A Bright Weekend Getaway at Hemet’s Diamond Valley Lake
By guest writer Daniel Henderson
The drought in California, officially declared by Gov. Brown in 2014, may finally be over. The winter storms of 2016 kept school kids in cafeterias and libraries during recess and lunch, and caused slick roads for commuters. The shortage of water in Southern California was news to people around Los Angeles and the country for so long, people were universally happy for these inconveniences. The snow-covered San Gabriel Mountains, majestically visible after the numerous storm fronts had passed through, brought cool relief to everyone.
The rain and drizzle continued into 2017, and as spring approached, people in the desert communities knew that the wildflower season promised to be spectacular. Their predictions were right. From Red Rock Canyon State Park in Kern County, Carrizo Plain National Historic Landmark in Ventura County, and Anza Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County, photos, videos, and stories of the "Super Bloom" made their way to coastal residents, and we, in turn, took days off work or made weekend sojourns to see the amazing displays of color.
My wife Deborah and I, on the first weekend of an early spring break from Cal. State Fullerton, drove southeast from Orange County to visit Uncle James and Aunt Dorothy in Perris. Precipitation had transformed their normally arid yard into a green meadow, and the amethyst verbenas burst out to cover the periphery of the tall grass. Small lavender flowers peeked through the neighbor's fence.The flowers are more prolific than their tomatoes.
After a nice visit with them, we drove to Hemet, California, a city on the west side of Mt. San Jacinto. San Jacinto is the second highest peak in Southern California, and provides the evening shade to Palm Springs to its east. Hemet was historically a farm town, and when Uncle James and Aunt Dorothy lived there, they kept horses on their property. Our ultimate destination was Diamond Valley Lake, a reservoir with 4,500 acres of water, completed just before the new millennium. Uncle James, before he retired, worked on the three dams that keep the water inside the now-submerged valley.
Along with a boat launch, which is probably the main attraction most of the time, the miles of hiking trails are currently awash with verdant grasses and vibrant swaths of wildflowers.
There were scores of people there already when we arrived just after nine in the morning, and hundreds by the time we left just after noon. Dozens more people were still lined up in their cars to park as we left. While we didn't ask the cost to launch a boat, the price to park is $7, with an additional $3 per person to hike the trails.
The longest trail borders the lake, over twenty miles around.
We stuck to the trails close to the boat launch, and saw plenty of flowers, shrubs, birds and rocks to keep us interested. The hills all around Southern California have been green for months, and the hills here are no exception. Bright yellow California Goldfields, though, showed warm against the cool hills and blue sky. Among and around these, plain and pretty Blue Dicks reached toward the sun.
There were few boats on the water the day we were there, but a few people along the shore had their poles with them, hoping to catch bass, bluegill, rainbow trout, or some of the other stocked fish. Along the shore, California Poppy shares the normally arid soil with Arroyo Lupine and Caterpillar Phacelia.
Many people walked the easy trails of the hills around the lake, but there were other critters enjoying the warm day, too. This lizard was perched on a sun-covered rock and this caterpillar (far from the lizard) clung to a stem amongst the Arroyo Lupine and Chia. A few Ladybugs, too, could be seen if you looked closely.
The day was beautiful, with bright sun modulated with the shade of slow-moving clouds, making an easy Sunday for us and these Rancher's Fiddlenecks. At times, there was more to see than I could take in, and my wife kept far ahead of me since stopped to take pictures so often.
The view down the hillside toward the farms and homes is a reminder that the beauty of the Super Bloom is just outside our own backyards. The clouds had no rain in them here, but provided occasional, welcome minutes of shade. Still, our skin is red where the sun got on us, and we both got more than our usual walk. (Strolling the length of the outlet mall in Lake Elsinore afterwards also added to our step counts).