Posted by: GeekHiker | December 4, 2007


The Secret Spot is gone now. All burned up in last month’s fire.

Found out in a news article today.

It’s funny, but when I mentioned the area in a post last summer, I didn’t give many details about it. Didn’t say why it was special to me. I thought about writing that into the post but decided that I didn’t want to jinx things, so I just let it slide. “I’ll write that post this winter, after fire season is over,” I thought.

It doesn’t matter now, I suppose.

The Secret Spot was one of those places I’d been going to ever since I moved to LA. It was a canyon lined with oak and sycamore trees and a creek that flowed year-round; it was a place of serene tranquility.

I don’t know exactly what’s gone, but I read today of which historic buildings in the park burned and, knowing their locations, can fathom the damage. I won’t know for sure until the park service opens it back up, which most likely won’t be until after the winter rains.

All that may be unchanged are the rocks themselves.

I wonder what will be left.

* * *

I can’t say the spot was really “secret”. It was and is, after all, a public park.

When I first started going there, it was relatively empty. After ownership was transferred to the NPS, it became more widely used. More and more often at other locations in the Santa Monicas I would hear rangers telling visitors about the park.

But the parking lot never got bigger, so too many more visitors was a bad idea. It’s not that big of a park anyway. “Send the crowds over to Malibu Creek,” I thought, “They’ve got a bigger lot over there.”

So, I didn’t tell anyone. The one trail I didn’t share, the one place I didn’t recommend to friends, just to keep the crowds out.

Of course, right now, no one is there.

* * *

One day, maybe a year or two after I’d discovered the place, I rock-hopped up the canyon further than I’d gone before, the spirit of discovery in my soul that day.

The further up I got, the rockier things became, the boulder hopping more difficult. I was tired, having been up too late the night before, and when I slipped on a rock and landed square on my tailbone, I figured it was a sign to turn around.

I should have turned around sooner.

On the way back down, coming down the face of a rock I’d come down a dozen times before, I missed a foothold and fell. I heard branches (I thought) cracking as I dropped, perhaps 8 or 10 feet, landing with a thud in the mud below next to the stream.

What surprised me, more than anything else, was how calm I was after I’d caught my breath. I triaged myself: my leg hurt like hell, but there was no bone poking through, so I moved on to the bleeding gash on my hand, washing it with water and bandaging it from my first aid kit.

But when I stood up, I found I could put no weight on my leg. Three miles of boulder hopping and trail lay ahead, and since I was off trail to begin with, no one was going to wander by to give me a hand.

Two and a half excruciating hours later, I arrived back at my car.

I would later find out that the fibula was broken. I found this out three weeks after the accident, having gone into emergency the first time and having it diagnosed as only bruise. I was too young and naive to demand an x-ray.

Three weeks later when I went back in, the pain over the spot on my leg having become sharp. The doctor still didn’t think it was broken, but had me walk over to x-ray anyway. Walking back, I looked at my film in the fluorescent hallway lights, seeing the offset fracture immediately. The doctor saw the same, and wanted me to go to ortho. “Which direction?” I asked. No, no, no, they said, you can’t walk there.

You need to go in a wheelchair. After all, you have a broken leg.

The doctor in orthopedics, a veteran medic in Vietnam, poo-poohed the injury, pointed out that it was already starting to knit, and sent me on my way. The fibula had done its job, he said, and protected the tibia from being broken. You’re fine.

To this day I can feel a bump on my leg, under the skin. The knitted bone around the fracture.

Every time I do, I think of The Secret Spot.

* * *

I never took my camera there. I have no pictures to share with you.

It’s the one place that I didn’t photograph, and I often wondered if I would regret that choice. I find that I don’t.

I suppose that it’s because the park wasn’t just special for what it looked like; no it was more than that: the smells, the sounds, the memories it evoked.

I think any picture I had of it, were I to view it now, would just depress me. It would be a flat experience anyway.

What I see and hear and smell in my mind is so much better.

* * *

Oh, what a place it was.

The hiking wasn’t difficult by any means, only a mile or two and then some boulder hopping up the canyon, past a series of pools that I’d mentally numbered in my head one through five.

I can still see each of those pools in my head, each of their unique qualities.

I used to hang out by pool three most of the time. I’d bring lunch, read a book, lay out on a rock that had a perfect v-shaped groove in it for your back and nap under the sun.

I remember the sound of the little four-foot waterfall as it plunged into the pool.

I remember the wall of California Maidenhair ferns on the canyon wall behind me where a spring emerged and trickled out into the creek.

The dragonflies patrolling their section of creek, looking for prey, chasing off interlopers.

Butterflies flitting about in their constant search for nectar.

The waterstriders and little snakes and salamanders that would swim through the pools.

The little baby frogs, no bigger than an inch or two, who would sun themselves on rocks next to me.

The tall sycamore and willow trees overhead, light reflected from the stream dancing on the undersides of the leaves.

I remember the seasons changing, the wildflowers in the spring, the lazy heat of summer, the spiders in the fall with webs as tough as rope. I would go in the winter and listen to the sound of the rain on the leaves and watch wisps of fog move up the canyon, changing shapes as they went.

