Mule to M.A.S.H. in Malibu
By Pat Fish
Tobe Mule and I on the set where the TV show M.A.S.H. was filmed.
This looks like a simple straightforward trail, but I promise you there were dozens of trail turns and twists and LOTS of steep and treacherous single track sections.
We met up in the big field next to what used to be the Western Town, on the Paramount Movie Ranch. Now a State Park, it suffered great devastation during the November 2018 Woolsey Fire, and much of what had become familiar to me is now greatly changed.
So 18 riders headed out toward Mulholland Drive to start our day.
The first part of the trail follows along a creek, and is level and easy.
But ahead of us loom the mountains, and we know we will be tracking up them before long.
This property was once owned by Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox, and used for filming Westerns. For centuries before that it was inhabited by the aboriginal people the Chumash, and their village of Humaliwo was located inside what is now this Park.
The first long stretch goes through Yearling Valley, named after a movie shot here starring Ronald Reagan.
After the filming he bought the ranch and raised horses there, and then when he became Governor of California he donated it to the State to be part of this larger park system. Another big part of the land was donated by actor Bob Hope.
Reagan was an avid horseman and came out on Sundays to his 400 acre ranch to relax and ride.
I expected to see Reagan's old farmhouse and stables...but there was nothing left. I took this photo in 2017.
Where they had stood there were now some temporary buildings and rubbish. Another part of history gone.
Once above that valley the burnt trees left behind by the fire were everywhere. Some species making a comeback, others just silent sentinels.
Tobe and I followed at the end of the line, getting a look at everything and able to appreciate the nature without being goosed by someone riding too close behind us.
We went up a long rocky canyon very much filled with hikers and bicycle riders, all making the pilgrimage out to the M.A.S.H. site.
The fire changed the character of the plants here, with fast-growing saplings and bushes replacing the former trees.
But it was obvious that a lot of work has been done on the trail, supporting the heavy use.
Along the way, one stopping place favored by hikers is the Udell Gorge, a beautiful reservoir set amongst the towering stone formations.
But our destination lay ahead...
The first part of the M.A.S.H set on the trail is this old Korean War Era ambulance. Many of the members of our group lined up to be photographed next to it.
Of course Tobe and I had to pose.
And my traveling companion Noe and his stallion Marcos posed also
This screen shot from the show is either this prop ambulance or one like it.
And searching for images sent me down a rabbit hold of information about the show.
The Korean War lasted under 4 years, but the show itself ran 11 years.
Disclaimer, I never watched it. In 1972 I made a geas, a deal with the Gods, that if I stopped watching TV I could be self-employed all my working life. So all of the years of M.A.S.H. I was being stubborn and keeping to my promise. (And still do...)
This is the set, as all who watched the show will remember it.
And you can identify the matching ridge crest in this photo, and see that what is left now is the signpost and a rusted out old vehicle. The car has a holder for cameras so you can gather around, as these riders are doing, to take your commemorative photo with the sign.
So who was I to resist?
Even before the recent fire this ambulance was in this condition.
Off to the side the State has kindly erected this shade structure, which always has some exhausted hikers sitting under it. And behind it on the hill is the landing pad used for helicopters in the show.
In reading up about the show after I got home I learned that the final episode that played in 1983
Which can be watched at this YouTube link:
was 2 1/2 hours long and viewed by a whopping 77% of the people watching TV that night, 121.6 million people.
I admit that I had the curiosity to watch it, and even without an emotional investment in the characters it was a very moving experience.
I highly recommend a viewing. I simply wasn't aware that subjects of such depth and complexity were being portrayed on TV at that time. Now I understand a little better why people seem so moved to make the hike all the way out to stand where it was filmed.
Always before I had just looked at it as dramatic landscape, but now it feels like a place where something important happened.
There is a world of fan pages, and memorabilia for sale, and I now wonder how many people's life choices were influenced by these role model characters.
But it was time to go.
Under a majestic sky portending rain we turned to track our way back to the rigs.
With 18 riders the long line can stretch out quite a ways on the trail.
And from the vantage of Lookout Mountain we could see far across the landscape.
The Park has 8,215 acres and many miles of trails, online websites describe the possible hikes.
Soon it will be very hot in these mountains, but for today we had dramatic clouds overhead to accompany our appreciation of the wild land.
When we got back to the starting point Trail Boss Paul led the group over to see what is left of the Western Town.
It is a sad sight. There is talk of rebuilding it, but it won't be the same backdrop that made so many people feel as if they'd been there before, having seen it in so many movies.
I used to thrill to ride through the town, on my very own mule, feeling like a star in my own Western melodrama.
This was 2017.
And everyone has seen movies in which some cowboy swain is sitting on his horse below this balcony, serenading a senorita.
Or a stunt man takes a dive off that balcony onto a pile of mattresses below.
But on a positive note
Tobe Mule knew the rigs were near and was eager to get back to them, get naked and have a slew of carrots as his reward for a three hour workout.
As we passed by the trailer of the rental horse wranglers I was filled with gratitude that I have my very own mule, and opportunities to ride in such interesting places in good company.
As they said at the end of the last episode of M.A.S.H.
May 23, 2021 08:11 AM
One of the best TV shows of all time. The movie and book were also superb.
May 23, 2021 08:59 AM
You enjoy reading "Catch 22". Some of the same black humor/acerbic take.
May 23, 2021 08:03 AM
Good article. :-)
May 22, 2021 05:20 PM
Been there. Even though not a mash fan it was fun to see where history was made.
May 22, 2021 04:59 PM
I used to hike there all the time with a former girlfriends parents great place..