State Route 27 winds from Topanga State Beach in Malibu to the 101 freeway in the San Fernando Valley. Accessed from either direction, it doesn’t take long before mobile phone reception disappears and dirt road junctions flash by, marked with banks of ramshackle mailboxes. Around a few more bends, and hand-painted signs start appearing at the side of the road: fresh berries, homemade hot sauce, Theatricum Botanicum… The history of Topanga Canyon is filled with bygone lives of actors, artists, back-to-the-land types, musicians, and nudists. Its bohemian roots give bloom to life in the canyon today. At first a weekend hide-away for Hollywood actors, the canyon took on a new dimension in the 1950s and 1960s. The likes of Wallace Berman and George Herms found the rolling hills and wild eucalyptus the perfect backdrop for seriously unserious revolutionary experiments in art while Will Geer formed his famous theater that continues to enchant audiences with Shakespeare played out under summer evening skies. Topanga Canyon has seen its dark times, too, but there is a magical feeling up there. Collective creativity mixed with rugged independence and surrender to nature lend to the uniquely seductive air of the canyon.
Around three hours drive from Los Angeles is Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest (and the nation’s second largest) state park. This 600,000 acre piece of the Colorado desert is bordered to the north by the great wilderness of the Santa Rosa mountain range, a relatively low but rugged country with no paved roads in, out, or through, home to the endangered Desert Bighorn Sheep and miles of untouched backcountry. The dramatic, lonely expanse of the Anza Borrego valley is dotted with heritage sites where ancient pictographs can be found in the rocks, and the park’s paths and hillsides are painted with wildflower blooms every spring. There are a few established campgrounds at the edges of the park and a handful of backcountry sites along the 110 miles of hiking trails that scroll through the park, but Anza Borrego seems to have been made for overlanding. With 500 miles of dirt roads, it’s heaven for high-clearance vehicles. Bring along your favorite camp supper, a container for your fire, and your leave-no-trace skills, and camp anywhere in this gem of a desert park.
Mount Whitney’s distinction as the highest peak in the contiguous states draws hikers and mountaineers from around the world who seek the challenge of climbing to the top of California. At the southern end of the majestic Sierra Nevada range, Mount Whitney’s granite peak rises 14,505 feet above sea level. John Muir made the first ascent of what is now known as the Mountaineer’s Route on the eastern side of Mount Whitney in 1873. When he returned with companions two years later, he took a different route but was no less impressed by the mountain: “We left the summit about noon and swooped to the torrid plains before sundown, as if dropping out of the sky.”
Julius Shulman and Juergen Nogai, Sunnylands, A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Emmons, 1966, photo 2007, © Juergen Nogai, courtesy Palm Springs Art Museum.
It’s the final weekend of the annual Palm Springs Modernism Week. Over the course of the event’s 11-day “week”, film screenings, home tours, lectures, and parties celebrate mid-century American architecture and design in Palm Springs, where modernist buildings hold pride of place in the historical record. On Saturday, take a look at an exhibition of vintage trailers and attend a talk by musician and architecture blogger Moby at the ACE Hotel. Sunday’s highlights include the Modernism Yard Sale and a show of contemporary design and prefabrication technologies carrying on and expanding the tradition of the Case Study Houses.
Being as much an idea as a place, Malibu, California is Proustian in its ability to conjure a range of sense memories, even if one has never set foot there. The rough ocean, the rugged, eroding cliffs, and the desert hills rising up above the shoreline make Malibu feel like an adventure, and the salt air, dense fog, and late afternoon sun are mesmerizing. Originally inhabited by the Chumash, Malibu is now home to secret neighborhoods of Hollywood types and ranchers alike, disguised behind stands of cypress and bougainvillea or set back down dusty private roads in the canyons. In her essay “Quiet Days in Malibu”, Joan Didion reflected on her fascination with Malibu, her fear of rattlesnakes and seasonal wildfires tempered by the comforting presence of a dedicated community of residents. Like much of the surrounding region, there is always the potential of violence lurking amid the beauty. But a “quiet day” on one of its beaches is a penultimate escape: the Malibu coastline is only twenty-one miles long, but sometimes it seems like it goes on forever.