Trekking Through History: In Search of the 'Manson Caves'
By Reza Gostar - November 29, 2011The Santa Susana Mountains encompass thousands of acres of pristine chaparral habitat, but within their seemingly peacefully rugged beauty and rich history hides a dark past. Located inside what is now Santa Susana State Historic Park, Spahn Ranch (also known as the Spahn Movie ranch) was the site where Charles Manson and his followers hatched the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders.
Once used as a filming location for various western-themed movies and television shows including the Lone Ranger, Spahn Ranch was named after its owner, George Spahn, who bought it in 1948. Spahn allowed Manson and his followers to live on his property between 1968-1969 in exchange for work and sexual favors from the group’s women.
Rumor has it that not far from the ranch’s borders, Manson and his followers often congregated in the surrounding caves of the Santa Susana Mountains. The group would huddle together in the hidden sandstone crevices now commonly called the “Manson Caves,” taking part in drug-induced orgies and plotting the end of the world. However, whether the “Manson Caves” are fact or fiction remains a mystery, though many claim that they have found their mysterious location.
According to the book Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius by Gary Valentine Lachman, Manson was very keen on tunnels and caves, and would actively search for a hole that would lead him and his followers to an underground city were they would sit out Helter Skelter or their version of the Apocalypse.
It is important to note that some say the hole Manson was looking for was located in Death Valley and was nowhere near Chatsworth. Despite this fact, however, rumors, myths and urban legends have led many to the hills above the Chatsworth Trail tunnels to seek out the lore and history of the Manson Family.
One of most popular entrances into the area is from Chatsworth Park North. To get there drive north on Topanga Canyon toward the 118 Freeway and make a left on Chatsworth Street. Follow street signs leading to the easy-to-find park. From the parking lot, head across the basketball courts toward the back picnic tables and begin your journey there.
The area is ripe with spectacular sets of rock formations and requires some minor climbing and bouldering to move beyond trail tunnels, which can be accessed relatively easily. Despite the fact that the area has been defaced with graffiti, it’s still beautiful and rich with life. Moving through laurel sumac, a variety of sages and coyote bush, the path moves past the Chatsworth train tunnels, and signs of the urban pollution soon dissipate in the distance.
Upon exploring the area, one will soon discover an abundance caves—whether any of them were actually used by Manson or his followers may never be known. Regardless, the journey is still worth taking and remember, there is no actual path, so it does help to carry a compass in case one does get disoriented. After all, you wouldn’t want to get lost in these hills especially after dark.
Think you have found the actual Manson Caves? Share your photos and stories below.
A Reader Comments: (better than the original article actually)
Handsomish - Posted - 10:06pm on Tuesday, November 29, 2011
"The Manson caves were on the west side of Simi Valley. We used to go exploring them and they were actually quite creepy. For reasons beyond the short history of that crazy group. There were tunnels from where the water had eroded the earth that you would slide down into larger rooms. The tunnels were so narrow at some points that you feared getting stuck. There was no way you could climb back up the way you came. There were also many choices of tunnels, so you had to make sure you went down the correct one as well. You had to trust the person who guided you. When you reached the last room, you had to climb a rope of about 30 feet in length to get out of the cave. I only did it once, had no desire to relive that tension. Cement was eventually poured into the entrances, and the exits sealed as well to prevent, we presumed, rescue calls from those stranded inside. But it just as well may have been to prevent the seekers of the macabre".