If life in God's Country, a.k.a. Orange County, is getting a bit ungodly lately and you decide that heading for the tall timber would be just the thing, don't bother topping off your gas tank. There's a spot at the northeastern corner of the county, tucked away in a small canyon in the Chino Hills, that could go a long way toward satisfying a yearning to be surrounded by big trees.
It is there, in a corner of Carbon Canyon Regional Park accessible to visitors only by a hiking trail, that Orange County's resident California redwood grove thrives in an environment that is nearly perfect for the giant trees.
The California redwood is not indigenous to Southern California, said park ranger Art Romero. But in 1975, the year the park opened to the public, more than 100 seedlings were planted in a pocket canyon near Carbon Canyon Dam. The low location, said Romero, naturally attracted moisture and fog, both of which help the trees flourish. An irrigation system also was added to keep the 10-acre grove watered during the often dry summer months.
It's necessary only to look at the trees today to judge the suitability of the spot. In slightly more than 13 years, they have grown to sizes ranging from 40 to 50 feet. In time, said Romero, they will grow to heights comparable to the huge coastal redwoods of Northern California.
The broad, shady grove is at the end of a 1 1/4-mile hiking trail that begins--by way of contrast--in a native Monterey pine grove near the entrance to the park on Carbon Canyon Road in Brea. From there, the trail winds across Carbon Canyon Creek, past walnut and pepper trees, near the base of the dam and finally into the redwood grove. Free trail maps are available at the office near the park entrance.
The very existence of the park is a kind of exception that proves a rule. While most of the rest of Orange County has grown from an agricultural backwater to a sprawling urban and suburban business and commerce center, Carbon Canyon park and the nearby land has gone in the opposite direction. In the 1880s, the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad triggered a land boom in the area and farmers and ranchers flocked there. Late in that decade oil was discovered and company oil towns sprang up. One of those towns, Olinda, thrived until the oil fields began to disappear in the 1940s. Today, the park occupies the land on which Olinda was developed. The old boom town structures are gone, and have been replaced by open park land.
Even a lake was added, and is regularly stocked with catfish, said Romero.
The park also offers access to the adjacent Chino Hills State Park--open, hilly land that draws many equestrians, said Romero. Also, he said, a 1 1/2-mile bike trail allows cyclists to ride to the top of the dam for a commanding view of much of Orange County to the south. On a clear day, he said, it is possible to see Santa Catalina Island.
Elsewhere in the park are lighted tennis courts, shelters for picnics, horseshoe pits, children's play areas, volleyball courts, baseball diamonds and an interpretive center at the park office.
Still, said Romero, the redwood grove remains a favorite destination for visitors. There are picnic tables and benches there, and a drinking fountain for thirsty hikers. But mostly there is the solitude and silence that only California redwoods seem able to provide.
CARBON CANYON REGIONAL PARK AT A GLANCE
Where: 4422 Carbon Canyon Road, Brea (about a mile from the western end of the canyon).
Hours: Open daily. Nov. 1 to March 31, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 1 to Oct. 31, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Parking fee: $2 per car.