Malibu Twin Pictographs

The Cave of the "Malibu Twin" pictographs. Also known as poison oak central.

The Cave of the “Malibu Twin” pictographs. Also known as poison oak central.


One of the things that I adore about the Southern California coast is that one moment you can be driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, spying beach bunnies in their bikinis (yes, even in February), and moments later make a turn up a canyon, and be in a forest of green. That is pretty much the way that it played out in route to this small pictograph site in the Santa Monica Mountains.  I wound my way up a twisting and turning road for approximately five miles from the PCH, and the hundreds of people frolicking about on the ocean’s sandy shores. It is better up here, quieter for sure.

At least I thought it was quieter,  just as I reached my destination the road was blocked by a couple of police cars and a semi-truck.  As it turned out, the field across from the site that I was en-route to was being used by a film production team. Not willing to give up so quickly, I turned around and found the nearest pull-off, parked, and walked back up the road, past the police and the production crew, and ducked into the cover of the forest.

The site that I have dubbed the “Malibu Twins” is just a short but dangerous walk from the road.  Not dangerous in the sense that you could fall off of a cliff, but dangerous because of the massive amounts of poison oak, which dominates the ground vegetation. As I type this, both of my arms have pussing, itchy blisters on them. It may be from this site, or from one of the other poison oak infested landscapes that I decided to traipse through on my multi-day forest adventure. Either way, it sucks!


Two anthropomorphic figures reaching for a sun like symbol.

Two anthropomorphic figures reaching for a sun like symbol.


The “Malibu Twins” site is a small Chumash pictograph site, consisting of two separate panels along a rocky alcove.  Both of the designs are fairly simplistic, yet are within the standard “style” that the Chumash are known for. The panels are painted utilizing orange ochre, made from iron oxide.

The first panel consists of two anthropomorphic (human) figures, both with the classic Chumash upturned arms and legs. It appears as if one figure is holding the other up, reaching for a “sun” like design. Upon closer inspection of this panel, I noticed that the pigment was thick and very powdery, despite that, portions of the design are now missing from flaking patina.

The second panel is nicely hidden behind an overhang, and consists of the two anthropomorphic figures, several inches in length. The two figures, side by side appear identical. Both again have the upturned arms and legs.


The Malibu Twins

The Malibu Twins


Looking out of the "cave", or "rockshelter".

Looking out of the “cave”, or “rockshelter”.


There are several smalls caves in the alcove, most of which have a significant amount of smoke damage from fires of many moons ago. It is feasible that at one time these caves had additional pictographs, but are now so heavily covered in smoke soot that they are no longer visible.

Along the base of the caves, there is significant evidence of a midden. A midden is essentially an old trash pile, made up of such things as shells, animal bones, botanical material, sherds, lithic scatters, human waste, among other items. The items found in a midden can be used by archeologists to identify a number of attributes about the people who once inhabited an area, including time frame. This specific midden consists largely of shells on the surface, because I do not believe in digging in these sites, it is hard to tell what may be beneath the surface.

Overall this is a very small, yet unique site. It is probable that there other similar sites in the area, however much of the land is private property.


Shells from the midden.

Shells from the midden.


A beautiful place!

A beautiful place!


About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.


  • Just reading about poison oak makes me itch!!

    I grew up in Texas and there’s 55 varieties of sumac, poison oak, poison ivy, and other evil plants that can make your life miserable.

    My Mom is very allergic; I once sent her a Bert’s Bees care box of poison ivy/poison oak cures! The soap is particularly good to cut the itch.

    And of course there’s my Dad, who could roll in it and walk away with no ill effects.

    As always, love the pics and text.

      • It’s called Poison Ivy soap. It’s reasonable at 2 bars for about $8, at least on-line.

        My Mom swears by it.

        Bert’s Bees products are now carried at the major drug stores; maybe Target and Walmart stock it.

        Something else made by Bert’s Bees worked for her; I’ll ask her about it.

        The care box I sent included EVERYTHING Bert’s Bees made for poison ivy/oak.

        This was years ago before my parents relocated out here this July.

        There was another product called Wounded Warrior or something like that. Not a Bert’s Bees item and only available online.

        People swore it was good for whatever ailed them.

  • I am unaffected by poison ivy. Sorry you are miserable with it. Great adventure in the forest but you better stick to the desert.

  • Oh yeah, poison oak poison ivy, it all gets to me. I try to avoid anything growing.
    Nice post Jim! you are broadening your exploring horizons.

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