In Southern California Coastal Mountains to the Sea, acclaimed photographer David R. Stoecklein takes readers on an awe-inspiring picture tour of a magnificent 50,000-acre network of permanently preserved land and Open Space in the heart of densely populated Southern California. This unique land has been permanently designated as a Natural Landmark by both the State of California and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
With 208 large-format pages and more than 150 color photographs, Southern California Coastal Mountains to the Sea is a grand book illustrating the landscape beauty of the Irvine Ranch land, its history and its significance as a National Natural Landmark.
One of the largest urban open space areas in the United States, more than 3 million people live less than 20 minutes from the landscape beauty of the historic Irvine Ranch. Stretching from the coastal mountains to the sea, it is home to stunning features like deeply forested oak woodlands, vast canyons and hillsides that fill with seasonal wildflowers and a unique geological formation known as “The Sinks” in Limestone Canyon, which originated some 35 million years ago and has the look of a miniature Grand Canyon.
For over a century, these magnificent lands were used by cowboys for cattle grazing. Today, the public has access to thousands of acres of Irvine Ranch Open Space and parklands as a result of ongoing efforts to enhance and restore these biologically important lands, representing an important chapter of land preservation and conservation in perpetuity.
In the book, readers are guided through this visually stunning tour of the Irvine Ranch land by individual chapters that focus on the various and diverse regions of the Open Space – one unique region at a time:
CRYSTAL COVE STATE PARK. For almost a century, the classic beauty of the bluffs and white sandy beaches of Crystal Cove State Park have been captured by camera and paintbrush alike. And in 1979, this spectacular Open Space became a State Park. A popular destination for both locals and visitors, more than 1 million people visit the park each year.
“BACK BAY” NEWPORT BEACH. Upper Newport Bay, also known as “Back Bay,” is home to one of the largest coastal wetlands in Southern California and some 1,000 acres of urban Open Space. In 2000, the bluffs along the north and northwest were dedicated as the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve and Ecological Reserve. It is also home to nearly 200 species of birds, some classified as rare or endangered, including the light footed clapper rail, Belding’s savannah sparrow, the brown pelican, black rail, peregrine falcon and the California least tern. In fact, Upper Newport Bay is widely considered one of the finest bird-watching sites in North America.
SHADY CANYON. Just over the hill from millions of people is a wide Open Space, pristine and green. Unlike Bommer Canyon, which was once cattle country, Shady Canyon has never been heavily grazed and remains nearly the same as when nature first created it. This hidden jewel of a canyon has some of the best trails in Orange County, mostly single track and designed by professionals specifically for hiking and mountain biking. These entertaining trails were built by hand and are maintained in large part by dedicated volunteers.
LIMESTONE CANYON. Formed in the Oligocene period more than 35 million years ago by water erosion, the Sespe formation of limestone and sandstone is literally the bedrock of Limestone Canyon. The area is prized for its remarkable beauty and biological diversity. The dramatic “Sinks” are the centerpiece of this spectacular Open Space land, a huge, steep-walled sandstone ravine often referred to as a miniature Grand Canyon.
Irvine Lake. Named by Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola in 1769, Santiago Creek flows for about 29 miles through the Santa Ana Mountains and into the Santa Ana River. In 1931, the Santiago Dam was constructed on the creek to create a reservoir of irrigation water and Irvine Lake was born, a beautiful expanse of Open Space and a popular recreation center.
Black Star Canyon. Back in the days of Spanish and Mexican rule, Black Star Canyon was called “Canon de los Indios” and was part of the expansive “Rancho Lomas de Santiago.” The canyon was a major thoroughfare for early settlers who resided in its scenic side canyons. Today, Black Star Canyon remains an important archaeological site for researchers chronicling the daily lives of the Gabrielino-Tongva Indians.
Fremont Canyon. Once known as Canyon de la Horca or “choked canyon” because part of it chokes into a narrow passageway, Fremont Canyon is now more often referred to as “the Yosemite of Orange County” because of its large granite outcrops and spectacular steep canyon walls. Encompassing roughly 12,000 acres of pristine Open Space land, Fremont Canyon is rich in habitat and species diversity, with more than 19 miles of trails.
Weir Canyon. Weir Canyon is home to roughly 3,000 acres of rolling hills, extensive oak woodlands, native grasslands and Open Space, with more than nine miles of trails. Over the years numerous fossils have been discovered here, including those of a duckbilled dinosaur from the late Cretaceous period – some 75 million to 80 million years old.
Gypsum Canyon. Gypsum Canyon is home to steep rocky granite and sandstone cliffs that shield it from the coastal fog and cool ocean breezes. With its inland exposure the climate here is more like the desert than the coast. Patches of California deer grass, a warm-season perennial bunch grass, provide food for the mule deer that roam the craggy canyons.
Loma Ridge. Set in the foothills leading up to the Santa Ana Mountains, Loma Ridge sits high above Limestone Canyon and the flatlands of the City of Irvine. Hiking up here is its own reward, especially after a 400-foot ascent in less than half a mile. The sweeping views from the ridgeline are nearly unrivaled in Orange County.
Bommer Canyon. Bommer Canyon is an oasis of permanently preserved Open Space land in an otherwise suburban landscape. Once part of the original Rancho San Joaquin, the canyon served as the center for the Irvine Company’s cattle operations before being transferred to the City of Irvine in the 1980s.