One night 500 Californians were killed and thrown into the ocean. There were smashed and drowned by a fifty meter wall of water as it tumbled violently down a series of valleys. Bodies were recovered as far south as Mexico. The catastrophic collapse of the St. Francis Dam was the second biggest tragedy in state history, and the epic downfall of California's favorite son: William Mulholland.
Despite the dramatic story and stunning setting this spot is rarely visited. Southern California's grand disaster has become a traveler's secret spot. Here are my recommendations if you'd like to discover it:
1. Hike Up the Abandoned Road: Take San Francisquito Canyon Road about a hundred meters north of San Francisquito Motorway. On the east side of the street you'll see this abandoned road barricaded off. Walk towards the lush forest growing where the old lake water pushed against the dam. Emerging from the forest there will be piles of rubble to your left and a small hill to your right. These are both worth exploring.
2. Scramble over the Rubble to the Left: Climbing over big chunks of the old dam notice metal pipes and other curiosities poking out of the ruins. Once you surmount the first pile you'll find a serene little creek and pool on the other side. It's a good spot for a tiny picnic. I took a dip on my first visit, but saw an unidentified snake slither off in the deep. There may also be more concrete with metal attachments underwater, so I'd advice against leaping in unless you thoroughly explore the depth.
3. Climb up the Ridge to the Right: After scrambling around the rubble to the left of the road, go back and scale that ridge on the other side. It has very clear remains of the dike which was a 3 meter extension of the old dam. From the top it's easy to see the exact placement of the doomed structure. Also, looking north, you get this gorgeous view of the forest, dramatically lush in contrast to the dry hills around. Notice your parked car off in the distance by the new road.
4. Head for the Big Rock in the Distance: From the ridge, looking across the rubble of the old dam, a prominent rock is visible. To get there drive down San Francisquito Motorway about 1.3 miles until a fireroad appears on the left. From there it's a fairly easy climb up to a T junction. Go left on the narrower trail which will lead straight to that rock. From the top one can see the remains of the entire old dam and trace the path of the water as it plowed down the valley before hooking a right around Castaic Junction, following the Santa Clara River Valley to the Pacific Ocean.
5. Extend your Exploration: To make a full day of the St. Francis Dam story, follow the water course down towards Ventura.
Before going, read the dramatic story of the St. Francis Dam and the rise and fall of Mulholland. It's a doozy of a tale which will make this adventure all the more impactful.
Do you feel anxious? There is a high amount of anxiety during coronavirus, but even before covid anxiety was a thing, it was pervasive in modern day life. I actually felt more of it pre-corona and the slow down of life during the pandemic helped me (forced me) to recenter. There were 5 things which helped me get a grip on this dehabilitating emotion, which I'm sharing in this video.
In future vids I may dive deeper into these specific topics. If your feeling coronavirus anxiety, or just high anxiety in general, these will help.
The best camera work in this video comes from:
Good books on Roman stoicism:
Guide to the Good Life
Marcus Aurelius' Meditations
I've divided the hike into degrees of difficulty (below). If you get to a point that seems to be bumping against your limits, the next phase is going to exceed them and put you in serious danger. Once you pass the first Horton Lake you can't count on anyone coming to the rescue if there is an accident. I'd guess the last Horton Lake sees a human once every two weeks at the most.
A few years back I was filming content in Serbia with my friend Max Sperber. It came to our attention that a unique situation was unfolding on the Danube river at the border to Croatia. Investigating this story landed us in hot water with two bodies of law enforcement. One of them is dogging us still to this day. What do you think about this whole hullabaloo?
America in divided on the use of masks. The news suggests that there are strong political stances on this. Here in Los Angeles it seems like usage is around 50%. What informs the perspective of those who don them vs. those who don't? In this video I'll share my rational for their use. I'm curious about the rational of those in the other camp. Is there a correlation between non-use and the breakdown of community in our country, or are people on both sides of the issue coming from altruism?
Over the last few years my friend Sashi De and I have been filming a Road Less Traveled, cuisine oriented spin off called Food Unknown. Four full episodes are now available on Youtube. Check them out and let me know what you think. I'm happy to answer any questions regarding the series in the comments.
What's the best way to measure your life and keep an eye on your direction?
Some of us take an look at the big picture on our birthdays, but often that chance for introspection is lost amidst celebratory energy. It's hard to really get deep with yourself in the middle of friends, cake, and booze.
Most of us take a somber look at the bigger picture as we hit the decade milestones begin at 30. These moments for reflection are too infrequent. You may have made 30, but there is no guarantee you'll make 40, nor that you'll arrive in the best position.
Adding to this conundrum, nobody knows exactly how much time they have left on the clock. If I knew I had a day to live, I'd certainly play my cards differently than if I knew I had a month, or a year, or 10 years. I'm sure you would too.
Recently a friend suggested another way to divide up your life... and ancient way... a way that predates the clock and the calendar: Moon cycles.
I've just begun this technique but it's brilliant. On the new moon you reflect on your past cycle and you contemplate the next. As you watch the moon wax, it's a constant reminder to check in on how well you are living up to your intentions.
On my first attempt I set a one word intention for the next cycle: Community. As the moon has been waxing I ask myself, "Am I checking in on my family, my friends, and my neighbors?"
On the next new moon I will ask a new set of questions which were pulled from the excellent book Atomic Habits:
1. What went right this cycle?
2. What didn't go well?
3. What did I learn?
4. What are the core values that drive my life and work?
5. How am I living and working in integrity?
6. How can I set higher standards?
On the next new moon, give this technique a shot. I believe it to be an excellent tool to live our lives with more intentionality.
During the first season on Road Less Traveled I climbed up a hill with no idea what I'd find on top. I ascended over 500 steps following sounds of mythological music and voices reading scripture. On top, I discovered myself in the monkey kingdom. Inside the temple, sitting like a crown on the summit, the resident priest dropped some wisdom on me. Over the years I've chewed on his words, and this is what I've learned.
I'm Jonathan Legg
The road has been my greatest teacher.. challenging stagnant beliefs, disarming prejudices, and developing understanding of others. I hope the content on this blog will bring a sliver of that juju to you.