It wasn't long ago that South Orange County was nothing more than rolling hills, farmland, and citrus groves. My mom loves to remind me of this whenever we drive down to San Diego. Its almost as if her memories of speeding down I5 to bring homemade carrot cake to members of one of her favorite bands overcome her senses and make the sea of humanity that now exists seem to disappear. I live in that sea now. Waves of people in cars controlled by the ebb and flow of traffic lights, always in a hurry to reach their destination. Luckily someone saw the need to slow down and save some of the last remaining undeveloped land of Irvine Ranch. They saw the importance of saving what's left of these fragile ecosystems for the wildlife and people to enjoy forever. And in 2006, the National Park Service added Quail Hill to the National Natural Landmark list and therefore will preserve this land forever.
The trailhead at Quail Hill is located across the street from a baseball field and houses galore but it doesn't take long before the screams of cheering parents are replaced by the screeches of red tail hawks. The Quail Hill Loop Trail is an easy 1.8 mile hike where you can enjoy the rolling hills and take in spectacular views of Irvine and surrounding communities. The trail is open every day from dawn to dusk and leashed dogs are welcome. In this age of technology you can even enjoy a cell phone audio tour of this trail by calling 949-743-5943. This is not a hike I would take on a hot summer day in July because there is no shade. But on a morning where the marine layer is just starting to break up and the air is cool, its a nice little hike.
Once a month something special happens at Quail Hill. The park opens up the open space portion of the land including Bommer and Shady Canyons. Normally you have to go on a docent led hike to see this land. We jumped at the opportunity to hike at a two year olds pace on this protected land. I couldn't help but notice the habitat restoration taking place and I look forward to seeing Mother Nature reclaim what is rightfully hers.
Ben got distracted by a puddle that he felt he must spend the entire day running through and poking with sticks so Paul had to bring out the big guns of parenting. He grabbed a long stick and told Ben he could have it if he managed to get it from Paul. So off Ben ran like a cheetah racing for its prey. Mari thought this looked like so much fun that she insisted we play the stick game too and we killed some serious distance in no time. Definitely saving this technique for future expeditions.
We huffed and puffed up to the top of a large hill where we stopped to enjoy the views of Orange County with mighty Saddleback looming in the distance. The rattling of the grass and the songs of birds replaced the whoosh of the freeways and roars of car engines. We could have kept going all the way to Laguna Canyon if we wanted to but we had two pooped two year olds so we decided to head on back down the trail.
Ben and I held hands and ran down the hill. He giggled the whole way down and asked for more whenever I stopped to pull up my sagging pants or dodge a kamikaze mountain biker.
Mari was not as big of a fan of the downhill portion and cried for Daddy to pick her up and carry her down while Daddy got horrified glances from women who were convinced we were torturing our children. Soon we were at the bottom and Mari redeemed herself by once again showing her love for all things outdoors by prancing down the trail and enthusiastically oohing and aahing at her little discoveries along the way. Watch out Quail Hill. We will be back. And we will be bringing canines.