March 23, 2010

Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve near Lake Elsinore

We have moved our operations north of Los Angeles, as we are now staying at Malibu Creek State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area for the week. We just arrived this afternoon, but it is amazing that located just 15 miles away is a megalopolis of 15 million people. Because here, at this virtually empty campground on a Tuesday night, there is only silence broken by the occassional sounds of bluebirds calling in an ash tree, a raven on the cliffs above, or the wind rustling through the oak trees.

Lake Elsinore

That being said, things will change on Friday night as this and every other campground campground is completely booked to capacity. In fact, that has become the new challenge of moving into California, which is weekend crowds. While 5 days a week we can do whatever we want, it is becoming a challenge to figure out where we will stay on Friday and Saturday nights. Virtually every campground and RV park I can find on the internet is booked solid every weekend and empty mid-week.

Anyways, yesterday we ventured inland across the Santa Ana mountains and down to Lake Elsinor. It is a pretty nice looking community on the shores of the largest natural lake in So. California. The valley is formed by the Elsinor Fault, a major side branch of the San Andreas Fault. Located a few miles south of the lake is the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.

This preserve of grasslands and coast live oak stands contains a rarity in So. California, which are the vernal pools containing endangered frogs, brine shrimp, and a major breeding ground for several species of wetland birds on the mesa. Vernal pools dry up completely every summer and only fill up because the soils beneath them are too hardpacked to allow any drainage. In this particular case, the mesa was formed by a basalt lava flow on top of sedimentary rocks that both resisted erosion and prevents rain from draining into it.

The scenery was beautiful, especially the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains and Mount San Jacinto in the distance. It was the first time we saw poison oak fully leafed out, so we told Hilina about it and she stayed away. But, she again did an amazing job hiking over 2 miles of the 6 mile roundtrip loop. She made it to the vernal pools where she was extremely excited to see the tadpoles, brine shrimp, and various aquatic insects flittering about.

We think she is really going to enjoy getting a dissecting scope in the near future to examine creatures up close. The Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve is truly a treasure and preserves what little is left of the native Southern California habitats, as the region is continually converted into millions of homes.

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