Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hiking the Santa Rosa Plateau

Normally, Memorial Day weekend is a challenge when you think you might want to go somewhere or do something, because no matter what you decide on, the crowds have already beaten you to it.

With weather not yet too hot for hiking, we took a chance on going to the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve, a Riverside County park near Murrieta that covers some 8,500 acres of pristine ranch land (well, technically, it's oak woodlands, or bunchgrass prarie). It's rolling hills studded with Englemann oaks, a lot of grass, chapparal and wildflowers, and a couple of rare vernal pools. There are plenty of trails of varying length to use. One of the trails will lead to the historic adobes that are the oldest remaining structures in Riverside County.

The park was once part of the original Spanish land grant given by Pio Pico in 1846 to Juan Moreno. Moreno called his 47,000-acre ranch the Santa Rosa, where he raised sheep and cattle. Eventually, the ranch passed from owner to owner until it wound up in the hands of the Vail family, who sold much of the land for development in the 1960s.

The wildflowers had peaked by Memorial Day, but there was still a lot blooming: lavender Mariposa lilies, blue and purple lupines, California golden poppies that were more of a daffoldil yellow than the neon orange we photographed in Antelope Valley. We also saw a couple of snakes, who were more startled to see us than vice-versa.

The vernal pools, so-called because they are seasonal pools formed on volcanic soil by rainwater, are unusual and worth the short hike it takes to reach them. There are wooden pathways that will allow you to walk over a pool (actually, more of a grassy marsh), where you can see fairy shrimp and many birds. A wildflower called the teethed downingia bloomed in abundance in the water.

The park is located off Clinton Keith Road near Murrieta; day use for ages 13 and over is a super-cheap $2.00.

See the Big Cats Get Active

The Exotic Feline Breeding Compound in Rosamond will host a Twlight Tour fundraiser on Saturday, June 19th. Here's your chance to view the center in the evening, when the big cats are more active and you have more access to view them.

The EFBC, also known as "the Cat House," is a private, non-profit conservation and breeding compound that houses some 70 species of big cats, including tigers, leopards, jaguars and ocelots. It offers visitors an unusually close view of these stunning animals.

Tickets for the Twilight Tour are $15 per person, adults only. They can be purchased at the door at 5:30; the event lasts until dark. You can order pre-paid tickets for the September 18th Twilight Tour by phone (661-256-3793 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).