Murphy’s Ranch: Abandoned Nazi Camp in Santa Monica

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Update July 2014 – People in the comments of this post are talking about getting tickets and about different parts of the hike being boarded up, so make sure to read the signs when you visit and check out the comments for latest information from readers.

When I first heard about this place it seemed almost too crazy to believe, an abandoned Nazi camp in the rich area of the Pacific Palisades that you can hike to. Then after reading countless reviews on friends blogs I knew I needed to see it for myself so I set out.

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Details

  • Street parking is free
  • 4 miles round trip and about 600 feet of elevation
  • Over 500 stairs so make sure you can handle it

History

The history on this area is a little sketchy and put together but I will do my best to write what I have heard. In the early 1900’s, during the second world war, Winona and Norman Stephens were convinced by a German named Herr Schmidt that when Germany ultimately won the war, the American government would not be able to stay afloat thus leading to a time of anarchy in the United States. During that time they would be able to live in their self-sustaining community and then come out when the opportunity presenting itself to help with the German take over. So with that convincing they set out to build a massive area they could use to keep them safe during the war.

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As we all know that didn’t happen and around the time of Pearl Harbor they were taken into custody from their home. All in all it is said that over 4 million dollars was invested into this ranch and they were able to create a pretty amazing set of structures with that money. Among what they made was a power station, machine shed, fully irrigated hillside for growing food, raised gardens, a massive water tank and even a place to store diesel fuel. They also built multiple cement stairs up the side of the neighboring hill to help with the farming and to patrol the area. They planned to build a four story mansion here as well but it was said to have fallen through.

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All that is left standing today is the power station, water tank, gardens and the collapsed machine shed.

Getting there

It is hard to give an exact trailhead address for this hike but the address I put in my phone was the corner of Capri Drive and Casale Road, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272 which will take you to the start of Sullivan Ridge Fire Road, the road that you will be walking. Just make sure you read the parking signs, but there was a lot of street parking here.

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The Hike

After parking you will want to proceed on Sullivan Ridge Road. This will wind down around some beautiful houses before turning to a run down area that you walk through to get to the main dirt road.

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Here you will see the yellow road block telling you are entering Topanga Canyon and you will just continue on the dirt  road for about another 3/5ths of a mile. When you get to about the max elevation you will see a beautiful view of the Malibu and Santa Monica coastline to your left and the start of the chain link fence in front of you.

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About 100 yards from here you will see a cut out in the chain link fence that you can walk through to get to the top of the stairs.

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If you don’t see this one there is another 3 minutes further next to a water tank and 10 min further is the old abandoned gate for the road down to the compound so you have a lot of chances to get there.

The Stairs

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First thing to note, when I was there on a Saturday morning there literally was none one else here. From the moment I got to the stairs till when I got back to the road I didn’t see a soul. This made for good pictures for me but others could find this creepy so just be warned.

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These stairs are not for the faint of heart. They drop 250 feet of elevation in only a hundred yards or so and they seem to just drop off in front of you. Just continue down and you get some cool views of the canyon around you and the overhanging plants that form a tunnel over some parts of the stairs.

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After the long climb down proceed to the left which will drop you in this small field complete with a graffiti covered wall.

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About 50 yards past this area you will see the powerhouse.

The Powerhouse

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The powerhouse itself is actually really well-kept together. Sure, it is covered in graffiti, but it still seems structurally sound. I walked in and explored it and while I hate graffiti it was pretty crazy the urban decay on this place especially for photography.

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You can even climb the ladder in the middle that will get you all the way onto the roof.

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Here are some of my favorite pictures from the area.

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The Machine Shed

If you head North from the power house you will shortly reach the remains of the machine shed.

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As you can see the machine shed is not much more than some broken down pieces of ruble but it is still fun to photograph and explore.

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After the machine shed I went back to the powerhouse and took the stairs to the right up to the gardens

The Gardens

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All that is left of the gardens are some raised cement beds that have become overgrown with the grass of the area. They are unique in that there are a decent amount of them though. This also provides a good view of the powerhouse from above as well before heading back to the dirt road.

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As you proceed up these steps they will empty you out on a dirt road. If you want to go back to the first steps head right but if you want to go up to the entrance of the compound head left and proceed a half mile up the road which I recommend as it will take you to the main gate.

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You will know you’re getting close when you reach the massive water tower they have right next to the road and when you round the bend you will see the gate.

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The gate was simply the main entrance to the compound all of those years ago. It has been kept together well and is a great photo opportunity  After that head up Sullivan Fire Road, which you are now on again and back to your car, completing the loop. On the way back you will see what looks like another entrance down to the ruins if you miss the first one.

