Sunday, June 25, 2017

Bicycle Camping: O'Neill Park & La Pata Extension

Deep behind the "Orange Curtain", (and I mean really deep, deeper than Irvine), there exists a region that is of utmost niceness.  However one wishes to describe it, it is distinctly separated from the rest of the surrounding area by a canyon which is  passable only by one of four bridges (which probably didn't even exist 30 years ago), a toll road, or a 2 lane undivided highway.  This is the area encompassing the communities of Rancho Santa Margarita, Coto De Caza, Ladera Ranch, etc.  I have come to refer to it as the "Holy Land" of Orange County, not only because of the seemingly high concentration of churches or the naming of Santa Margarita, but because of the symbolic crossing over Trabuco Canyon required to enter.  You see, Trabuco Canyon was named so because of some Spanish explorer who had lost his gun (trabuco) in the canyon.  Thus making it a land devoid of violence... or at least that's how my imagination puts it together....  I know that many famous people live in the area especially since Coto De Caza is an entirely walled city, (meaning only the people that live there and their gardeners are allowed in). Last time I checked, 2 members of Linkin Park, and Warren G were among its residents (which also means he must not have been very far from home when I saw him perform at How The West Was Won in Irvine).
The "Holy Land"
I rest my case, here's an image from Google Earth's "time travel" option of the same area in 1984.
One of the bridges over Trabuco Creek.  Trabuco Creek flows from the Santa Ana mountains in the northeast.  Upstream is the "Holy Jim Canyon" which is named after the legendary "Cussing Jim" who is famous for killing the last bear in Orange County.  (The USGS didn't feel like putting "Cussing Jim Canyon" on a map, so they decided to re-name it, or as I like to say; they "made cussing holy").  I also like to believe that the symbolic killing of the bear is the reason Orange County is so rich; because there's never a bear market! (further complicating this story is the fact that there's a very large water pipeline feeding the "El Toro Reservoir" in Mission Viejo, which is named after 2 people: the Allen and McColloch Pipeline, or AMP, and since an amp is a measure of electricity, and toro means bull, they are effectively charging the bull market constantly, again my overactive imagination at work)
Obviously, I really love this area.  And whenever I'm there, it makes me feel good that I'm not the only person that likes nice things.  I finally decided it was long overdue for me to try camping for the first time, and what better place to start than O'Neill Park? It is situated right in the canyon of Trabuco Creek, north of Rancho Santa Margarita where the nature and air quality are most exquisite! *at least as by southern California standards!
Another interesting bit of trivia is that the street named after the same O'Neill in Mission Viejo was renamed "Olympiad" for the 1984 LA Olympic cycling event which took place there.  Look at those downtube shifters!
Here I am crossing the bridge on Santa Margarita Pkwy with the Saddleback Mountains in the distance. (named such because the 2 peaks resemble a horse riding saddle)
It felt pretty surreal as I pulled up to this nice riverbed while blasting some music from Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga on my cassette player.  I took a convenient bike path along the eastern ridge of the canyon toward the park's "Mesa" entrance.  This trail even had its own bridge over the toll road.
My attempt at a panorama shot of the park entrance.  They warn of mountain lions, but I'm pretty sure it's a law of the "vegan voodoos" that if you don't eat animals, then they won't want to eat you, so I wasn't worried.  The road to the right leads to the "Mesa" day use, the convenient bike shortcut to Rancho Santa Margarita instead of competing with road traffic on the winding 2 lane Trabuco Canyon Road up the hillside.  The catch is that the park is gated on the mesa side and inaccessible at night, which means you could find yourself locked inside the park after climbing to the top and having to throw your bike over a 6 foot fence. (don't ask me how I know that)
The road to the campgrounds with the Saddleback mountains overlooking.  It felt like walking in the shadow of a giant, or the pyramids at Giza.
Looks like they have their own water supply here as evidenced by this pump house.  This makes sense since the park being in a riverbed, would imply a groundwater basin below.  My speculations must have been true since the water there tasted good, not like typical chlorine tap water.
They let me ride around and see which spot I liked.  I went with lucky #13.  They said all the spots are booked on the weekends during summer, I went on a Thursday and it seemed like 3/4 of the spots were taken still.  They didn't have sites dedicated for bicycle camping so I paid the same $20 as everybody else.  The guy next to mine offered me a cold water, it was easily the coldest water I'd had all day.
