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For much of the past century, Paramount Ranch has served the needs of an entertainment industry always hungry for rustic outdoor scenery. Since 1980, however, the core of this property has been in the hands of the National Park Service. The park service set about restoring Western Town, a set where exteriors for hundreds of TV western episodes were shot in the 1950s and '60s. From 1991 to 1998, the property was used as the outdoor set for the television series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Today, the false fronts and dusty streets at Western Town serve primarily curious tourists.

Paramount Ranch is a popular spot for guided walks, but you can explore on your own just as easily. About four miles of trails lace the 326-acre property. A good bet this time of year is the 0.5-mile Coyote Trail. It starts behind Western Town, goes up a ravine, and circles back along a chaparral-dotted slope. Although they are fading fast, some spring wildflowers may still be seen -- woolly blue curls, owl's clover, verbena, mallow, and more. Near the uppermost part of the trail, there's a short spur leading up to a picnic site perched on a spot with a commanding view of Western Town, the brooding Goat Buttes to the southeast, and the dark summit ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains. The more-or-less pristine, mountainous area to the southeast is the huge Malibu Creek State Park, which sprawls over about 16 square miles of territory and contains plenty of movie sets familiar from movie and television features such as Tarzan, Planet of the Apes, and M*A*S*H.

Near Western Town you can follow portions of a former auto racetrack, the southern part of which has been incorporated into the Medea Creek Trail. There's a nice passage along the bank of Medea Creek, and an easy climb of a hillock near the intersection of Cornell Road and Mulholland Highway. At the top of that hillock you can look upon the soaring profile of Sugarloaf Peak just west, which (according to hearsay, at least) was the inspiration for the familiar mountain in the Paramount Pictures logo which appears at the start of many an old movie.

For more information about Paramount Ranch, including its program of guided interpretive walks, visit the National Park Service website www.nps.gov/samo.

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