Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 29, 2018

On the Burma Road … Local Nature and History

I trust that somewhere near you is a scene, a park, a path you visit from time to time in different seasons, at different times of day. It might have a spectacular view, beautifully groomed gardens, or simply be a quiet place you consider “yours.” You’re all travelers, and I think that canny travelers know that no matter how many times we go somewhere, there’s always something new to be seen, even if it’s nothing more than how the foliage changes with the year or how a place looks in early morning, contrasted with late afternoon.

The Counselor and I hiked one of our places like that today: Burma Road.

Burma Road Brad Nixon 2495 sm

Once a farm road, Burma Road is actually a continuation of Crenshaw Boulevard, which heads directly south from near downtown Los Angeles, about 25 miles to the north. As you can see, the “road” is a drivable one, although it’s now traveled in vehicles only by park rangers, utility crews and emergency crews, as we saw a few years ago when there was a brush fire in the area:

backcountry fire support Brad Nixon 9037 (640x480)

For the rest of us, it’s a popular hike, a broad, hilly route through coastal sage environment. Here’s the view from near the start of the hike today, high on the headland of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, looking southeast, Burma Road curving below.

Portuguese Bend Reserve Brad Nixon 2497 sm

Burma Road winds 4.7 miles with a 1,000 foot descent to the bluffs at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. We’re headed that way, but we won’t go the entire distance.

Burma Road Brad Nixon 2506 sm

That folded landscape is eroded and collapsed, slowly sliding toward the ocean. Here in late May of a dry year, there are only a few patches of bright green. After last year’s record rainfall in southern California, it would have looked entirely different at this time, carpeted with wildly lush vegetation, including grasses and weeds eight feet high. This year’s browner view, product of much less rainfall, is more typical. We did, however, find a patch of the state flower, the California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), strutting its stuff.

Poppies M Vincent 2500 sm

It’s not wild land. It’s a nature preserve, protected now from the development you can see in the distance of the above photo, as well as in this one, shot from farther down the trail, looking southwest.

Portuguese Bend Reserve Brad Nixon 2501 sm

In 1846, when this was Alta California, part of Mexico, the peninsula was included in a land grant, and the then nearly-treeless land was a vast cattle ranch. In the 1880s, part of the United States, the land was leased to farmers of Japanese origin, who successfully introduced dry land farming on much of the peninsula

Now this area is one of a string of nature preserves along the peninsula. This one is Portuguese Bend Reserve, administered by the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy. Officially described as “coastal sage habitat,” it’s home to numerous mammals, reptiles and birds, including the threatened California Gnatcatcher and the Cactus Wren. The largest mammal is the coyote, although it has competing predators, including fox and bobcats, not to mention several winged raptors.

There was low cloud over the ocean today, obscuring the view of Santa Catalina Island, visible on clearer days, as in this photograph.

IMG_0188 Santa Catalina Brad Nixon (640x473)

About a dozen trails lead away from Burma Road, threading across the reserve’s canyons and ridges. All are interesting, some a bit more than moderately challenging in places where they encounter the steeper slopes, like this one, Water Tank Trail. Easy to get down, but a stiff climb in summer when the temperature often reaches 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Water Tank trail Brad Nixon 2504 sm

As you can see indicated on this trail sign for Ishibashi Trail, bicycles and equestrians share some of the trails with hikers.

Ishibashi trail Brad Nixon 2505 sm

Some Local History — and Prehistory

There’s more to consider while hiking the reserve than nature, although one could focus entirely on the view, climate, flora and fauna. I started my description of local history with that 1846 land grant, but the peninsula had been home to human beings for at least 5,000 years before the Spanish arrived in the 16th and 17th centuries. Tribes named the Tongva were hunter-gatherers, and lived off fish and shellfish from the shore, as well as wild fruit and nuts collected on land. They had basketmaking and pottery crafts, as well.

