If you live in Southern California, it can feel like one, big, massive, ever-growing, sprawl. Standing atop many of the regions highest peaks, the views are ‘marred’ by homes and strip malls and freeways and factories and skyscrapers: sprawl. There are however, places not too far away and not too difficult to get to, where there are wide open vistas, and where you have, at the least the illusion of, wildness. (see note.)
Last week I visited such a place: the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. The reason for the visit was a proposal at the last meeting of the Lower Peaks Committee to add Monument Hill, which is on the Reserve, to the Lower Peaks List. (The Lower Peaks List is comprised of peaks less than 5000 feet in the Southern California area.) Reading the ‘specs’ on Monument Hill (distance, elevation gain), I wasn’t impressed. (In the past I made the mistake of voting to add certain peaks to the list based on other people’s recommendations. Had I visited the peak first, I never would have voted to add some of them.)
A drive of a little over an hour from my home brought me to the Reserve’s visitor center. In the gravel parking lot were school buses, cars, and bicycles. Not a promising start to the day.
After paying the four dollar entrance fee, I headed south on Waterline Road, a dirt track on the reserve. Not far along the road I was passed by an employee on a quad ATV. The day was going downhill, even if the trail wasn’t. Near the junction with the Granite Loop Trail was a large group of school children attending one of the interpretive programs sponsored by the Reserve. These children are the future protectors of the land. Hope they do a better job than my generation.
With the kids behind me, I started noticing things. A smattering of wildflowers, old oaks, open fields, and no one else on the trail. It turns out this area is open to hiking only. No dogs, horses, or mountain bikes. The aforementioned list is permitted in the Sylvan Meadows Multi-Use Area, which is on the other side of the road from the visitor center. The day was starting to get better. There was a gentle breeze and a comfortable temperature for walking and I was starting to enjoy my hike; actually, it felt more like a stroll. I wasn’t in a hurry, there was no reason to be.
Soon I was on the Vista Grande Trail and things were looking up, as was the trail. The views were getting better and better. It’s not a long or difficult hike to Monument Hill, just over two miles; however, I felt more than two miles away from my car and much farther from the sprawl I had just came from.
On the horizon was snowcapped San Gorgonio; San Jacinto was visible also. Open space in the foreground and summits on the horizon. This is not to say I couldn’t see signs of man, but looking out to the east and south it was wild and open. I felt a deep sense of well-being while eating my lunch and took time to give thanks for this amazing day.
After lunch I decided to extend my trip a bit and continued to the Lomas Trail, making a loop back to Waterline Road, taking time to admire some old oaks, before heading back to the car. I was more of aware of the sprawl on the drive home, but also thankful we have places like the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve; places we can visit to remind ourselves there was a time, not too long ago, before today’s urban expansion, where open spaces were the norm.
There’s plenty to do and see at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve which is managed by the Riverside County Parks Department. A popular attraction are the Moreno and Machado Adobes, the two oldest standing structures in Riverside County. If you would information about the Santa Rosa Plateau please visit their website at:
And if you’re wondering if I’m going to vote to add Monument Hill to the Lower Peaks List, the answer is ‘yes’.
(Note: Wildness and Wilderness have different meanings. Henry David Thoreau’s classic quote states: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Elliot Porter published a book titled “In Wilderness Is the Preservation of the World.” Close, but not the same. One day I may expound upon their differences, and how this relates to adventure, but for now it’s enough to know there is a difference.)