Skip to content

Volunteer with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy

Limestone Canyon Access Days or many of the other activities within the Irvine Ranch, you’ll understand how many people it takes to offer all of these activities to the public. Most of those people are volunteers with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy and they are always looking for new people to volunteer.

Twice a year, the Irvine Ranch Conservancy holds an orientation for new volunteers. One of these is coming up on March 10th and you can still sign up if you’re interested. Volunteering for the IRC can be hugely rewarding. You’ll have the opportunity to help improve the wilderness around Orange County and share your love of the outdoors with others.

There are a number of important requirements that all Irvine Ranch Conservancy volunteers must meet in order to help. All of the requirements are outlined in the email that’s sent out to all potential volunteers. The one ongoing requirement that IRC asks of all volunteers is that they donate at least a day a month to activities within the parks and open spaces.

If you’re interested in signing up to be a volunteer with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy and would like to attend the orientation next month, you must register by February 10th.

Greetings Potential Volunteers!

Thank you for your interest in joining the Irvine Ranch Conservancy! The IRC is seeking volunteers that are willing to act in a leadership role. Depending on your preference, you may lead hiking, mountain biking, equestrian, or interpretive programs as well as join our stewardship, citizen science, trail work, and fire prevention teams.

Currently the Conservancy manages volunteer opportunities on nearly 50,000 acres of land in Orange County; in partnership with OC Parks, The City of Irvine, and The City of Newport Beach. Your first step will be to attend Orientation here on Saturday, March 10, 2012. Registration will open at 8:00am. Please plan to arrive no later than 8:30am, as our program will begin promptly at 9:00am. Our day will conclude by 2:00pm.

A portion of the registration process will include a) your signing/submission of the various waivers necessary to satisfy our partner agencies, b) taking a TB test (provided at no cost), and c) consenting to a Federal Background Screening. As you can imagine, this will take some time. Disqualifications for the Background Check are:

  1. Felonies
  2. Sex Offenses
  3. Misdemeanors
  4. Evidence in which you were at odds with the authorities

If any of these apply to you, please save yourself and the IRC a great deal of trouble by NOT applying to volunteer.

At a minimum, you will need to plan for your introductory IRC training to include:

  • Completion of the Orientation Day
  • CPR & 1st aid certification (which we provide at no cost)
  • Three activity-specific trainings (i.e. hiking, trail work, etc.)
  • One half-day classroom workshop

Please bring your planner/calendar to Orientation, so that you are able to sign-up on the spot for these activities!

In addition, our Volunteer Agreement asks that you contribute your time to one activity per month with the Conservancy. That may be seven hours at a Wilderness Access Day, two hours of data entry, or a variety of programs in between. This is not a commitment for the faint of heart! So, please, take the time to reflect on whether this organization will be a good match for the time and energy you have available. Continental breakfast and lunch will be provided at Orientation. As such, it is necessary to reserve your space.

Please reply to this email indicating whether or not you will attend, so that I have an accurate count for the day. Thank you! If the date is a conflict, but you are interested in participating in our Summer Orientation (tentatively set for June 30), please let me know that as well.

The Conservancy prides itself as being one of the premier volunteer organizations in Orange County. We would be delighted to have you complete the trainings and join us. All those able to attend March 10 will be sent registration paperwork the week of February 20th.

Best regards,
Catherine

Volunteer Orientation & Training
Saturday, March 10, 8am to 2:00pm
4727 Portola Parkway, Trailer B
Irvine, CA 92620

Santiago Oaks Regional Park – Peralta Hills, Bumble Bee, and Mountain Goat Trails





Vital Stats
Trailhead 2145 N. Windes Drive
Orange, CA 92869
Length 3.58 Miles
Elevation 459 Feet
Difficulty Hard

The hike up Peralta Hills Trail is surprisingly difficult. Four-hundred fifty-nine feet of elevation gain over three and a half miles doesn’t seem like too much, but almost all of that climbing happens in less than a mile as Peralta Hills Trail heads towards Anaheim Hills Elementary School. The rest of the hike is comfortable and rolling, with one tricky descent down Mountain Goat Trail.

This full hike can only be done during the dry season, when there isn’t water flowing from the dam. The hike crosses Santiago Creek in two places that are impassible when water is flowing through the creek. However, even during the rainy season it’s still possible to do most of this hike, you’ll simply have to stay on the east side of the creek and head back up to the main creek crossing near the parking lot.

