Posted by: GeekHiker | December 17, 2007


The Saturday before last, unable to resist temptation any longer, I drove out to The Secret Spot.

I went out again this Saturday, making it twice in two weeks, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

It was funny, but it was like I couldn’t stay away. No matter the condition of the place, I just had to see it, say “hello”. I’ve alluded to the place being like an old friend to me before, and I had to wish my old friend a speedy recovery.

It still fascinates me that I don’t regret not having taken any pictures of the place over the years. I have no idea why. It’s what it was and it isn’t there anymore, and I’m surprisingly okay with that fact. I’m also amazed how strong my memories are: even now I can lean back, close my eyes, and everything I remember is so vivid.

I’m no fool (at least in this regards, anyway): The canyon is chaparral and riparian woodland, and fire is part of its natural cycle. Sad as I may be that the canyon burned, I always knew in the back of my mind that it was coming, someday.

The reason I went out last Saturday, for the second time in two weeks? Believe it or not, it was because I’d left my camera at home the first time.

After Aaron’s comment on the “Gone” post an idea popped into my head: since the place would be starting over, starting as something new, why not photograph it this time around, starting as soon as I could?

Although I’ve never really wanted to before, I’ve found the idea of starting to photograph the canyon as it regrows to be exciting somehow.

[As a side note, five people were arrested for starting the fire at the top of the canyon. This is pretty rare (most people who start fires such as this are never caught), but apparently they were discovered through receipts from buying wood & such at the grocery store & videotape surveillance footage. From what I’ve read after the fire started to spread, they left the scene without alerting authorities or residents in the area, and it’s because of that fact that the prosecutor wants to throw the book at them. I figure the truth will come out in court, so I’m not concerning myself much about it, but if they were the one’s stupid enough to start a fire in dry brush during a Santa Ana wind condition, well, let’s just say that I hope justice will be served.]

Of course, I can’t get into the canyon yet, but I did stop at the front gate where a ranger sat parked and chatted with him for an hour.

He was kind enough to let me photograph from just inside the gate, looking down the entrance road to the completely denuded canyon walls.

Entrance Road

Looking into the canyon from the entrance road, all the vegetation gone from the canyon walls

Partially Burnt Trees

Note the partially burnt trees near the canyon entrance

From the ranger I learned that pretty much everything in the canyon was burnt, albeit in the hop-scotchy manner of a wildfire. The historical structures are gone, most of the trees are gone, but the parking area and visitor shelter just down the entrance area were completely skipped.

Burnt Hillside2

Burnt brush along the canyon wall

I have little doubt that my favorite areas up in the rockier sections were hit at this point, but I won’t know for sure until the park re-opens.

Needless to say, that was one of my biggest questions for the friendly ranger.

He told me the intention is to re-open the park at the end of March or so, depending on conditions. The problems right now are restoring trails and visitor facilities, as well as either stabilizing or razing the burnt structures to make them safe for the public. As well, with no vegetation on the hillsides, the danger of a mudslide after the winter rains is a distinct possibility.

Burnt Hill

Burnt chaparral and bare (usually grass-covered) hill above the canyon

They’d love to open it now, he said, but certain precautions have to be taken for obvious reasons. Luckily the public, including your humble GeekHiker, have been very good about staying out while rehabilitation is being done.

Solstice Panorama from Corral Canyon Road Small

Looking down toward the park entrance (just around the corner on the road). Note the burnt hillsides near the park entrance but the green vegetation on the left where the firefighters stopped the blaze.

Heading up the road, which rides along a ridge separating the major canyons, I could see clearly into of the tributary canyons, called Dry Canyon. The devastation is pretty self evident.

Dry Canyon Panorama small

Panorama of Dry Canyon

Finally I reached the top of the road, looking down into the canyon east of The Secret Spot. More moonscape here.

Corral Canyon Panorama Small

Looking down Corral Canyon

Brush Comparison

Where the fire-line was: burnt area on the right, unburnt on the left

Amazingly, the ridge between these two canyons has two small housing communities which were largely saved by the firefighters. Sadly, about 50 houses were lost, including the historical buildings in down in The Secret Spot where some park employees lived. They lost everything, and my heart goes out to them.

It’s funny, the historical buildings in the park: I’d always had a little pipe-dream that one day I would live in them myself. Become the “old man of the canyon” or some such thing. Oh, well.

Still, we did have a little bit of rain a couple of weeks ago. Not much, maybe a half inch or so. And while it’s a bit difficult to see in the photo that bit of rain was just enough to start what ‘ol Mother Nature does best at these times:

New Life




  1. Hey GH where is this!?

  2. It’s amazing how fast life comes back. It rained here last night and more is on its way – good for the green, not good for the mudslides. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by how fast it returns and how different, in a good way, it will be.

    Too bad about the historic building though. I would have liked to visit the “Old Geek Of The Canyon” sometime.

  3. I read this and it reminded me a lot of my home that burnt down. I never had any pictures of it (but it’s not very often people just take a place of a house, is it?), but the idea that you needed to go back, to see what it looked like after… to witness what it had become. I get all of that. I think taking pictures now as a new beginning is a great idea. I look forward to seeing how this special place changes for you as it becomes something new.

  4. Annnd we just commented on each others blogs at the same time. Spooky. I just got the shivers.

  5. *kb* – The Corral Fire was a few miles west of Malibu, just south of Malibu Creek State Park.

    Homer-Dog – Indeed. Hopefully the rains will be good (i.e. not too much all at once, which causes mudslides, but spread out) and things will grow back quickly. I think the hardest loss for me will be the trees, as they take more time to return.

    brandy – That’s interesting, I hadn’t thought of it that way before. Thanks for sharing. Heh heh, sorry to give you the shivers! 🙂

  6. You returned!

    Think about how great it’s gonna look in a few months and a couple rains (assuming it receives some!) from now. It’s gonna be as green as it gets! (Of course, it will take a long time to resemble just a small piece of it’s former glory — but that’s the cycle of life in nature.)

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