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For the photographer I cannot recommend Murphey’s Ranch enough, it is a super unique place to capture a ton of different photos while exploring this strange part of LA history. You can see the rest of my pictures below and get directions to go check it out for yourself. I would also love it if you would leave a comment as well as this post is over 1100 words so I would amazed if anyone read to the end!

 Other Resources on this hike

Photo Gallery

 

Get Directions

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  • http://twitter.com/last_adventurer Last Adventurer

    Yes, I read all 1100 words. That is crazy stuff – where did you hear about this? Also, it seems really CLEAN – where is all the trash?

    • Snook

      It’s actually quite dirty there with many spray paint bottles, beer bottles, plastic bags, etc. You can’t really tell from the pictures but it’s one of the more dirty abandoned sites I have ever been to.

  • http://twitter.com/TheSoCalHiker Jeff Hester

    Awesome trip report. Awesome-er photos! This looks like a fun place to explore, and definitely a must-hike for photography fans looking for some urban decay.

    BTW, feel free to hit me up to hike anytime you’re up this way again.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment! Ya it is a cool place to explore! I didn’t know you were up that way, would love to meet up for a hike again

  • Snook

    Really great pictures of the place! make me want to go back again.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks! It really is a photographers playground!

  • http://www.facebook.com/yvonne.ruiz3 Yvonne Ruiz

    Yes, very interesting and very strange! Cool write-up!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment! It is worth checking out for sure!

  • Ba d’Water

    Try hauling a drum set, three amps and three guitars through these trails! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iii32W-3Rts

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      haha Wow that is crazy! Does make for a cool background for the video though! Kinda makes hauling it worth it right?

    • venicementor

      Wow – wild!!!

  • Candace Agnew

    Wow, I had seen this location before and had it on my list but now I’m definitely planning a trip there. Probably will be there forever as I’m a wimp when it comes to uphill stairs but I’m determined so will do it! Took me about 5 rest stops to complete the Thousand Steps beach in Laguna last weekend….Course that was also right after a three mile hike too…..

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      It is worth conquering the stairs for, but there are a lot on the way down. On the way up I just walked the old fire road and didn’t go up all the stairs. Have fun!

      • Candace Agnew

        I’ll keep that in mind, the Old Fire Road. Going down is no problem, it’s the going back up that kicks my hiney, but I am determined so will try and master it.

  • Tyler Tanner

    Hi Josh,
    My friends and I hiked this last weekend, thanks to your blog, and we had a blast! Your directions were spot on and we could not believe how close it was. What was really interesting were the comparisons from your photos to what we saw in terms of the graffiti. It seems that the art, at power house especially, is constantly changing. Making us want to go back in a few months and see whats new.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Tyler, thanks for the comment! I didn’t even think about that but I bet it is interesting to see how everything changes there.

  • Angela Wendel

    Hi Josh, thanks so much for this post. I took a group to photograph the ranch and had a great time and didn’t get lost thanks to your terrific directions. I look forward to reading about more interesting places. If you haven’t checked out sunken city in San Pedro, it’s worth crawling under a fence to see!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment and the suggestion! Glad my post helped out, it is a crazy place

  • zebraradar

    I was just there this morning! 1st we went through the gates to the horse stables though. don’t think you pictured that one! https://vine.co/v/hUqiKKaiKJX

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for sharing! I did forget to mention the horse stables that is a great reminder!

  • Russel Ray Photos

    I’m commenting to let you know that I read the whole post. Well, that and to let you know that I really enjoyed the whole post!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for reading it all the way through! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Dan Heuschele

    I read it all and found it interesting. If I lived in LA area I wold go check it out. Thanks for the blog.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading it all!

  • diggit86

    Awesome read man!!! I am ways away from there but thanks to your pictures I feel like taking a trip there. This has inspired me to see this as I am a history guy!!!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment and so glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Karen Eckland

    Read the whole thing…..planning on going Saturday

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Have fun! Let me know how the adventure is!

  • Tess Alessandra Field

    I stumbled upon your blog and this area is really interesting. Your pics and your tour made it so fascinating and I felt as if i had actually seen it with my own two eyes! Thank you so much!!!!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      No problem! Glad you found the blog and glad you enjoy it! Lots of other crazy adventures to explore on here as well!

      • Tess Alessandra Field

        I definitely will take a look-see! Thanks, again!

  • mallory

    I went here yesterday cause I found this post. thanks for the info! just posted some pictures here if you’d care to check them out. http://lapommedeterre.tumblr.com/post/75079541088/panoramas-from-exploring-murphys-ranch-in-pacific

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Awesome pictures, thanks for sharing!

