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The 65-acre Peter Strauss Ranch, now a postage-stamp patch of open space within the gerrymandered Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, was purchased from its former owner, actor and producer Peter Strauss, in 1983. In the 1930s and '40s, however, the property was known as Lake Enchanto, a resort and amusement park, boasting the largest swimming pool west of the Rockies, a terrazzo dance floor, and amusement rides. The upper reach of Malibu Creek (known in these parts as Triunfo Canyon) was dammed to create the lake, which then became popular for boating and fishing. During the 1960s -- long after Lake Enchanto's commercial demise -- plans were afoot to develop the property as an elaborate Disneyland-style park, but they were never realized.

Today's Lake Enchanto bears scant resemblance to the resort it used to be. The dam washed out in 1960 and has not been rebuilt. The great swimming pool lies unfilled. A picturesque stone-and-wood bath house remains. Other than guided walks, and occasional special events such as dances, plays, art shows, and musical performances held on the grounds, this quiet refuge caters to a relatively small number of hikers, picnickers, and curious folk.

Kids will find plenty to keep them busy here. From spring into early summer, the shallow, sluggish stream is alive with thousands of tadpoles. Careful investigation may reveal crayfish, newts, and possibly pond turtles. Just south of the ranch house, there's a playground in a eucalyptus grove overlooking the remains of Lake Enchanto's dam. The one-mile-long Peter Strauss Trail, one of the most attractive short paths in the Santa Monica Mountains, begins here. Shaded by live oaks and flanked by a ground-hugging carpet of ferns and poison oak, the easy-to-follow path zigzags up a hillside and loops back toward the ranch house.

Peter Strauss Ranch, open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, is located three miles south of Highway 101 at Agoura Hills by way of Kanan Road and Troutdale Drive. When you reach Mulholland Highway at the end of Troutdale, turn east, cross the bridge spanning the creek, and then turn in to the large dirt lot on the south side. Go back over the bridge on foot to reach the ranch entrance -- or just make a beeline across the creek, which is not likely to carry much water this dry season.

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