On Sunday, a hot mid-August day, my wife and I visited the Santa Rosa Plateau. The Santa Rosa Plateau is a 7,000 acre ecological reserve on the eastern slope of the Santa Ana Mountain range in south Riverside County.
The following information about the reserve is from the visitor's guide, "Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve," available at the visitors' center. The reserve is reached by taking Interstate 15 to Murrieta in south Riverside county. Exit Clinton Keith Road. Go west on Clinton Keith Road into the hills, pass the new housing developments. The signs are clear and will direct you to the visitors' center.
The reserve was created in 1984, when the Nature Conservancy, in San Francisco, purchased 3,100 acres. In 1991, the County of Riverside purchased another 3,825 acres. The reserve is cooperatively managed by The Nature Conservancy, the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District, the California Department of Fish and Game, and other agencies.
I am embarrassed to say that this was our first visit to the reserve. We should have visited it before. It is an extraordinary glimpse of native California habitats. The 3,000 acres of grassland is the largest remaining bunchgrass prairie in California. Other formations include Chaparral and coastal sage scrub. The bird population includes owls and hawks. The mammals include deer and mountain lions.
The reserve ranges over 2,000 feet in elevation. From the hilltops, it is possible to look east, over south Riverside County, and see what California looked like before settlement. Several vistas provide no view of the massive housing developments that sprawl across the County. Staring across reserve, across the valley, to the hills and mountains to the east, I was struck, so suddenly that I gasped, this is what Southern California looked like, 200 years ago.
The County has cut a half dozen trails of varying lengths and hiking difficulty in the reserve. We hiked the easiest trail, Granite Loop, about 2.5 miles of reasonably level ground, a wide trail, and several modest rises. The trail goes through beautiful oak groves, prairie openings, crosses a stream (water below ground at this time of year), and skirts a vernal pool.
The photographs were taken from the Granite Loop. Click on the thumbnails below for a full-size image in a popup window. Panoramas are 400 pixels wide. Portraits are 500 pixels high.