The Middle of Nowhere lay on the line between the Cleveland National Forest and the Fremont Canyon Nature Preserve, among a collection of rocks called “Little Yosemite”. Massive boulders rose from the endless thicket of sagebrush, chaparral mallow, laurel sumac, and — the notorious fire starter — chamise. Some outcrops suggested the skulls of alien monsters, others had descriptive names like the Lizard, the Lamb, and R2D2. The cliffs faced the Santa Anas on one side and the Chino Hills on the other. You could see as far as the San Gabriels which rose from a smoggy valley of steel, concrete, and automobile congestion.
We had come riding in the back of a pickup from an isolated trailhead on the edge of Irvine Regional Park, over roads that twisted and turned for miles, dipping and climbing, lashing out at the mountain vistas that hid the horizon. Mule deer bounded away in a characteristic high prancing run as we passed. Blackened branches from a forgotten fire poked through the shrubbery and bunch grass made a valiant effort to beat off the invasive wild oats and foxtails. We bumped and we grimaced as we hit rocks and ditches, but no one complained because the ride was free to the ten of us.
On the way to the community of rocks I marked a seam of coal at the edge of an abandoned strip mine, a weather station with a whirling anemometer atop the aptly named Windy Ridge, and the slate blue waters of Irvine Lake set in golden fields of summer grass. Cliffs paved with rocks resembling the scales of a Godzilla faced us across the canyon. I photographed many of these things when we stopped to enjoy the view or investigate the fringe of a meadow.
The “out” of our out and back ended in the lower part of Little Yosemite. We climbed past a gate usually locked against adventurers from the national forest along a pebble-strewn roadbed to the crowning rocks of the formation. I braved the pebble-strewn ridges above some of the promontories. When we came down, we explored the lower rocks looking for shapes. I picked out an ape and a golden retriever on my own. Others pointed out other stone monsters. Then — the light reddened and the guides hurried us back into the truck. The stones we rolled over were huge and I felt my acrophobia start to prick me as we regained the summit of Windy Ridge and looked down upon the toll road that splits the hills.
The tour ended where it began in an anonymous, remote parking lot. We unloaded ourselves from the truck and headed home.
You can sign up for the “Journey to the Middle of Nowhere and Back” at the Irvine Natural Landmarks site.
Thank you to Michael, Michelle, and the other docents for their leadership during this tour.