Monday, August 26, 2019

The Grand Canyon of Orange County

Orange County has a wide diversity of terrain, and while many people may bemoan the development of what seems to be every corner, There is one open space area that has been set apart from development.  Thanks to the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, more than 30,000 acres of open space has been reserved to remain undeveloped in Orange County.  And one area is especially unique.

Known as “The Sinks,”within the Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve of 4000 acres, you can find a natural canyon that resembles Arizona’s Grand Canyon, as perhaps the canyon looked when it was in it’s early development.   

The Sinks require a little hiking to access, but by visiting the Irvine Conservancy’s website, ( you can join a guided tour of the area.   Access to Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve is granted only through the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. The easiest way to hike to the Sinks is to go on a “wilderness access day”, usually the first Saturday of each month from 7 am – 1 pm.  On these days, you have independent access to explore the park as you choose.

According to their site, “It is a moderate 7.6 mile round trip hike.  Once you reach the Sinks, there is a viewing platform that provides a great vantage point to explore the deep canyon carved in the sandstone bedrock.  Make sure to bring your camera!  The scenery is breathtaking!”

Along the way you will discover many plants unique to the area, and perhaps even encounter some wildlife: but be careful.  Some of that fauna is dangerous.  Our hills are home to rattlesnakes and even mountain lions.  That’s why group travel is the best option.

Photo by Jim Tarpo Photography
Close to civilization, but a world apart, visit Limestone Canyon for a taste of the old Orange County. 

To get to Limestone Canyon, Head North on Jamboree Blvd. to E. Santiago Canyon and turn right. Keep an eye on your odometer for .7 mile, and turn into the Limestone Canyon Park.  If you hit Silverado Canyon, you’ve gone too far. 

The Irvine Ranch Conservancy is a non-profit organization that welcomes donations and volunteers.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Plaza in Orange

The first thing you need to know is to not call it “The Circle.”

The city of Orange covers a wide area, and there is a little something for everyone.  From the fancy Orange Hill restaurant on a hill looking west to Signal Hill, to one of the finest Children’s Hospitals (CHOC) found anywhere. It is an eclectic mix of architecture, culture, dining experiences, education and citizenry. 

Photo by Robert A. Estremo
The multi-cultural city has been celebrating its diversity long before multiculturalism became a thing, with shops and a celebration that belongs uniquely to Orange, all centered around a highway round-about.  It lies where Chapman Avenue and Glassell meet in Old Town Orange, just blocks away from Chapman University and right in the heart of the county.

In fact, Old Town Orange comprises the largest National Register District in California. Approximately a square mile in size, it is made up of the Plaza, antique stores, homes and a railroad station… nearly 1200 buildings in all.    

People from out of Orange call it “The Circle,” and if you do, the locals will know right away that you are not from Orange because it is properly called “The Orange Plaza.” In its center is a green park with a fountain and 75 foot flagpole that is open 24/7, 365 days a year.  At Christmas it is decorated with a large tree and a classic Nativity scene: During other parts of the year you will find it seasonally decorated as well. 

The biggest affair takes place over Labor Day Weekend, where all four spokes coming off the hub of the plaza (Chapman East, West, Glassell North and South) hold the International Street Fair.  Each wing is equipped with a stage featuring acts celebrating each street theme by country.  The Plaza is lined with booths offering crafts and art.  The festival began in 1978. 

Along with the entertainment, food booths feature mouth watering treats from all over the world, including Germany, France, the Netherlands, Mexico, Asia… the choices are too many for a single day, so the Festival lasts From Friday through Sunday  (This year August 30 – September 1, 2019).  The theme this year is… wait for it… “Circle the World.”  Yes. Even Orange occasionally slips and calls it the Circle.

The Plaza itself goes all the way back to 1886 when Orange was one of the first cities to incorporate in Orange County. City founders thought the circular access would give the town a pleasing character, and they were right. The Plaza has been featured in many movies, including “Fallen Angel,” “Gumball Rally,” and “Monster in the Closet.”

And just to add one more event: Twice yearly the students of Chapman college hold an unofficial “Undie Run,” where about 2000 students tear off their outerwear down to their skivvies and run from the campus to the Plaza fountain. 

