With all the hustle and bustle that goes on throughout the day, it’s easy to forget just how much the area where you live has to offer. If you take a good, hard look, you’ll see just how incredible your own backyard truly is. I just so happen to have a pretty spectacular back yard myself. Los Angeles! What hasn’t been said about this amazing place? Hollywood, Tinsletown, the incredible beaches, Nazi compounds……wait, what?!
Forget everything you knew about Los Angeles, the Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame, and head off the beaten path and into an alternate reality that never was.
While the history of the area is jumbled up and missing some pieces, the basics are as follows. In 1933 a Jesse Murphy purchased the land and began to develop it. Much of the legend around Murphy Ranch is based in oral history, but supposedly Ms. Murphy was a pseudonym – or someone who never even existed. The Ranch was under the control of a mysterious man known only as “Herr Schmidt,” who claimed a psychic vision told him America would lose World War II and that once the dust settled over the ruins of Los Angeles he and his band of sympathizers would emerge from Rustic Canyon to help usher in the new fascist state in America. As we all know, the Germans lost. Around the time of Pearl Harbor the residents of the ranch were taken into custody by the FBI. The property eventually had over 3000 fruit and nut trees, a complicated irrigation and water storage system, a functioning power house, machine room, and bomb shelter. Multiple cement stairs were built up the side of the neighboring hill to help with the farming and to patrol the area. There were even plans to build a four story mansion as well, as multiple libraries, making it a compound fit for a Führer. But events, unexpected to them occurred and the mansion never happened. All that remains of the compound are he power station, water tank, gardens and the collapsed machine shed.
While the finding the trailhead is a little confusing(mainly because of no fixed address) it’s quite simple once you reach it. I’ve included directions to the area and GPS coordinates at the bottom of the page, if needed. Murphy Ranch is in the middle of the Santa Monica Mountains, above Pacific Palisades, which is a nice neighborhood next to Malibu. The easiest way to get there is to plug in 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. There is a lot of street parking, just make sure you read the parking signs. Start walking 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.
Once you get to the yellow road block, continue on the dirt road for about another 2/3rds of a mile. There is 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. About 100 yards from the start of the fence is an opening to top of the stairs. If you don’t see this one there is another about 3 minutes further down the road, next to a water tank and about 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.
This first set of stairs plunges 500+ steps down into the canyon. Although the descent is pretty short, those 500+ steps calculate out to just under a 300 foot elevation drop. Once you hit the bottom of the stairs, you should see a dirt footpath off to your left, running between a clump of trees. This brings you to what looks like the old main road running through Murphy Ranch. Turn left, and follow the dirt and old concrete-ridden road for about 1/3 of a mile, bringing you to a fork in the road. Hang left and continue to the first set of ruins. mile mark, stay left at the fork in the road. Veering right will take you to the ruins of one of the compound’s several terraced gardens, but left takes you down toward the powerhouse and bomb shelter. The stretch of old road from the stairs to the ruins is quite pretty; very green, with groves of trees on either side of the road.
The first set of ruins you encounter is the old abandoned power building, with just about every inch covered in graffiti. The powerhouse itself is pretty well kept. And regardless of the graffiti, it seems structurally sound.
A short walk back on the road north from the powerhouse brings you up to the old machine shed. As you can see the machine shed isn’t much more than some broken down pieces of rubble, but it is still fun to explore. Just be careful when around the ruins.
All that’s left of the gardens are the overgrown cement beds. If you veered to the right at the fork, you would have stumble across the gardens first. If not, head back to the powerhouse and take the short set of stairs up to the gardens. While the raised cement beds are overgrown, there is a lot of them. It’s neat to think what they looked like in their hey day. The view of the powerhouse from above is interesting as well.
Walking through the garden brings you to the base of that second set of concrete steps from the fire road. As you proceed up these steps they will lead to a dirt road. Head left and proceed a half mile up the road. This takes you to the entrance of the compound and to the Main Gate.
If you go right, it will take you back to the first set of steps. 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.
The gate was the main entrance to the compound years ago. It has been kept together well. You can either hop over one of the crumbling walls or slip through the opening in the gate and head back up Sullivan Ridge Fire Road and back to your car. On the way back you will see what looks like another entrance down to the ruins if you miss the first one.
1. While you’re in a populated neighborhood, the trails are very seldom occupied. Make sure to leave a note in your car, as well as let a friend or family member know of your whereabouts.
2. Depending on the time you go, it can get chilly, especially in the evening. Be sure to dress in layers and bring plenty of water. And don’t forget your camera!
3. With any abandoned structure, make sure you use the utmost care and safety when around the area. Last thing we want is for someone to get hurt. That being said, Joeography claims no liability for anything that may happen while on this adventure and you, as the hiker accept all responsibilities for your actions.
4. Parts of the compound were chained up during my last visit. Make sure you read any posted signs. Parking is free as mentioned above, but check the signs just in case.
5. Here are directions to the trail head down to Murphy Ranch. There is also a map below.
Directions: From Sunset Boulevard, 3 miles west of the 405, turn north at the light onto Capri Drive. After 1/3 mile continue through the traffic circle, remaining on Capri Drive for another 1/3 mile until it comes to and end at Casale Road. Sullivan Ridge Fire road begins to the left. Find street parking to the right or on an adjacent road.
Trailhead address: Capri Drive & Casale Road, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Trailhead coordinates: 34.061097, -118.504121 (34° 03′ 39.94″N 118° 30′ 14.83″W)
Above all, be safe and have fun! And remember to never stop exploring!