Orange County isn't all Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. The real California lurks in the foothills only 40 minutes away.
Deep in the golden brown back country near Foothill Ranch, California, you find a piece of Utah-esque red rock — a wrinkled canyon that turns red or pink or orange as the sun wills it. Few tourists make the trek to this anomaly, but local residents know it well and use the park around it for the opportunities it affords for mountain biking and hiking.
Miles of trails take you through all kinds of Southern California environments: chaparral, live oak woodland, grassland, barren rock, coastal sage scrub, and even a marsh. The routes range from easy to strenuous; from the leisurely Borrego Trail to the arduous road over the aptly named Dreaded Hill. Some trails like the East Mustard Road leading to Four Corners are overrun with trail bikers and joggers. Solitude can be found on the less visited West Mustard Road where a Vista Point gives you the finest view of Red Rock Canyon to be found in the park.
The thick live oak forests that line the bottoms of the canyons provide a pleasant respite from the heat on a summer’s afternoon. Bring sunscreen if you plan to climb the hills and ridges. The best season for wildflowers is March through June. You may find a vine bearing yellow coyote gourds in the summer and autumn months: leave these where you found them.
Whiting’s adventures are not limited to rubber tires and hiking shoes. More than once I have been surprised by mule deer prancing in the chaparral. Summer evenings bring out shiny black bombardier beetles and hairy tarantulas. I’ve nearly tripped over rabbits darting across my path. Once, I saw a mountain lion jump out in front of me. The same puma killed one mountain biker and mauled another just three months later, so I count myself very lucky.,
You’ll see burnt stumps and thinned vegetation that testify to the wildfire that burned through Whiting in 2008. But the land is coming back. Today, those signs are less apparent than they were three years ago when the park reopened.
Keep to a few rules when you visit:
Always wear a broad-brimmed hat. Carry water. Stay out of the cactus. Be sure that you don’t step on any rattlesnakes. Always hike the Billy Goat Trail downhill from Four Corners. Always hike from north to south on Dreaded Hill unless you are a marathon runner in peak condition. Bring a camera because Whiting — the face of the Real California — has many surprises for you.
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