We started our hike just before sunrise at 7 a.m. as the sky was beginning to glow in blue and orange.
I was taken aback by the unusually low temperature, wishing I’d brought a jacket to wear on top of my thin, long-sleeved shirt. But I felt my body warming up as we ascended a steep hill.
When we reached the ridge, I could see the sun rising above layers of the Santa Ana Mountains. The breathtaking backlit image reminded me of the Great Smoky Mountains I used to hike often as a graduate school student.
It was hard to believe I was just a 15-minute drive from home.
The 7-mile docent-led hike took us through Irvine and Santiago Oaks regional parks and Weir Canyon.
Santiago Oaks is a nature lover’s paradise that offers mountain vistas, an orange grove, a meandering creek, and a mature forest for hikers, bikers and equestrians.
From one of the peaks, we could see all the way to Santa Catalina Island and downtown L.A.
We walked along winding trails – in valleys, on hillsides and along ridges. We didn’t hear any car noise even though we were in the heart of Orange County.
“I believe that being outdoors is important to your mental and physical health,” said Judy Bright, a docent for Irvine Ranch Conservancy. “There’s something about being outdoors that relieves stress, puts your mind in the right place and leaves your troubles of the day behind you.”
We heard quails clucking in the bushes. One of the hikers saw a falcon touching down on a hillside.
“Things we don’t often think about out here are all the pollinators and how important all those insects are to life,” Bright told us. “We don’t want them in our homes, but they are important out here to all these plants.”
We felt even more secluded once we entered Weir because of the deep canyons and steep hillsides.
A historical marker along the trail stated that oxen-drawn carts carried hides to the embarcadero at San Juan Capistrano in the 1800s.
I could feel big ideas and new dreams stirring inside my head as I walked under the shade of oak groves, for which Weir is known. No wonder many great thinkers preferred strolling and meditating in nature.
“It’s just amazing that this land is out there and it’s protected,” said Betty Van Kirk, one of the hikers in the group. “It’s well taken care of, and trails are groomed. It’s great to have something like this where you work all day and you can go for a sunset hike in the evening.”
Fellow hiker Shilo Bartlett agreed.
“We are so lucky,” she said. “We live in nirvana. We have weather that’s great all year. We have great natural resources. We are just blessed.”
Visit letsgooutside.org to register for free programming offered by Irvine Ranch Conservancy.