Check out the plaza and the wonderful stores that surround it. The Orange Plaza area is an Orange County “Must See.”

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Goat Hill Junction Railroad

Photo from the Orange County Model Engineers

When Newport Harbor High opened in 1930, a cross-town rivalry developed between the Newport Beach teens and those who lived in Costa Mesa.  Costa Mesa kids referred to the high school on the hill over Newport Beach as “Mackerel Flats,” while the NHH students called Costa Mesa “Goat Hill.”

There are a couple of references that remain today recalling the moniker. On Newport Blvd. near 19th street there is a dive bar called “the Goat Hill Tavern.” The other notable reference is the Goat Hill Junction Railroad, located on Placentia Avenue in Costa Mesa.

In 1977, a spin-off group from Long Beach founded the Orange County Model Engineers (originally the Orange County Live Steamers), and began looking for an appropriate place to be able to permanently develop and display a miniature railroad.  They first considered Mile Square Park, but developers balked at the idea of allowing a large swath of land for what seemed to be something of limited interest.

Undaunted, the OCME took their search elsewhere, including Huntington Beach and Heritage Park in Irvine.  But none of the proposals took root. Finally, they were approached by the city of Costa Mesa, and in 1989, they broke ground on what was to become their permanent home just off of Placentia along the edge of Fairview Park. They opened in 1991.

Today the Goat Hill Railroad operates regularly on the third weekend of each month, offering free rides to families fascinated with the tiny railroad. Originally a simple loop, the train track has grown to over five miles of track, including a bridge over Placentia.   You can also arrange to hold special events with the railroad on closed weekends.

Goat Hill Junction has one of the largest miniature train layouts on the west coast, enjoyed by young and old alike.  They are a non-profit organization and welcome your donations. They not only offer free rides, but lately many of the older engineers have begun apprenticing young “at risk” youth to help them learn valuable skills in steam machinery operation. 

The volunteer staff are all very friendly and are happy to answer any questions you may have.

There is free parking, and you can ride as often as you like.  Lines can get long midday, so plan to arrive early.

Goat Hill Junction Railroad operates from 10 am to 3 pm. Telephone: (949)548-7246 in Fairview Park on Placentia Ave. and Swan Drive in Costa Mesa. 2480 Placentia Costa Mesa, CA 92626.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Bunnyhenge and the Bad Dog

Lest you think Orange County has little to get upset about, consider Bunnyhenge. 

In 2015 the City of Newport Beach was putting the final touches on their newly designed, revamped, and really interesting Civic Center, located between MacArthur Blvd and Avocado Street. The Library got a facelift, the Administration has a wavy exterior to match the beach theme of the town… And a large circle of bunnies sit atop the hill playing the weirdest stare-out game you have ever seen. 

There are 14 of the critters, and a great deal of thought was given to their creation. Each sculpture stands about 3-1/2 feet tall, and the wascally wabbits have been creeping out many residents ever since they were revealed. 

Created by the designers at PWP Landscape architecture, the bunnies were selected over several other species considered, including lizards, quail, turtles, and seagulls, as they tried to get the right animal to “fit the vibe of Newport Beach.” Bunnies. Yes. Bunnies. 

The city was hoping to create an instantly recognizable landmark that would inspire children to play and imagine. But many of the residents questioned the price of the artwork, which came in at a whopping $221,000. 

Also for your viewing pleasure nearby: A two story black dog stands next to the Orange County Museum of Art, leg lifted. Occasionally vandals have been known to add yellow spray paint to the building, in case you had any doubt of the dog’s intent. The “Bad Dog” sculpture was created by artist Richard Jackson. 

Children do play at Bunnyhenge, as the sculpture has come to be known. But many curmudgeons have called the rabbits satanic or spaced out at the least. They continue to point to the bunnies as a tremendous waste of money. But the bunnies are unfazed by the negativity. They sit in a perfect circle, staring off with blank eyes at whatever you imagine.

 The Infamous Modesta Avila There are a lot of people expressing their opinion regarding what constitutes a peaceful protest, and how far pe...