About five years ago on our way back from lunch in Murrieta, we exited the 15 freeway at Clinton Keith Road to see where the road would take us. We headed toward the Cleveland Forest until we came across what appeared to be hiking trails.
Our little driving adventure had brought us to the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.
What is the Reserve? Here is an excerpt from the rivcoparks.org website:
Consisting of 9000 acres, the Reserve protects unique ecosystems such as Engelmann oak woodlands, riparian wetlands, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, bunchgrass prairie, and vernal pools as well as more than 200 species of native birds and 49 endangered, threatened or rare animal and plant species, including mule deer, mountain lions, badgers, bobcats, western pond turtles, white-tailed kites and fairy shrimp. Of the two species of fairy shrimp that live in the seasonal vernal pools on the Reserve, one is found only here and nowhere else on Earth!
We have gone back many times since our first visit in 2012, but after highlighting the trails I remember us hiking over the years, it is clear that we still have a few to go.
Here are some pictures from our many visits:
The Visitor Center is one of three places to enter the reserve, and is probably a good place to start on your first visit, especially if you have kids or need access to an actual restroom.
The Visitor Center has informative displays inside the building and out through the back doors, including this graphic that made me kind of sad:
When the last California grizzly was killed just north of here in 1908, it brought an end to an animal nicknamed “Bear of the Chaparral”.
We usually park at the Hidden Valley trail head and start our hikes on the Trans Preserve trail. We have also parked at the Vernal Pool trail head, which is a good place to start if you just want to visit the vernal pools.
The trails at Santa Rosa are marked and pretty easy to follow. Grab a map from one of the trail heads, and you should have no problem finding your way around.
One of our favorite spots is this tree tunnel on the Trans Preserve trail.
This is another of my favorite spots. I love the sound when the grass is a little taller and the wind is a little stronger.
The big vernal pool is one of the main sights to see. If you haven’t heard of a vernal pool before, here is some info from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:
Vernal pools are a type of temporary wetland […] where a hard underground layer prevents rainwater from draining downward into the subsoils. […] In the springtime the water gradually evaporates away, until the pools become completely dry in the summer and fall.
Vernal pools support plants and animals that are specifically adapted to living with very wet winter and spring conditions followed by very dry summer and fall conditions.
We’ve visited the big vernal pool when it was empty, like on this visit in 2012…
… and when it was full, like on this visit in March 2017…
I have read about the fairy shrimp, but have never seen them. During our visit in March 2017, we saw thousands of tiny pink and translucent creatures in the water. I’m not sure if these are the two different types of fairy shrimp, but the water was full of them both.
We went back again a month later when the vernal pool wasn’t as full, and saw some water snakes, including this guy or girl…
This video shows one of the water snakes, the view from Monument Hill and part of the Trans Preserve trail:
Although they are out there, we have only seen coyotes a few times.
We also caught an impromptu air show earlier this year put on by the Red Eagles Formation Team. Apparently, this is one of the team’s approved training locations. Very impressive.
There are two adobes on the Reserve that were built in the mid-1800s. You can walk through the compound and into one of the adobes. We visited them on our first trip.
The highest spot on the Reserve seems to be Monument Hill, which we visited for the first time earlier this year.
The lone bench at the top of the hill is a nice quiet spot to enjoy the view.
Our most recent trip: November 2017
This was the first time we parked at the Visitor Center, which gave us the opportunity to take some trails we had never hiked before. We ended up hiking about nine miles.
We saw this hill off Waterline Road and decided to get a closer look.
The rocks were a little sketchy, so I took a quick picture of my wife enjoying the view and climbed back down.
From Waterline Road, we continued along Monument Hill Road until we reached the Punta Mesa Trail, which was our main goal for the day. We even got to see a dinosaur…
Although there hasn’t been any rain recently, there was still water under this bridge on the Adobe Loop trail…
Another great day at the Plateau.
When we’re in the mood for wide open spaces without having to climb too much, this is the place we go.
For more information about the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, click here: www.rivcoparks.org