Orange County park headquarters are located on the old Irvine Ranch grounds with its scattered original buildings. Incongruously it all sits just past a busy stoplight as though it were plunked down in the middle of a modern and expensive shopping area. I had thought from the sounds of it that it might make for a good outing but once there, I was disappointed. There was no walking tour or other paraphernalia which usually marks a “historic park”; merely the buildings in original disrepair with most behind chain linked fencing denoting “Employees Only”. I guess at some point the county plans on turning this into a historical touring park but for the time being I’d say, save for one building, you are wasting your time. That one building is the ranch house now turned into an Orange County public library called the Katie Wheeler branch. The modern garden holds remnants of what could have been original grandeur—the palms lining this drive have been there since 1906 and the wrought iron gates date from the 1870’s. Woodwork inside the former home is exquisite but I’m not sure it looked original. There they had a very small glass case with the floor plan of the original house and some books and a couple of pictures on the history of the place. At one time the ranch encompassed about 93,000 acres so it’s easy to see why the Irvine Company continues to hold such political and economic sway over this part of California and the coast. It’s not everyone who gets to donate a top university to the California system. It was stressed how many decades of planning had gone into Irvine and its various master-planned villages, some of which, like Tustin Ranch, have had endless buzz.
The ranch cut a wide swath of land from the interior foothills to the ocean, much of which is still preserved as wilderness, and looking at the location of the main ranch house had me wondering why they chose this spot to live when they could have had magnificent coastal views. Maybe in the 1800’s people were much more practical and there was a good watering hole for the cattle in this spot. Valencia oranges were also a huge crop; the ranch was the largest producer in California and maybe oranges can’t take the salt air. Sadly today, there was not an orange tree in sight as I looked out at the busy traffic surrounding one of the area’s largest outdoor shopping malls called The Marketplace, a peon to consumerism if there ever was one. If nothing else the juxtaposition brought about the thought of how many changes the dirt can accommodate in 140 years and what this will all be like in another 140 years.
Saturday morning arrived all too soon and it was time to head back to Yuma. Although missing Marc greatly, I was tired of all the crowds of people, the endless traffic, the noise, the frenetic pace. I had loved the sea air, the coolness, the verdant smells of lawn and moisture and sitting outside in 70 degrees. Despite this, as I crested the final down leg on I-8 which slopes to the vast desert coming up, I thought I had never been quite so happy for a glimpse of the Big Empty. I’m happy to leave the big cities to others.