The light faded as we headed toward the hills and our rendezvous point for our special guided night hike in Silverado Canyon. We’ve walked around our neighborhood in the dark to see the moon and what’s different when the sun goes down, but never anything like this with the kids. I have incredibly clear memories of the night hike I took as a 12 year old at 6th grade science camp near Lake Cachuma. I was amazed how my eyes adjusted and how we could pick out glow worms and banana slugs along the trail. It’s a cool feeling to be in complete darkness and to get comfortable with that feeling.
Having Joel Robinson of Naturalist for You lead our night hike brought me back to that feeling of wonder and made me feel a bit like a twelve year old again. Joel makes nature accessible by taking away the fear factor. He’s probably correct my terminology, as well. Our adventure wasn’t so much a “night hike” and it was “nocturnal exploration” — true to the activity description on his calendar.
Location: The easiest way to get to Silverado Canyon is to take Jamboree up almost to Irvine Regional Park – and make a right onto Santiago Canyon Road. The road winds around past Irvine Lake until eventually you see a turn to your left with signage for Silverado Canyon. It’s a tight-knit and historic little community that feels very far removed from the bustle of the lowlands. We met at the library and then followed Joel and his hike assistant up the road to the trailhead.
- Joel started out the evening educating us about Silverado Canyon and the Santa Ana Mountains. Easy for the kids to understand and quick enough to keep their attention.
- He gave us safety tips and which we practiced. He also made the point that the main hazard and biggest risk we faced was tripping and falling – and the drive up and back. But anything can happen in nature and he never knows what to expect!
- At the trailhead, the moon was bright and Jupiter shone with the other stars in the sky.
- We immediately shut off our lamps and set out up the canyon at an easy pace. We reached a creek bed which appeared dry, but found evidence of the water under the rocky bed. Climbing off the trail and into the creek revealed the little frog you see in the photo above. My daughter enthusiastically jumped in to catch the frog and hold it.
- My son’s biggest wish was to hear some owls. He’s read The Guardians of Ga’Hoole and feels a special connection. We were rewarded as we climbed out of the creek. We stood in the dark and heard a Great Horned Owl and Screech Owl making LOTS of noise. Apparently, the Great Horned Owl has a number of different vocalizations and Joel was pleased to hear one he’s never heard before!
- We saw plenty of evidence of coyotes in the form of fresh scat from their diet of ripe Prickly Pear cactus. The scat was red and seedy. I’m not afraid of coyotes and I asked Joel if I should be. He said they can be dangerous to small children only if there is no adult in attendance. I’ve spooked them off before by clapping and waving my arms. I’m personally more afraid of some of the BIG dogs I see when people bring them to the playground!!
- Our destination was a small watering hole where we saw another frog and learned about Biter Bugs which prey on the frogs. I’d never heard of such a thing! Very cool to see one. Then Joel started turning over rocks looking for other cool stuff. He found a newt! I’ve never seen one in the wild before. It was very big compared to the small frogs we’d been finding. My daughter loved holding it.
- We got to see seed pods which spin like helicopter blades as they fall. We saw plenty of poison oak off the road. And took deep whiffs of the fragrant night blooming Brickellbush.
- We brought 2 headlamps to share between us.
- I carried my handy-dandy backpack with water bottles – it goes everywhere with us.
- My husband and I wore shorts, but we had the kids in long pants.
- The kids also had light jackets.
- Joel writes a detailed list of suggestions tailored to each outing. Just read through the calendar.
Naturalist For You is a non-profit.
- Their stated mission is: Connecting everyone to their local wilderness!
- There is no charge for the programs, but donations are appreciated to expand their outreach efforts. I didn’t bring any cash with me, but easily made a PayPal donation a couple days after.
Photo courtesy of Joel Robinson, Naturalist for You