A geologic story of deposition

Red Rock Canyon, reminiscent of the cinematic Wild West, lies hidden within the Santa Monica Mountains

Scenic Red Rock Canyon hides amid the scruffy slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains, not far from the San Fernando Valley communities of Woodland Hills and Calabasas. Slabs of cavernous sandstone and cobbly conglomerate tilted sharply upward in the canyon tell a geologic story of deposition by gentle currents and massive floods, later faulting and folding of the resulting sedimentary rock layers, and ongoing weathering and erosion. The beige and purplish red colors of the rock strata contrast nicely with the greens and grays of oaks, sycamores, and chaparral -- altogether making the canyon reminiscent of the cinematic Wild West. Herein I'll describe an approach to Red Rock Canyon from its top (west) side, ideal for a weekend stroll or mountain-bike ride of four miles, round trip. In addition, hikers (no dogs or bikes allowed) may want to try a side trip up the slope north of the canyon using the narrow Red Rock Canyon Trail.

From Woodland Hills or Calabasas, take Mulholland Highway southwest approximately five miles to Stunt Road on the left. Drive one mile on Stunt Road Park to a large turnout at mile marker 1.0. After parking there, cross the pavement and pick up the fire road that cuts across a hillside to the north. When you reach a junction in a saddle at 0.7 mile, you're at the head (top end) of Red Rock Canyon. Turn right on the crooked road descending into the canyon, enjoying the scenery, which becomes more interesting as the canyon becomes narrower and deeper.

At 1.5 mile, on the left, the one-mile-long Red Rock Canyon Trail crosses the canyon's seasonal stream, heads abruptly upward along a ridge, and climbs circuitously to the north rim of the canyon. The side trip is worth it if the weather's clear and cool, otherwise probably not. After another 0.5 mile on the canyon road, you come to a picnic site on the grounds of an old Boy Scout camp, and water for drinking. Keep going on the road just a bit farther and you'll discover a spectacular little gorge.

The gorge and picnic site are accessible from the east by car, which pretty much negates the fun of traveling to them on your own power. If you wish to get to the canyon this way, however, take Old Topanga Road four miles south from Mulholland Highway, or two miles northwest from Topanga Canyon Boulevard, to Red Rock Road. Turn west and drive 0.8 mile to the gorge and a vehicle gate just beyond it.

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