Beyond Disneyland: Where I Take Guests in Orange County

Bunnyhenge Revisited

Everyone comes to see Disneyland sooner or later. But once they have finished with the Magic Kingdom and nearby Knotts Berry Farm, what is there to do? This brief list is not all inclusive, but it can help you find interesting places to visit once you have bought your Mickey Mouse ears and need a change of scene.

  • Balboa This little community guarding the lower Newport Bay features a pier, a boardwalk, and a ferry. A good walk takes you from the pier to the Wedge, a famous surfing spot featured in the movie Endless Summer. Another walk takes you to Newport Pier. There are plenty of good restaurants in the neighborhood. The red-walled Crab Cooker at Newport Pier is an institution.
  • Bower’s Museum This small museum features art from around the world, California painters, and Native Californian relics.
  • Bunnyhenge This controversial sculpture/playground (each rabbit cost the city $13,000 a piece) is part of a sculpture garden on the lands of the Newport Beach Civic Center. Several other works stand on the land as well. After viewing the sculptures, one could make a quick trip to nearby Fashion Island for a little shopping or a snack.
  • Crystal Cove State Park Crystal Cove offers visitors many different kinds of experiences. I usually take them to the beach where they can examine the famous “Hamburger Rocks”. Another option is to explore the Moro Canyon back country.
  • Holy Jim Falls It is a bumpy road to Holy Jim, but in the spring the journey is worth it. This elfin waterfall has been described as a chapel in the woods. The trail is 1 1/2 miles long and passes through a tunnel of fig trees and a shaded canyon bottom forest.
  • San Clemente There are lots of places to visit here. My favorite photo spot is the pier. You can walk south from here to San Onofre State Beach if you want and watch the surfers. Look for Richard Nixon’s “Western White House” perched overlooking the boundary between San Clemente and the State Beach.
  • Mission San Juan Capistrano The oldest piece of Orange County history dates back to 1776. It was one of several missions founded by Saint Junipero Serra. The grounds feature extensive gardens and ruins of the mission church which was leveled by an earthquake in 1812 as Father Serra was saying what he thought was his last mass in California.
  • Ortega (Rattlesnake) Highway This route crosses the Riverside County line. You pick it up at San Juan Capistrano and can keep driving until you meet Interstate 15 in Lake Elsinore. You can stop across from the candy store to enjoy hiking the San Juan Loop with its two waterfalls or cross the highway to explore the San Mateo Wilderness. Further down the road is an overlook of Lake Elsinore, the largest sag pond in the state of California.
  • The Pilgrim This replica of the ship which carried Richard Henry Dana around the Cape Horn can be found at the Dana Point Marina. The nearby Ocean Institute features exhibits and a gift shop. Several fine seafood restaurants are a short walk away.
  • Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary This small reserve is located at the end of Modjeska Canyon Road. Visitors can observe birds through a glass. One thing that never ceases to amaze my guests is how territorial hummingbirds can be. A small museum features a large stuffed grizzly bear and other animals. The Harding Trail begins in the parking lot: two good destinations are Goat Shed Point and Laurel Spring.
  • Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park The Red Rocks are always a good destination for those who like to hike. The trail passes through a live oak woodland before entering an unshaded wash. The canyon itself is narrow, but it gives you the impression that you have been moved to southern Utah. Other destinations in Whiting include the Vista Outlook and Dreaded Hill, atop of which stands a memorial to a trail biker who was eaten by a mountain lion at its base.
  • Share on Tumblr

Trekking Poles

I have taken to borrowing my wife’s trekking poles when I go on my long hikes in Whiting Ranch. The big question that I suppose you are asking is whether they help or whether they are just extra weight. They do work as advertised, helping me on both uphills and downhills.

As you know, I am not a strong climber due to my heart defect, a narrowing of the coronary artery. This is as it sounds — one of the arteries feeding my heart has a section where it attenuates. It means that I have to watch my cholesterol and moderate my speed on uphills. The trekking poles help me go a little faster. I struggle less and can go farther on steep stretches before I tire.

Continue reading

  • Share on Tumblr


Whenever I change shoes, I endure a period of time when my feet have to press themselves into the insoles and teach my new chassures their ways. The friction and the emptiness between them leads the balls of my feet to fill with fluid which grow large and painful. Then they pop. An annoying flap of skin hangs in their place.

My mother used to tell me about how Calvin Coolidge’s son died because he popped his own blister with a needle. I have since learned that this isn’t bad if you have a clean needle, but recently I did something very stupid: I stripped the loose skin where the blister had been and paid for it in soreness and risked infection.

Only after I performed my little surgery did I learn that one shouldn’t do that. The skin forms a natural bandage and eventually reconnects with the foot to form a callous. I had to rub the exposed spot with antibiotic ointment and cover it with a bandage. When a large blister formed on the other foot, I left the skin in place, covered the area in ointment, and held it in place with a bandage. Oh, what a difference it made!