All the sites come equipped with a fire ring, barbecue, and water faucet.  Somebody left me some free wood, but I didn't feel like trying to light it.  Not sure I'd feel comfortable doing metalcasting here, since the area is so susceptible to wildfires!
The view looking out toward Trabuco Canyon Road, behind the trees.
Unpacking the tent.
Home sweet funky expedition!
Ain't nothin' like them summer nights!
Waking up the next morning.  I had used a yoga mat from a garage sale to put under my sleeping bag, but it was still pretty hard.  I plan to get something thicker at the Army surplus store for next time.
Day 2 plans include riding down Antonio Parkway and then continuing as it turns into La Pata Avenue.  This street was recently connected between Ortega Hwy and San Clemente.  Prior to summer 2016, La Pata ended at the Prima Deschecha landfill on the San Juan Capistrano side.  This extension was good news for me since I like finding new routes for the ride between Orange County and San Diego, so I figured I'd try it out!
On the way out of Trabuco Canyon, I passed the downtown area.  This place certainly has that old country vibe to it. 
A view of Trabuco Canyon from the top.  Towards the right is the trail which leads to Cussing Jim Canyon and the trail head to Santiago Peak.
After a stop at Smart & Final for some provisions.  Is that a stainless steel bike rack? So luxurious!
Riding along Antonio Parkway.  This street was a nice gradual downhill from RSM with generous bike lane the whole way.  Here we can see the marine layer off in the distance.
Entering the marine layer near Ladera Ranch.
Aww yeah! a nice down hill leading into the valley of Capistrano Creek and Ortega Hwy.
Overlooking some new development at Rancho Mission Viejo.  This valley seemed very reminiscent of the San Luis Rey River near Fallbrook, especially since both San Juan Creek and San Luis Rey River are named after missions, and both have a highway running parallel, and an agricultural history.
Stopping at the park for a break.  There's the view of the next part of the route ahead.  Ortega Highway directly in front.
On the uphill.  Looks like there's a lot of new construction going on around here.  There were still signs from the street extension construction saying the shoulder was closed from some date until 2016, the shoulder was certainly open the whole way when I went.
A view of San Juan Hills High School.  This might be the 2nd or 3rd least convenient high school to walk to under Diamond Ranch or Tesoro.  Who am I to judge? I never even attended any of those!  I guess I might've objected to putting a high school within such close proximity to an active landfill, but hey, they do weird things with land zoning in southern California.
On the way up La Pata.  In the distance is the bridge where the landfill is at.  Interestingly, these electric poles aren't actually made out of wood, but rather steel tubing rusted to give a similar look.
Underneath the bridge.  A nice sweeping path ahead through the valley.  This marks the beginning of the new extension.
A beautiful view of the..... Prima Deshecha Landfill- one of Orange County's 3 remaining active landfills.  Seeing all this infrastructure in one day makes me feel like I'm playing Sim City or something.  I saw a rectangular structure, very small in the distance, which looked like a flare for the methane gas emitted from the landfill (judging by the heat rays coming from the top).  Perhaps they even use it for power generation.
Reaching toward the end of the new extension.  Hey, I think I'm in San Clemente now!
If I didn't know better, I would think I was in San Diego.  This part of San Clemente has very much the same topography of that area.  I learned on this ride that there is so much more to this city than can be seen from Coast Highway!
Ever since I read about how artichoke thistle is a non-native invasive species in California, I've been noticing it a lot more.  You can even tell here how out of place it looks in the surrounding vegetation.  Never before have I seen such a high concentration of this plant than in the hills of San Clemente.
All the green on this hillside is artichoke thistle!
Zooming in.  My goodness! So much purple!
Do I make my point clear?
The adjacent hillside appears to have more on one side than the other.
After turning right on Avenida Pico.  I found a short stretch of bike trail on the side which felt like it ended too early.  Looks like they decided to take out the bus route in this area.
Oh no! the Carrow's we used to stop at on the way back from Legoland is no longer there!  Regimes is changing!
At last, making it to the beach in north San Clemente.  I went to one of my favorite bike shops only to find construction workers tearing up the pavement in front.  Amazingly, the store was still open in spite of a huge chunk of pavement leading up to it missing!
Right next to this is the San Clemente north Metrolink station.
Ooooh, so playa!  The water felt real nice after such exercise.
I was very satisfied with this adventure, I think bicycle camping may become a recurring feature of this website.

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