  • Kelly

    Very interesting. I’m definitely going to check it out! Looks scary though so I don’t think I’ll go alone haha

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      haha It is always more fun to hike with a friend anyway!

  • faithinme136

    Went to check this place out yesterday and it was incredible. You’re guide led me to the path with no problem. The only part that sucked was when I reached the bottom of the stairs I lost signal so my friend and I just had to wing it. Got around no problem though. Thank you for taking the time to write this out!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment and I am glad the site helped you to get there well!

  • Suzanne

    Great photos and interesting info. Unexpectedly found this place today when my friend and I hiked down into rustic canyon from the backbone trail which begins near inspiration point right by will rogers state park. Most people seem to come in the way you did, but coming from the other direction we saw a giant, dilapidated, graffiti-covered barn. This entire area definitely made for one of the most surreal hiking experiences I’ve had in southern CA!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment! That certainly sounds like a unique experience!

  • shawnacy kiker

    awesome. Can’t wait to get out there!

  • zanevorhis

    Is this place still there?

    • Harvitronix

      Yep.

  • Betty Blue

    Fascinating!! Thank you! Read the whole thing with great interest. Now I can wait to go!!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment! Have fun on your adventure there!

  • Kristins

    This hike was fantastic–my favorite so far! It was such a contrast between nature and the urban art. We passed quite a few people on our trip, including a group that was filming some horror shoot.

    For those of you who want to also see the barn–it’s not exactly an intuitive trail. Basically once you pass the machine shop, keep on the “main” trail and just keep going. It’ll seem like you’re going the wrong way (it’s not exactly “well traveled”) but just keep with it and you’ll eventually come to a meadow type area, and you’ll see the barn. Also, the barn is fenced up but you can still get in–just be aware that it’s fenced for a reason, including a massive beehive!

    If you keep going past the barn, there’s a fire road that will take you back up to the main road so you don’t have to go up those brutal stairs :)

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment and the extra information!

  • Robert

    Awesome. My wife and I have started exploring different places for pics. I just heard about it and came across your blog. Going there this weekend to check it out and of course for picture taking.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment, have fun!

  • http://www.letopho.blogspot.com letopho

    Amazing write up! Went this weekend and caught some kids adding more art to the walls. Loved it

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment, I am glad you got to go check it out!

  • jagoldhill

    just went there last week, my kid was at the camp next door (jesepho (sp?)) it is crazy awesome. lots of people going down last week and a few police sightings as well. such a cool hidden gem in LA

  • Inessa

    Thanks, Josh!
    Truly enjoyed your photos and writing! Amazing piece of history!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      No problem, thanks for the comment!

  • RK

    FYI the word on the street is Topanga State Park is going to be granted this land and all structures will be torn down. Spread the WORD.

  • jubjub

    it was not the first world war that was fought against the axis (germany, japan, italy), but rather world war two.

  • Kat

    Thanks for writing this, really amazing to know that this exists…crazy too! Well-written and love the photograhs too. You have a talent for both. All the best!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the compliments! I am glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Anders Dahl

    The place is being demolished, so if you haven’t been there yet, the time to visit is now. Authorities have already begin painting over the graffiti which makes little sense, if they are removing the structures, but that’s the word on the street.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment and update. I hope that it is not taken down.

    • Berto Otreb

      Is this place still around? I plan on going this Wednesday

      • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

        I am not sure, many in the comments have said the graffiti has been painted over and gates have gone up but I have not been in a while myself.

        • JC

          I was just there two days ago, everything is still there and if the graffiti was painted over, it has now been re-graffitied:) There are some gates/fences up, but you are able to easily get around them. If you have bad knees and climbing up and down hills is easier than stairs, you can just take the road all the way back. From talking to some other hikers, it sounds like there is a parking lot connected to a different park/trail that you can use to hike into Murphy’s Ranch, but we parked on Capri.

          • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

            Thanks for the update and comment!

    • ronsmith123

      The Jews were too cheap to demolish it, might as well leave it as history but they forgot to make up some hoax tales for it. I guess in the usa it wouild be too obvious.

      • venicementor

        Are you mentally ill? Is it the drugs or were born this way? Idiot!!

  • Erik ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    Just went yesterday for David Hermann’s bday hike. We came across the stables as well, (watch out for the HUGE chunk of bees on the back of the building).
    Also found an old VW van right past the machine shop.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      David is a pretty cool guy! Thanks for the comment about the bees, I am sure it will be helpful to others.