The trail starts out from the parking lot, crosses Santiago Creek and heads to the left along Santiago Creek Trail. The trail only goes for a short time until it curves to the right and meets up with Wilderness Trail. Take a right at Wilderness Trail and head back generally in the direction of the dam at the far end of the park.

Wilderness Trail is a nice, wide trail that’s generally flat and shaded. Enjoy this easy part of the hike, because it’s about to get a lot more difficult. Once you’ve gone about a third of a mile along Wilderness Trail you’ll come to a turnoff for Peralta Hills Trail to the left. From here, be prepared to start heading up.

Peralta Hills Trail runs from its junction with Wilderness Trail all the way up to Robbers Roost above Anaheim Hills elementary. In just about a mile, Peralta Hills Trail gains over 700 feet of elevation at an average grade over 10%. Just before my hike up the trail, it had been regraded and the trail surface was either slick rock or soft sand. This made hiking up the hill all the more difficult, because I slid backwards half a foot for each step forward I took. Of course, once some of the lighter dirt gets blown away and the trail gets re-compacted it will be much easier to hike up.
Thankfully, there is a nice reward for hiking up Peralta Hills Trails. The views from the top of the hill are gorgeous. You are able to see across all of Orange, Santa Ana, Newport Beach and all the way out to Catalina on a clear day. Once at the top of the hill, there is a nice area to sit on the ground and enjoy the view.

Once you’ve taken in the view, the trail continues towards Anaheim Hills Elementary School along a mostly flat route. As with many hillsides in Orange County, you’ll travel through mostly low open scrubland, so there is little shade along this part of the trail. As you approach Oak Trail, you’ll come to an old rusted out gate. I believe at one point this was the boundary of the park, but today the park extend to the junction of Peralta Hills Trail and Oak Trail.

At this gate is where I saw a coyote sniffing at some rabbit holes when I hiked through here. It was the closest I’ve ever been to a wild coyote. He was about 30 feet in front of me and at first didn’t notice my approach. I stopped to watch him for a bit, since he was standing on the shoulder of the trail and I wasn’t going to try to pass that close to him. I tried to get my camera out to take a picture, but by the time I had the camera up and zoomed in, he was darting across the trail and down the hillside.

Before you hit Oak Trail, you’re faced with one more short section of steep climbing. This climb is up mostly exposed rock and shoes will find easy purchase here. The only hard part is that it is quite steep.

Once the trail reaches Oak Trail you make another right and start to head away from Anaheim Hills Elementary School. Oak Trail follows the curve of the hillside and is relatively flat. Here you’ll find a large shade structure with picnic benches which make for a nice place to stop and enjoy the view.

Shortly past the picnic benches there is a locked vehicular access gate with a small foot path off to the left hand side. Continue past the gate until you reach a large intersection of trails. Stay to the left and you’ll find yourself on Bumble Bee Trail.

Bumble Bee Trail starts the decent back towards the main part of the Santiago Oaks with some switchbacks down the side of the hill. In the late afternoon, the hillside provides plenty of shade and it can start to feel a bit cool compared to the exposed trail up to this point. However, after the work of going up Peralta Hills Trail, Bumble Bee Trail can feel quite refreshing.

Bumble Bee Trail winds down the hillside into a little valley. At the bottom you’ll come to another trail branching off the your left, this is where both Yucca Ridge and Cactus Canyon Trails start, but you’ll pass these by and continue on Bumble Bee Trail. From here you’ll start a gentle climb up the hill on the other side of the valley you just descended into. Eventually, Bumble Bee Trail dead ends into Mountain Goat Trail, which you’ll take to the right.

There are two different paths you can take when you reach Mountain Goat Trail. The steeper and more rocky path has a sign that says it’s not for horses, while the other path has switchbacks and is a more gradual descent down the hillside. Of course, since I wasn’t riding horseback and I was going down, I chose the steeper path. About half way down I had the thought that I had picked the wrong way while carrying a baby, it’s that steep and difficult to maneuver down. However, I made it safely to the base of the hill. This was just as challenging as the hike up Peralta Hills Trail and way more fun.

Once at the bottom of the hill, you’ll find yourself at Santiago Creek Trail, which runs the length of the park back to the parking lot. If you wish to head back, you can go right and find yourself at your car in about five minutes. However, since there was no water flowing through the creek, I decided to go left, across the creek bed and explore the other bank, which I had never been to before.

