW, filming at Lasky Mesa declined.

archive 1Photo Courtesy of the Lasky Movie Archives

In 1963, Home Savings of America obtained the property that would then be called (and is still known as) Ahmanson Ranch.  It wasn’t until 1989, however, when HSA announced that the Ranch would be the site of development that would include 3,000 homes and two golf course. The project never did materialize. When a recession in the early 1990’s hit California, H.F. Ahmanson’s company was forced to shelve its non-essential projects, so the Ranch remained unused. In 1998, Washington Mutual was on an acquisition binge and found Home Savings of America attractive enough to buy. WaMu wasted no time making plans for a new housing development project at the idle Ahmanson Ranch; No doubt WaMu would have had its way, had it gone unchecked. Fortunately (and unfortunately for them), awareness of the lush delights of the Ranch had grown considerably among nature-conscious Californians, and a Conservation group stood in the path of development. The group’s movement gained enough momentum to bring the issue of preservation to the people. People voted to keep the park under a Conservancy. Thus, the Ahmanson Ranch became the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve.

And here we were today, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, taking in all of the wonderful scenery. My Partner and I have been here a few times, yet we never cease to be amazed. During the Fall and Winter months, the park becomes a wild, thick shade of green that lends a shroud of mystery about it. The main trail is straightforward: Going about 2-3 miles down, you’ll reach the virtual edge, where the San Fernando Valley ends and the Simi Hills, the border of Ventura County, starts. We have yet to go down the rest of that beaten path which leads to Castle Peak. However, we’ve explored some of the other surprises El Escorpion has to offer.

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One such delight is a set of caves, about a mile and and to the right of the trail. It’s a short distance past a large, fenced-in water main. Access to the caves is rugged and becomes a little steep. However, once you get up to any one of the caves, and are able to scale the entrance unaided, the sights to behold are rewarding. Note: Climbing up the steep entrance to the cave is dangerous and not recommended for small children or untrained climbers. So be careful!

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Inside the larger of the caves is a majestic cathedral view of the sky through a hollow ceiling. Various graffiti by previous visitors create an eyesore for the otherwise-pristine place. The deepest recess of the cave is the darkest region of the abode, where no light ever enters. I had to use a flashlight as a source for my camera. There were some relics of human activity: Soda or water bottles and little pieces of metal, either ancient artifacts or primitive drugmaking implements.  I didn’t stay long enough to determine which. To my disappointment (and also relief), no bats or skeletal remains were there.

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Occasionally, you’ll hear the flutter of pigeons, hovering around the perimeter to scan for intruders. On the other side of the cave is another crevice which leads to the top and yet another breathtaking view of the hills. In the warmer months, scores of hikers can be seen visiting these beautiful caves. Some hiking groups that camp out here bring wine and other spirits with them as they camp out. There’s a lot of broken glass in the vicinity.  A word of admonishment: Please don’t leave trash or break glass and scatter them on the trail! It’s bad enough when one slips and falls on a rocky path. But if hikers need to crawl on the path, the broken glass causes unnecessary cuts and injuries. So, once again, please be sensitive to the other hikers and don’t throw your empty glass bottles on the path!

Otherwise, come and visit El Escorpion Park and soak in all of this natural beautywhen you get a chance. There’s plenty to marvel at in this small patch of paradise. Along with the wildflowers and the greens on the trail, you’ll also see (and hear) California Cottontail rabbits’ footfalls. There are bluejays flying about. By the caves, there are coyote lairs – so if you are bold enough to enter the caves, make sure you’re not treading on their turf. But of course, there are the caves and hills themselves. Even from afar, they are a delight. If you live close to the Northwestern San Fernando Valley and need a quick fix of Mother Nature, El Escorpion Park is the place to be. Happy Trails!

Copyright Anabasius 2009

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Comments
  1. Jerry England says:

    When I was a boy we called the cave “Bats Cave” because of the bats that roosted there. Near the base of the cave stood the remains of an old adobe barn and corrals that had been built for Rancho El Escorpion. The dirt roads around the area were a magical place to ride our horses. I have fond memories of the area in the mid 1950s.

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