  • jjinla

    My 3rd time hiking here iover 4 years and was quite disappointed. All the structures are now enclosed with chain-link fences that say No Trespassing. Alot of the cool graffiti ART was painted over with tan paint. Other sections just had random taggers who have even started tagging the trees! Sad if this interesting (but creepy) site is going to be demolished.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Wow, thanks for the pictures and the update! That is sad to see that they are doing that as this is a great place to explore.

    • 5starvintage

      I’m trying to visit it this week, you think its still worth it?

  • Johnny

    Whats the dierctions to get there not the trial dierctions the street directions

  • CarmenKryptonite

    I read the entire blog and found it quite interesting. I plan to check out the ranch this weekend.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for checking out the blog and for the comment!

  • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

    Thanks for the comment and updated picture! Crazy to see how it is changing

  • m1ckDELTA

    The graffiti is disappointing; camouflaging any sense of time’s passage. The irony of the morass of graffiti in L.A (and elsewhere) is the idea that it is a unique and interesting form of expression. It’s end result, however, is the homogenization of so much that, in it’s organic state of decay, actually was at one time unique and interesting. It is one of the things that destroys much of my interest in visiting many areas in L.A. that would otherwise be fascinating. I am sure at one time the abandoned ranch was truly something to see.

  • Nature Lover

    Josh, I have been visiting this place for over 20 years and am saddened that you have exposed this formerly beautiful, peaceful place to the general public. I am sickened by the mounds of trash that now appear from the lookie loos, thanks to your (and others’) article, not to mention the impact on the wildlife of hoards of insensitive humans trampling through the brush. And, last but not least, if I owned a home in this neighborhood and it was suddenly infiltrated by outsiders (Free parking! Get your Star Map to Murphy Ranch here!), I’d have a few other words for you.

    • insensitive human

      Nature hogger- why should this historically intruiging place be YOUR little secret? Just because certain people have no respect, does not mean the rest of us should be exhiled while you continue to keep it all to yourself. Most likely these litter-bugs and graffiti hoodlums do not own computers or frequent hiking/photography blogs.

    • really

      because nobody is allowed to share something they discover in nature. you’re the only one allowed because you went there first. grow up, asshole. you sound like a 12 year old who liked one direction before all their friends.

      • Grow Up

        You sound like a little kid throwing a temper tantrum dude.

        “It’s mine not yours!”
        “I was here first!”
        “You guys are all copy cats!”

        Please tell me who sounds like a 12 year old?

  • MorAvFire

    Hikers BEWARE! Disclaimer… I am a very conscious hiker. I do not litter, go off trails etc… a real leave no trace kind of girl. I received THREE yes THREE trespassing tickets for OBSERVING the power building. I was not in it or on it and neither were the minors that were with me. We were taking photographs and enjoying the day. There are NO posted signs saying no trespassing that are visible from the entry side, but that didn’t stop the rangers from giving me a ticket for each person in my party. Once the rangers left I hiked around to the other side of the building and saw ONE no trespassing sign that was so heavily covered in graffiti all you could read was the word ASS. The frustrating thing is the ranger fully acknowledged that I was doing nothing wrong and that we weren’t the problem, but his supervisor expects 5 citations a day and we would fill his quota. He also told me that the wealthy home owners in the area have been pushing the city to take down the structures so that they don’t have the traffic in the STATE park. The homeowners do not want to pay for removal of the buildings and they have the city against the wall… so to obtain the revenue the city needs for tear down they are citing innocent hikers checking out a piece of obscure history. Very sad situation… and now who knows what these tickets will cost me but, even more is that people have the power to tear down a piece of history because they want PUBLIC land to be for their use only. Oh, and one last thing the state parks department has no interest in the buildings, do not regulate etc… which I brought up to the ranger and his answer was “Yeah, but we are city and city doesn’t want you here”. Oops…. one last, last thing, you can not park anywhere along the dirt road, even though there are no signs (In most rural areas/parks with an adventure pass, which I have, you can park along the roads and hike in)…. I came back to a $40 parking ticket on the car… Which made FOUR TICKETS FOR ONE DAY!

