Its always nice to find nature close to home. Those of who live in Southern California can often feel removed from nature because of the urban sprawl that defines our region. Luckily, there are many special places that are still wild and closer to home than many people realize. They give us glimpses at what the land looked like when the first settlers came to this region and provide homes to many important plants and animals.
One such little pocket of wild is the Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park. It is located just outside the gates of the über exclusive Coto De Caza and is a wonderful little spot to take a family hike. There are six miles of trails in the park, open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. The park is home to Sycamores and Coast Live Oaks that have been here since California was part of Mexico. There is a cute little visitor center and butterfly garden near the entrance of the park where you can get your bearings and plot out your trek.
The day we visited the park we opted to do the Oak Canyon/Mule Deer loop around the park per the recommendation of a ranger. The loop took us through grassy hillside terrain filled with beautiful old trees. You couldn't help but imagine the stories these trees could tell after all their years on this planet.
It must have been red ant season because we saw plenty of those while on our trail (while we were not at all bothered by the ants I would definitely recommend avoiding sandals so you don't have any unfortunate missteps) and a few really big beetles. We also saw plenty of holes that were home to ground squirrels. As we looked up in the sky and trees we saw plenty of birds including red tail hawks and turkey vultures.
On this hike I brought an old camera so Mari could take some shots of her own. She really enjoyed taking pictures like Mommy ALWAYS does and would stop us whenever she found something picture worthy so she could take a few shots of her subject. She is only three and still learning to hold down the button long enough to get the shot while keeping her fingers away from the lens but is getting better every time she tries. Here are a couple shots from a three year old's perspective:
When we reached the top of the ridge we found plenty of deer tracks on the trail and followed them to a matted down field where the deer slept the night before. My daughter enjoyed pointing out the tracks to us with her stick just like her grandma had done earlier on the trail. We were disappointed we didn't see any actual deer while we were hiking. Luckily, just as we were about to get in the car we saw a herd run across the field and into the woodlands. It was a wonderful way to end a wonderful morning.
If you would like more information on the Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park click here.