After gaining worldwide notoriety as the place where big Chuck and his posse took drugs, had orgies and planned horrible murder sprees, Spahn Ranch will forever be one of LA's strangest and most intriguing locations.
Nowadays, the ranch is basically nonexistent; its remnants are fully blended into a maze of trees, shrubs and poison oak. In fact, it's so nondescript that it's incredibly difficult to find the entrance without video assistance of some kind, which you can check out here. Follow the steps closely, and please be careful when crossing that busy street, as it’s truly a death trap (no pun intended).
Pretty nondescript, eh? Looks like your average beaten path in the Valley, and certainly not the kind of place that spawned the brethren who terrorized LA and basically killed off the freewheeling 60s, right? Well, there's actually an eerie feeling that shoots across your body as you make your way through the shrubbery-- but that might just be the fumes from the discarded paint cans that are strewn about.
Aside from soaking up the evil vibes of the place, the real attraction is the infamous Manson family cave. Immortalized in a Time magazine photo/piece about the clan, the rock remains untouched since the 1969 photos, and offers fans the chance to channel their inner Mansonite for a morbid photo op.
Look! A disillusional goth kids paradise! Charles Manson's unkempt hair, filthy clothes and rank body odor has touched this stuff! Breathe it in...
The whole experience is a little creepy and weird, but a good reminder of LA’s dark hippie past. As a bonus offering: there are a couple of cool carvings in the rocks around the cave, some old car parts left by the clan and lots of nifty garbage left by wannabe followers (they apparently love Slurpees).
HOW THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN?
The ranch took its namesake from George Spahn, a dairy farmer who purchased the dry/highly flammable property in 1948.
Western movies were all the rage at the time, so the ranch immediately started banking it in the Hollywood location fee business. However, by the 1960s funds had gone South and Georgie was struggling to make ends meet, and something had to give. Enter big Chuck Manson– the man who would make the name Spahn synonymous with murder.
Old, partially blind and lonely by the late 1960s, Spahn agreed to let the scraggly hippie and his "friends" crash on the property. In exchange for free rent, the family cleaned up the barns and did chores, while the girls (allegedly) "took care" of old Georgie when he was feeling a bit frisky. The ranch would actually become the home base for the family during their– how should I say it properly– "formative" years (ie the Tate-Labianca murders in 1969), and served as the site for many of their orgies, drug trips and misguided philosophical discussions.
The downfall of the cult and subsequent arrests that followed would ultimately force Manson and co. to leave the property, and the ranch would burn down in a wildfire on September 26, 1970.
Following George's death in 1974, the area became part of the Santa Susana Historic Park region, and now houses a variety of hiking trails, horse riding activities and rock climbing. Weird and ironic, eh?
Aside from housing a bunch of killers and lunatics, Spahn Ranch had served as the filming locations for many western-themed TV shows (Bonanza, The Lone Ranger) and movies (The Creeping Terror, Duel in the Sun) of the era.
Manson Family Cave and Spahn Ranch