Much of the Land Conservancy’s efforts, in addition to preservation, are focused on restoring wild habitat to the reserves, which are heavily overrun with invasive species, exacerbated by the landscaping the tens of thousands of us who live here have introduced. We don’t see the same landscape the Tongvans inhabited.

As students of American history can anticipate, the Tongvans didn’t survive the advent of European settlement. They’re extinct, victims of the same treatment natives received across the continent from invaders with firearms, superior technology, and a radically different view of humankind.

Another group of people now absent from the reserve land are those farmers of Japanese descent who established thriving farms on the steep hillsides you see in the photos.

Portuguese Bend canyon Brad Nixon 2507 sm

Again, students of history will anticipate me. The farmers who leased the land were among the 110,000 or more individuals of Japanese descent ordered to internment camps by Executive Order 9066 in 1942, responding to concern that they represented an internal security threat during WWII, even though 62% of them were U.S. citizens. Most of the farmers never returned.

There were exceptions. About six families returned, including the Ishibashis, whose forebears, brothers Tomesco and Kumekichi Ishibashi, had emigrated from Japan in 1910 and leased land here. Their crops included avocados, poppies, strawberries, carrots, beets and sweet peas. They maintained a roadside produce stand, Annie’s Stand, near Abalone Cove, below the area that’s now the reserve. The Ishibashi family operated their farm until 2012, and their departure signaled the end of that era.

That is why we now hike a trail named Ishibashi.

Nothing is simple. The land remains. Sometimes we save a little of it, although some things are always lost.

What’s your favorite local walk? What stories does it have to tell you? Leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Ishibashi family farm information from, published 


  1. It used to be the inlet to the Atlantic, but these days it has changed to our wetlands. We’ve become so crowded here in south Florida, it is about the only place outside of the zoo to see wildlife.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I assume you must see wonderful birds there, year round.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Mostly those that hand around the water, so not too much color to them, but better than nothing I suppose. I miss the wildlife that used to be everywhere!!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. NIce! Semi-wild SOCAL! Thanks, Brad!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Although we’ve never seen any, there are both rattlesnakes and tarantulas in the reserve. THEY are not SEMI wild, in my humble opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You have done it again! I never knew a major L.A. boulevard could be so . . . rural.

    On your other theme, there is a 92 year old Japanese resident at my mom’s senior care home who, as a teenager, was removed from her California home and interned with her family in one of our WWII “camps.” They were farmers, and American citizens at the time. After the war, they were released from the camp, but their farm was gone and they had NOTHING. How one recovers from something like that I can’t even begin to imagine.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Not our proudest moment. It behooves us to keep that era in mind a this present hour.

      Liked by 1 person

      • She’s one tough person, that’s for sure. Eyesight and hearing still 100% intact, and walks without any assistance. How she managed to go from total impoverishment in a camp in 1945 to the affluent Orange County of today must have been quite a remarkable journey.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Prior to 2016, we generally kept together the families we were deporting or sending to camps and reservations. It seems that policy has now been abandoned in favor of dividing family members who are being forcibly removed from their homes.

        Liked by 1 person

      • And apparently “we” are NOT remembering!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice pictures, the landscapes look a lot like savanahs but with more hills.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m certainly no botanist, but the thing that keeps that landscape from being savannah is likely that there’s not really a lot of grass, although some. It’s prickly chaparral: sage, thorny brush, even some bona fide cacti (prickly pear). You’re right about the appearance, though. Thanks for the observation.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. To know a place in all its seasons is a wonderful experience. Redefining “season” to include more than the passage of a single year, as you did here, only enriches that experience. I enjoyed the reminder that “pretty” places aren’t the only ones worthy of a visit. A great sweep of California poppies in a lush green field is beautiful, but a just-holding-on stand of poppies in a dry, isolated spot is a discovery and a treasure.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for the post and the pictures…who would have known it was there?


    • That’s the fun of poking around the town for the hidden places.


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