  • Share on Tumblr

Rude Photographers in the Parks

The outdoor world has been astir over the actions of vandals who — in the name of art — deface national parks. I want to speak of a different creature you find in the parks, the heedless photographer.

An article in ephotozine relates the whiny tale of one Jason Lanier who was stopped by a pair of National Park rangers for setting up a professional kit on the shores of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. A video shows Jason being rather rude to a pair of rangers in the performance of their duties.

The ranger’s problem was that Jason had a fancy flash set up on a beach with a particularly splendid view of the Golden Gate. Jason is one of those photographers who isn’t satisfied with using a normal camera flash. He wants to bring in the big guns. So he drags all his gear down to the beach, sets himself up in the best spot, and takes over the scenery.

Continue reading

  • Share on Tumblr


I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air—
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail.
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.

Robert Lowell, Skunk Hour

One night when I went out to the dumpster, I rounded the corner and saw a large black tail perched atop a white striped body ripping open a plastic bag. It took me less than a second to back out and run over to another dumpster. The garbage raider missed my presence and did not take aim.

We have plenty of skunks about in the summer. Sometimes I smell the rotten, nutty scent on a summer night or when I am driving down a highway. Mephitis mephitis roams the neighborhoods and country roads looking for fresh trash or road kill. Though I do my best to make sure that the trash bag gets into the dumpster, neighbor kids who are too short to reach the lid or too scared to stay long in the dark sometimes drop their loads on the concrete pavement inside the enclosure. This is where the hazard comes.

Continue reading

  • Share on Tumblr

Canyon de Chelly: Parks and the Expectation of Privacy

Invasion of Privacy

The sign is clear and unequivocal: Private Property. No Photography. The area behind the sign is empty. There are no buildings, no livestock. What doesn’t the landowner want you to see? As you follow the chain link fence towards White House Ruin, stands of cottonwoods and green brush block the view. Glimpses through the trees reveal that there is something there — a house or a barn. You continue on to the ruin where you meet vendors selling jewelry and crafts. On the way back, you see other tourists photographing the sign.

Many national parks and monuments contain private land, some more than others; so Canyon de Chelly is not unique. Some overlooks (such as the one above) let you look down into the lives of the farmers and sheep herders who make the canyons their home. You might ask “What is the problem?”

Continue reading

  • Share on Tumblr

Beneath the Sun: The Sunscreen Controversy

My dermatologist had me strip down to my underwear while her nurse watched, then had me lie down on the examination table while she scanned my skin with a black light. The white spots on my well-tanned arms gave her no cause for concern; the moles on my extremities seemed normal. But then she took out a can of freon and sprayed an area on my left cheek bone.

“There was only one pre-cancerous area,” she announced. “It’s gone now.” She went on to explain that it wasn’t unusual for basal cells to form on the left side of the face because that is the unshaded side when we drive. After she told me to make an appointment for next year, she told me to get some sunblock and use it.

Now there is another test that I routinely get: my endocrinologist measures my Vitamin D levels. A few years ago, they were lower than they should be, so she urged me to start taking supplemental doses to bring them up. The main symptom that I felt was a sustained, moderate depression. Weeks after I began taking the extra gel tabs, I started feeling better. I also started wearing shorts when I walked so that a larger area of skin would be exposed to the sun.

We get our Vitamin D from two sources, primarily: fortified milk and the sun. Vitamin D production is our version of photosynthesis. This is why psychiatrists and other doctors recommend that we get enough sunlight. But the recommendation clashes with what the dermatologist wants of us. Too much sunlight gives us skin cancer.

Continue reading

  • Share on Tumblr

Dogs on the Trail

Never underestimate a little dog. Once I saw a small poodle following its master up the trail to Cucamonga Peak in the Cucamonga Wilderness of the Angeles National Forest. The trail was rocky and steep, and we were about two miles up it, but there was the little guy keeping up with his owner who was moving at a steady clip. The only problem that I had was that the dog shouldn’t have been in a federal wilderness area (we had stopped with our Boston Terrier at the boundary). Like many dog owners, his master presumed that his dog was well behaved enough that he could snub the rule.

Continue reading

  • Share on Tumblr

Paths of Light

More site news: I am moving my photos over to a new blog called Paths of Light. I hope you will grace it with your visits as you do here!

  • Share on Tumblr

Music and Mountain Lions

Some of us collect anecdotes of stupid hikers at Whiting:

I met him just as he was coming off the Edison Trail in Whiting Ranch, a small, spindly man with no hair, shorts, a short-sleeved plaid shirt, and a pair of earbuds blasting Beethoven as loud as he could stand it. A few months before I had met a mountain lion on this very trail, so I stopped him.

“There’s deer up there at the end of the trail,” he said, waving his arm in the general direction of nowhere in particular. I have to admit that I was surprised that he saw them.

“There’s also mountain lion up there,” I said, motioning to his earbuds.

“Oh yes,” he shouted with a smile and went on his way.

Continue reading

  • Share on Tumblr