Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Orange County's National Natural Landmark

Recently, a number of local bloggers were invited on a tour of a portion of the Irvine Ranch in celebration of 5 years as being designated as a National Natural Landmark. The tour took place in Limestone Canyon, which is a truly beautiful location in Orange County. Ashley and I were unable to attend the event, but we had two guests/reporters (Debbie and Sue) that attended on our behalf and provided pictures and descriptions of the tour. Before the details on the tour, here is a little information about the land, the designation of being a National Natural Landmark, and why you should visit.

Nearly 40,000 acres of open space on the historic Irvine Ranch have been designated a Natural Landmark by both the State of California and the U.S. Department of Interior. This honor recognizes the exceptional value of these lands to California and the entire nation. The Natural Landmarks are protected and maintained by a network of cooperating landowners and managers including the County of Orange, the City of Irvine, the City of Newport Beach, and California State Parks. They share the common vision of planning and managing the long-term preservation of native habitats and species, and of bringing people and nature together through public access, education, land stewardship, and other programs.
This October marks the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Department of the Interior designating nearly 40,000 acres of protected land on the Irvine Ranch as a National Natural Landmark. It received this prestigious distinction because of the land's rare biological and geological features, and is one of less than 600 such sites in the United States to be classified as a National Natural Landmark. If you have not had a chance to hike or visit this wonderful wilderness that is located in Orange County, then it is time to go!

The best thing about visiting the National Natural Landmark is you don't have to spend lots of money and energy to visit this world class wilderness area. The National Natural Landmark offers amazing hiking, wildlife viewing, and educational learning opportunities. And best of all, most of the outdoor programs that are offered are free. There are equestrian programs, guided kayak programs, hiking and fitness programs, interpretive programs, mountain bike programs, stewardship programs, special events, and wilderness access programs. Bottom-line is there is something for everyone. Ashley and I have enjoyed the guided programs we have attended. The volunteers and docents are extremely knowledgable and you are guaranteed to learn something new about the land. You can check out the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks various activities and programs by clicking Here.

The Tour: (from the eyes of Debbie and Sue) The tour of the Limestone Canyon Wilderness Area was put on by the people at the Irvine Ranch. It began at the Augustine Staging area at 9:30 am. The tour was well done and was conducted by a number of gracious hosts; Wida Karim and  Evelyn Brown who were with IRC, Adam Shuck a Ranger with OC Parks, Ed who was a volunteer with IRC and the volunteer driver, and Lyndie Bradshaw with REI. It was fun to ride around in the back of a covered Ford F-250 truck that was lined with seats. The tour started up Hicks Haul Road, which is a paved surface in the Limestone Canyon Wilderness Area. It is an old ranch road and is in reality an extension of Jeffry Road. It goes right by a UC-Irvine research station that is located in the Limestone Canyon Wilderness Area.

Next the tour headed up the Loma Ridge Trail which offered spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. On the day of the tour, the views were spectacular and we had views all the way from the San Gabriels to Catalina. It was just off of the Loma Ridge Trail, down in the valley at Box Springs, that we enjoyed a picnic with everyone. It was an awesome experience to enjoy lunch while sitting under huge coastal oak trees while getting to talk with great company. This was also the area that we also saw a tarantula. After lunch, the tour next visited one of the biggest sights in the Limestone Canyon Wilderness Area, the Sinks(First picture on post). The Sinks is frequently called the "Grand Canyon of Orange County". It is a beautiful geological formation. There is a viewing platform that is present, which allows you to take in the surrounding beauty of the area. The sinks were carved by a landslide that was either caused by a major storm or fault movement.

After viewing the sinks, the tour concluded with a drive back on Limestone Canyon Road back to the Augustine Staging area. Along the way, the tour saw a tarantula, several deer, and multiple raptor species of birds. If you have not had a chance to visit Limestone Canyon, it is truly a must do! Ashley and I want to thank the people at the Irvine Ranch for putting on the tour show casing the true gem that the Limestone Canyon Wilderness Area is. We also want to thank Debbie and Sue for attending on our behalf and for taking the pictures and their report. For more pictures of the tour you can see them on our Facebook Page.

The reality is that you cannot go wrong with visiting any area in the National Natural Landmark. It is some of the most pristine wilderness still left in Orange County. These areas offer amazing scenery, the chance to see local wildlife, and best of all a break from the hectic pace of life. The following are a list of hikes that Ashley and I have been on that are located in the National Natural Landmark. Also make sure to sign up for some of the activities and programs that are offered by the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks by clicking Here.

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