The Return of Elephant Rock*

By Chris Conway

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The Return of Elephant Rock*
Conway took the first photo (see cover) of the series in January 2021, a few months before the Palisades Fire swept through the state park. The second photo (above) was taken shortly after the fire. With the chaparral burned to ashes, the silhouette of an elephant’s head is barely revealed. (See inset) Source: en.wikipedia.org eagle rock topanga
The tall sandstone cliffs of Eagle Rock are one of Topanga’s most popular hiking destinations. If you’re planning a hike in Topanga, Eagle Rock is an excellent destination. The tall sandstone cliffs offer a great view of the surrounding mountains and the perfect place to sit down for a snack before heading back down the trail. In the last few years the park around the rock has gone through an incredible transformation and is in the process of regrowth.
After winter rains the valley started to turn bright green. With this year’s massive rainfall totals only time will tell what new seeds will sprout. Once again the valley will fill with brush, and eventually a fire will sweep through starting the cycle over. (Photo: February 2023)
Before the fire
The prominent cliffs were skirted with dry, shaggy chaparral so dense that new seeds had nowhere to sprout. The chaparral of Southern California is a fire-dependent ecosystem and the destructive forces of nature hadn’t cleared the land for regrowth in decades. As the drought lingered and fire season extended to all times of the year, it felt as though a fire would flare up at any moment. When it happened, the firefighters did a great job protecting the community, stopping the flames at the firebreak before it got too close to any houses.

After the fire
Returning to the park after the fire felt like a visit to a different planet. The remains of burned brush stood tall and ash covered the ground. In the months after the fire you could see regrowth beginning. Fresh sprouts started to grow from the base of tall burnt shrubs and along banks of the creek below.

After the rain In the first winter after the fire (2022) we didn’t get much rain, but there was plenty of new growth in the valley. A year after the fire, the blackened ground had turned green again, the ash acting as a fertilizer and helping the new seedlings along. With all of the rain in the past few months, the hills are full of life. Lush green vegetation is everywhere and the fire zone is full of new plants. A rainbow of colored wildflowers can be seen on a hike through the burn zone, some of which have returned with the help of the fire. Elephant Rock Before it was named Eagle Rock, it was known as Elephant Rock. Looking at it from just north of Eagle Rock, you can make out the large head of
After the rain
In the first winter after the fire (2022) we didn’t get much rain, but there was plenty of new growth in the valley. A year after the fire, the blackened ground had turned green again, the ash acting as a fertilizer and helping the new seedlings along. With all of the rain in the past few months, the hills are full of life. Lush green vegetation is everywhere and the fire zone is full of new plants. A rainbow of colored wildflowers can be seen on a hike through the burn zone, some of which have returned with the help of the fire.

Elephant Rock
Before it was named Eagle Rock, it was known as Elephant Rock. Looking at it from just north of Eagle Rock, you can make out the large head of an elephant with caves making up the eyes. The trunk was made up of another rock below it. By 2021, with dense brush covering the ground, the elephant was hidden, and Eagle Rock was the only name of this iconic Topanga landform. Now that the dense brush is gone perhaps people will call it Elephant Rock again; or maybe Falcon Rock for the birds living in some of the caves. We can hope some day Eagles will return to Topanga and enjoy soaring through the Santa Monica mountains once again.
The forces of nature in Topanga can be incredibly strong, with extreme circumstances arising regularly. For decades the vegetation in Topanga State Park had turned from lush to brush, and with the extended drought, nature was eager to take back some of its power. After decades of growth it was only a matter of time for a fire to turn the brush to ash and the cycle to start over again.

*Author’s Note: Wikipedia mentions Elephant Rock as the original name, probably before it was renamed Eagle Rock. I lived off of Cheney in the ’80s, a free-range kid who was allowed to roam the park as long as I took my dog and didn’t go too far. There’s a large rock with caves on the way up the trail, which has a nest-like structure on top that may have been home to eagles; I found droppings with small bones in them back then.
2023: Regrowth in the fire zone shows the beauty rising from the tenacious forces of nature in the wake of extreme circumstances. (Inset) California buttercups (Ranunculus californicus); (above) Purple Lupine (Lupinus succulentus) is always a welcome harbinger of spring.

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