I remember a lazy summer day where I rescued a butterfly drowning in the creek. I put him on a rock to dry and he crawled a bit and fell… right back into the creek. A couple more attempts with the same result and I finally placed him far away from the water, and a couple hours later he dried out and flew off. It was kind of a silly thing to do I suppose, rescuing a clearly suicidal butterfly, but that was just how a lazy summer day by the stream could go.

I remember how the colony of bees that inhabited the canyon would change locations, sometimes in this tree, sometimes in that one, sometimes back to the first.

I remember how for several years a mallard pair would live in the stream, how the male would protectively swim between me and his mate as I watched them from the bridge above.

I remember sitting by pool three late in the afternoon. The sun that kept me warm on the rock all day had dropped behind the trees, and the chill of the evening would tell me it was time to go. Up past the waterfall, which lay in shadow, bright sunlight would still be filtering through the green leaves. The tranquil sound of water rushing over the boulders begged me to stay.

Of course, I never really wanted to go.

* * *

I took only two people there in all those years. People who understood why the place was special, my connection to it. It’s something that group last summer could never understand: what it was like to have that broken leg, to limp out of the place at a pace so slow you touched practically every boulder on the way down. To return to that place so often you know its moods season to season, year to year.

Most times I was there alone, off trail, on a rock next to the babbling creek, just watching the day pass by. I never felt lonely or unsafe; quite the contrary, in fact.

I spent so much time there I saw the place change. A log that I napped on from my first hike, how it broke apart and finally disintegrated over the years. Trees that grew, limbs that broke off in the storms, new rocks that had fallen into the canyon.

For all the change that I saw over the years, the canyon itself was a constant. Whether green in the spring or tan in the fall, whenever I went whatever troubles I had in my life melted away.

Of course, I never went as often as I wanted.

* * *

Fire is part of the way chaparral works. While I hold out some vain hope that “maybe the fire didn’t get all the way to the creek,” I know that it did, at least in certain spots.

According to the website, the park will be open in the spring, sometime in March. By then, the blackened hillsides may be covered in wildflowers, and perhaps some trees will start to take root.

Perhaps I should have titled this post “Gone…For Now.”

* * *

I miss her, that canyon of so many memories.

I’m not the kind of guy who usually bonds to a particular place, or anthropomorphizes nature, but The Secret Spot always felt like it somehow knew me. For years, no matter how full the small parking lot, there was always one empty space when I pulled in. Whenever I drove in the entrance road, I would say “Hello, my old friend” quietly, under my breath, a whisper. Silly, but true.

It was like seeing an old friend who was always happy you’d stopped by.

And the moment they open the park, I will be there to see her again.



  1. I’m sorry you lost your Secret Spot. For now. It sounds like a lovely place to be.

  2. The trail/boulders/Geekhiker’s Own Spot sound fantastic…but the broken leg…yowza…

  3. Wow … your “old friend” will heal up and come back stronger than ever. Next year it will be like discovering a whole new Secret Spot.

    I always worry about injuring myself while hiking or getting stuck some place that I can’t get out off. Doesn’t stop me from hiking though. It looks like it doesn’t stop you either.

  4. This arguably the best post I’ve read on your blog so far. It is wonderfully written.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about your special friend:)

  5. I got all choked up reading this.


    The best thing about nature is that it comes back.

  6. Wendy – Thanks.

    ruby – It was. The thing about the broken leg was that it taught me a lot about myself, namely how I would react in that kind of situation. Very reassuring knowledge.

    Homer-Dog – I hope so, though it will take time for the willow trees to return. Glad that the fears don’t stop you, but I suspect you’re not the kind of hiker who does silly things either (like expect cell phone reception where there are no towers or go out with too little water).

    Gany – Thank you for the compliment.

    just a girl – I kinda did writing it, too. When she does come back, hopefully they’ll let me in the park so I can see it.

  7. Eep! This is such sad news. And I know that I should be more sympathetic and be paying more attention to the fact that this spot is gone, but 3 miles from the car and injured? That’s sort of my nightmares. I honestly think it’s in the top 5.

  8. brandy – To be honest, it was a nightmare of mine before it happened. It’s surprising what one can learn about oneself, sometimes.

  9. I can’t fathom NOT having pictures of a spot like that, regardless of if you have such vivid memories of it or not.

  10. I’m late to find your blog…but *sigh* it’s horrible and wonderful how nature destroys and brings things back…hopefully it will be back sooner rather than later…what a picture you have painted…I’m only sorry I didn’t get a chance to see it.

  11. It’s sad when a favorite place is gone or changed or something bad happens in it. I loved your post!

  12. Aaron – It’s surprising how little I don’t mind not having pictures. I am, however, thinking I may start taking some as the place starts to renew itself.

    cripkitty – Ah, there is no “late”, welcome to my humble blog, and thanks for the warm thoughts.

    dobegil – Thanks for the thoughts. I noted the comment on your blog as well, so I see we’re on the same page. 🙂

  13. That was so beautifully written I felt I could ‘see’ the place and it is amazing.

  14. […] meet my friends and see a bit of the city. One of the last places we went was the Secret Spot, the significance of which long-time readers will be fully aware […]

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