Once across the creek, you’ll find yourself in a dirt parking lot in front of an older building. I have no idea what this parking lot or building are used for, I don’t even know if they are part of the park, private property or used by some other agency. Nor was it readily apparent how you would drive to this lot, but there it was.

On the far side of the dirt lot there is a trailhead to Pony Trail. Pony Trail was surprisingly nice, but relatively short. It cuts back across Santiago Creek so most of it is fairly rocky. It is covered in shade and quite lovely. Pony Trail dumps you back onto Santiago Creek Trail. Despite walking along Santiago Creek numerous times, I had never noticed the turnoff to Pony Trail, it’s quite well hidden.

Once back to Santiago Creek Trail, make a left and start heading back to the car. You can make a detour down Historic Dam Trail and cross the creek at this point if there isn’t too much water flowing. Historic Dam Trail is the most tranquil part of Santiago Oaks Regional Park and a wonderful place to end a hike.

If you’re looking to work on your climbing legs, this is a great short hike through Santiago Oaks Regional Park. The terrain and vegetation is quite varied and there is always something to look at. These steeper grades are also some of the only ways to get away from the busier parts of the park, which is a nice treat in itself. This hike is highly recommended for anybody looking for a challenge.

[flickrset id=”72157628753682635″ thumbnail=”square” photos=”” overlay=”true” size=”medium”]

Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park – The Sinks





Vital Stats
Trailhead Augustine Staging Area
Silverado, CA 92676
Length 7.60 Miles
Elevation 400 Feet
Difficulty Easy

Once a month, OC Parks and the Irvine Ranch Land Conservancy open Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park up for a Wilderness Access Day. Most of the time, Limestone Canyon is only open for limited guided tours, which anyone can sign up for through the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks Activities page. However, during the Wilderness Access Day, you’ll have free reign around any of the trails in Limestone Canyon.

The main draw of Limestone Canyon is a geological feature called The Sinks. The Sinks is a large canyon carved into the soft limestone hills that has been called The Grand Canyon of Orange County. Unfortunately, people are not allowed to climb down into The Sinks, but are only allowed to look at it from above due to their delicate nature.

The hike out to the sinks starts from the Augustine Staging Area, located just off Santiago Canyon Road north of Silverado Canyon Road on the west side of the road. During Wilderness Access Days, there will be public parking and check-in located at the Augustine Staging Area. There are normally a few hundred people who visit Limestone Canyon on these days, so expect a much larger production that you would normally find at a regional park.

The trailhead is at the southeast corner of the parking area from which a fire road heads south. The entire length of the trail is actually this fire road that circumnavigates the park. On the one hand, this is nice because it means the trail is wide and easy to navigate but it also feels less intimate with the surrounding nature. Also, the first mile or so of this fire road is covered with gravel which is somewhat uncomfortable to walk on, especially on the way back to the trailhead.
The trail winds its way through hills that were surprisingly green even late into the Southern California winter. It starts out generally paralleling  Santiago Canyon Road but quickly turns further south and soon a row of hills separates the road from the trail. As it does so, the trail crosses large meadows situated in the shallow valleys between the hills.

In one such valley there is a farm where native plants are grow for transplant throughout the park. One of the main plants that is grown are the slow growing oaks that are found throughout the Santa Ana Mountains. Because these trees grow so slowly and the farm is fairly new, the farm doesn’t look much like a traditional tree farm. At this point, you’ll see a number of rows of PVC pipe sticking out of the ground that protect the young trees and help with the irrigation.

Upon reaching The Sinks, you’ll find an observation platform off to the left side of the trail. This observation platform provides the best view possible of The Sinks and can be fairly crowded. You can normally find a park ranger stationed here at the the platform if you need any help or just have questions about the park. The rangers are not naturalists and often can’t answer any detailed questions about the formation of The Sinks or the plants, animals or other geological features of the park. However, they are normally willing to take take pictures of people standing in front of The Sinks.

The Sinks themselves are quite a dramatic striated cliff face. You can clearly see the rivulets carved by the wind and rain running down the face of the cliff. While it’s understandable why people would call this the Grand Canyon of Orange County, if you’ve been to the Grand Canyon you’ll be underwhelmed by The Sinks if you expect to see the Grand Canyon. However, if you visit The Sinks without that expectation and see it for what it is, you’ll see that The Sinks are beautiful and magnificent in their own, unique way.

The Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park Wilderness Access Days are a great opportunity to visit one of the most pristine natural areas in Orange County. The hike itself is very easy and feels almost flat throughout its entire length. The only thing that makes the hike slightly difficult its length at nearly eight miles. If you want to do this hike, I highly recommend starting as soon as the park opens at 9AM so you can be off the trail no later than 3PM when the park closes. This is especially true if you’re a novice or slow hiker.

This coming weekend, February 4th, 2012 is the next Wilderness Access Day at Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park. If you would like to visit this magnificent park you can sign up through the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks.

[flickrset id=”72157629120504791″ thumbnail=”square” photos=”” overlay=”true” size=”medium”]

Cleveland National Forest – Holy Jim Falls





Vital Stats
Trailhead Trabuco Creek Rd & Holy Jim Canyon Rd
Trabuco, CA 92883
Length 3.42 Miles
Elevation 705 Feet
Difficulty Modrerate

This past Tuesday, after the rains on Saturday and Monday, I headed out to Holy Jim Falls in the Cleveland National Forest. I’ve been wanting to do this hike for a while now, but I’ve been waiting until after some rain to ensure the falls are at their fullest. This hike did not disappoint, it is by far one of the nicest hikes in Orange County.

Driving to the trailhead takes a little bit of work, but it’s a beautiful drive in itself. Live Oak Canyon Road, which is the turnoff from Santiago Canyon Road where Cook’s Corner is located, is a densely shaded road that winds it way through a forest of live oaks.

From Live Oak Canyon Road you turn off onto a dirt road, Trabuco Creek Road. The first couple of miles of Trabuco Creek Road is well maintained until you hit the gate to Cleveland National Forest. The road through Cleveland National Forest is some of the most challenging off road driving I’ve ever done, I would highly suggest a car with sufficient ground clearance, such as a pickup truck or SUV. I made it out there in my Subaru WRX but I did hurt my front bumper coming over a large mogul. Plan to take a half hour or more to drive the 4.7 miles from Live Oak Canyon Road to the trailhead.

There is a small parking lot on the left hand side of the road as you approach the trailhead. To park here, you’ll need an Adventure Pass, which I picked up at the Silverado Canyon Market next to the Silverado Branch Library, or a National Park Service Golden Access Passport. The road continues for another half mile or so towards the actual trailhead, however this portion of the road is for access to a number of cabins that are located on leased forest land and there is no public parking beyond this point.

From the parking lot, continue to follow the road, being careful not to wander up someone’s driveway. After about a half mile, there will be a slight “Y” in the road, to the right is a newer looking cabin and to the left is the actual trailhead. The trailhead is marked by an open gate and a placard provided as an Eagle Scout project.

From the trailhead, it’s 1.4 miles to the falls along the bottom of a gorgeous canyon. The trail meanders back and forth across the stream a dozen times. Throughout the canyon are native live oaks that are hundreds of years old as well as naturalized fig trees that have spread from early orchards in the canyon 140 years ago. In fact, there were a number of homesteads in the canyon around the 1870s. Originally the canyon was home to tin prospectors but never became a commercially viable mine. Afterwards, a number of people make their living as bee keepers in the canyon, including Jim Smith. The story goes that Mr. Smith had a foul mouth and was often referred to as Cussing Jim. When cartographers came through to make a map of the area, they didn’t find the name Cussing Jim to be appropriate for the name of the canyon or the falls, so they made up the name Holy Jim.

Along the trail there are a number of signs that offer interesting tidbits about the history of the area. The first sign is located at the site of Cussing Jim’s cabin and original orchard, although only a small section of wall remains at the location. Once past the fourth marker and sign, you’ll come to a split in the trail with the falls to the right and Main Divide Road to the left.

From this split the falls are another 0.25 miles further up the trail. Here the trail narrows and is flanked by poison oak, so watch your step. This is actually the hardest part of the trail. It requires scrambling over rocks that have been worn smooth over the years by hikers.

Holy Jim Trail is the nicest trail in Orange County. Even though you’re only a few miles from civilization, Holy Jim Canyon feels as far removed as anything you can find, surrounded by mountains and forests. If you can manage to go out on a week day after a rain, as I did, the falls provide a tranquil spot to enjoy nature. This hike is highly recommended for its remoteness, beauty, and serenity.