    • wild bill

      Hummm—seems kinda ironic—supposed to be a State Park—how can
      U get a trespass pink slip (ticket) in a State Park??? Seems to me the State is working on the City’s
      behalf shaking down the citizenry to pay to tear down a piece of history—talk
      about oppression-exploitation & extortion & robbery—talk about a rip
      off—whos stealing from who here??? I
      thought only the Mafia did that sort of thing??? Seems to me the 3rd Reich-Brown
      Shirts never left Murphy Ranch—they just moved into the Cal State Dept.—shaking
      down & discriminating against anyone on Murphy Ranch seems to be an analogy
      of the Nazi’s discriminating against different classes of people &
      exploiting-oppressing them as well. So Park Rangers are sniffing out folk—sounds
      like what the Gestapo did—seek out those who were hiding from the SS. I would fight any ticket issued on the
      grounds of direct discrimination—4-1.—Yeah the Nazi Party never left Murphy
      Ranch—they just moved on to higher ground—The State Department of Cal—after a
      50 year vacation—they’ve returned—disguised as PARK RANGERS!! DON’T THEY WEAR BROWN SHIRTS??? Better be
      carefull, they might say U R a mental case & drag U off to Vinceinoff or Hadamar
      (Nazi-Nut houses-,i.e, mental hospitals.) If I ever run across a Santa Monica
      State Park Ranger giving tickets out, I think I’ll though my arm out & click
      my heals together & say “Sing Hall”!—Wild Bill

  • Christopher Michel

    Hey y’all I visited this site today with a group of my friends and we got citations for trespassing in the main powerhouse. It was actually pretty sad there were two other groups of two not with us who just ran away free, but our group was too large and the park rangers all handed us citations. There was a large hole in the fence so we just went in and explored, and it was lots of fun and really cool! Too bad who knows what will happen with these citations, but the rangers said that it may not even get prosecuted so let’s hope! I feel like it’s still a great place to go and see, but staying behind the fences and not trespassing would be a good idea.

  • MJV

    Thank you for all the info, i have been wanting to visit this place for the longest and after reading your post I feel more comfortable and prepared to do so ;)

  • Jordan C

    Thanks for this, I’m moving from Portland Or to California and I was hoping to find somewhere to hike. Nothing like Oregon, but this is on the top of my list :)

    • cool

      what part of california? strike that, you can find good hiking all over california you just gotta look :) search up scary dairy too, another gem

  • David G

    Hey folks. I was there today (first time) and no problems, no park rangers and no problem parking. There were tons of folks out this morning — at least 50, mostly walkers, some on bikes. A truly amazing place and the views spectacular.

  • Charlie Fagan

    I first heard about this recently in the Charles Fleming
    book “Secret Stairs” and plan to take this walk in the next week or two,
    depending on how hot it is.

  • BenSMeir

    I read it to the end! Super interesting dude. Great unique post! Will be visiting for sure.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Justino

    Hiked there today. Exactly as you described – great directions. My friend and I did not see anyone else down there. The only no trespassing signs are on the fences blocking off access to the structures. We stayed outside of the fences but got some great pictures. Thanks for the write up.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      No problem glad you were able to see it!

  • crapp

    There is also the old barn that still stands which is a little ways beyond the machine shed which is very creepy.

  • crapp

    Here it is

  • ronsmith123

    Brilliant German Engineering, I´m suprised the Jews did not say it used to be a gas chamber killing millions…Sad the mexicans got to it.

    • venicementor

      You are a retard!!!

  • ronsmith123

    Some one should buy it and restore it. Then make it a tourist attraction tour with tickets.

  • PCH

    PCH

  • PCH

    Female and lone hikers please be careful. Rangers attempted to catch the perpetrator but were unsuccessful after a 3 hour search and shaking down every hiker in the area. While details are sparse the one thing that was clear is someone was attacked and attempted to rape a young child that was with her mother on a trip up here in early September. The area is a must see but please use common sense, stay in the main hiking area and always travel in pairs or more. While these events don’t happen often please be aware they do happen. Rangers did get a photograph from one of the surveillance cameras in the area that has been put up to deter trespassers into the main structure. If you see this assailant do not approach, do not attempt to apprehend. Contact a ranger or dial 911 immediately.

  • suzanlily

    Great blog and photos. Thank you.

  • venicementor

    Thanks – I used to go there during the mid-nineties – I can’t believe the amount graffiti that is there now. It used to be a great place for photography – and still is, especially when it is green.

  • be kind to one another

    anyone been recently? is it worth the hike to get citations?im just a student looking for an adventure but no trouble!

  • VCSK

    Went there today with a friend. Bummer to the dude that got the tickets for checking out the power station, we were looking at it from outside the fence when a Ranger walked by and just smiled at us. We waited for him to leave and hopped the fence.

    Anyways, tons of graffiti everywhere, still totally worth the trip if you’re thinking about going.

  • Stefan Avalos

    cool!

  • debs

    Anyone been here recently? Thinking about taking my kids today…

  • Kyle

    Been 5 months since the last post, has anyone been more recent and have an update?

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