[flickrset id=”72157629043517037″ thumbnail=”square” photos=”” overlay=”true” size=”medium”]

Whiting Ranch – Borrego Trail to Red Rock Canyon





Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park

Vital Stats
Trailhead 26711 Portola Parkway
Lake Forest, CA
Length 4.6 Miles
Elevation 446 Feet
Difficulty Easy

Whiting Ranch is a part of the OC Parks Limestone Canyon & Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. Whiting Ranch is open to the public like most other Orange County parks, while Limestone Canyon is only open two days a month for open access days and for guided tours. Whiting Ranch is very popular with mountain bikers but is open to hikers and even has a few trails that are only open to those on foot.

Borrego Trail out to Red Rock Canyon starts from the parking lot located on Portola Parkway right at Market Place in Lake Forest. Parking is $3, just as it is at most other OC Parks. The trailhead is marked by a sculpture garden with a large obelisk at its center that’s dedicated to the local wildlife. There is also an information kiosk that has all of the standard warnings and information for the park, and some maps of the park’s trails that you can take with you.

Once on the trail, the first thing you’ll notice is a large sign warning of mountain lions. This isn’t the only mountain lion warning on the trail, and for good reason. Over the years there have been a number of mountain lion attacks in Whiting Ranch, including one fatal one in 2004. However, Whiting Ranch is a very popular park and the odds of being attacked are very low.

The trail heads north through a valley that’s flanked by houses. Despite that, you get the feeling of being in the wilderness quite quickly. Almost immediately you cross a sandy, dry stream bed that’s a bit difficult to walk in and very difficult to ride a bike in. This stream hadn’t been quite so sandy prior to the winter storms of 2007, but that year the rains washed a lot of sand down out of the canyons and deposited it on the lower reaches of the stream.
The trail continues through some old oak groves and over another stream crossing. Most of the way up Borrego Trail is fairly well wooded and shady. While my wife and I were hiking along the trail, we saw a family of mule deer on the hillside not far from the trail. Wildlife abounded all along Borrego trail, with countless lizards, rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks skittering along through the plants as we made our way along.

As the trail continues into the park, you’ll come to a trail intersection with Mustard Road. This is a larger trail, big enough to drive a truck on, where you’ll see another informational sign, including a little map in case you didn’t pick one up for yourself at the trailhead. At this intersection, you’ll head right along Mustard Road for just a hundred feet or so up a small incline. As you round a bend in the road, you’ll see a picnic bench with two additional trails leading off. The smallest of these trails is the Red Rock Trail, which will take you out to Red Rock Canyon.

Red Rock Trail is only open to hikers. The trail mostly follows a dry creek and has been marked with large rocks. Red Rock Trail is much more exposed than Borrego Trail and has the potential to be very hot. The further out you go on this trail, the more scenic the scenery becomes. Unfortunately, the trail also gets more rocky and you’ll have to spend a good deal of time looking down where your feet are going.

Once you make it out to Red Rock Canyon the trail ends. There are signs posted to stay out of the canyon and away from the sandstone walls. This is more to protect the fragile stone and not really to protect hikers. It might seem strange to think of stone as fragile, but if you go out there not long after a rain you’ll be able to see where the falling water has made little craters in the stone face. It looks just like it would in a sandbox after a rain. However, Red Rock Canyon is one of the nicest rock formations in Orange County, rivaled only by the Sinks in Limestone Canyon.

The way out is right back the way you came, at least until you reach Mustard Road. There is a second trail, Cattle Pond Loop, that makes a small loop right where Mustard Road and Red Rock Trail meet. If you’re interested in an extra .2 miles, Cattle Pond Loop is a nice little jaunt up and then down in a big horseshoe. The rest of this hike is so flat, it’s nice to get just a little bit of elevation thrown in before heading back to the car.

Red Rock Canyon has earned itself a spot among the more popular hiking destinations in Orange County due to the unique sandstone canyons. Getting there is easy on this flat trail as long as you don’t mind the four and a half mile walk. As a hiker, you’ll have to watch out for the numerous mountain bikers that frequent Whiting Ranch, but on this flat section of trail you shouldn’t have any problems. Red Rock Canyon is a great family excursion for a half day hike.

[flickrset id=”72157627863983372″ thumbnail=”square” photos=”” overlay=”true” size=”medium”]