April 09, 2023

Photo Essay: A Delightful Discovery at the End of a Failed Day

With no other plans Easter weekend, I set off on a vehicular adventure to try to find some wildflowers. It's not really a "superbloom" year—certainly not compared to previous years—but scattered reports have indicated some really nice areas to spot some blooms.

I, however, mostly failed. Unless you count hillsides full of the small yellow blossoms of black mustard plant, a dastardly invader of California native plant habitat, and a big contributor to nasty wildfire seasons.

But I'd driven relatively far, crossing into three other counties (besides the one I live in), so I wanted to make one last stop before I headed home in defeat.

And that's when I found a delightful surprise, hidden in the Anaheim Hills of California's Orange County. 

After turning off into the Hunters Pointe housing development, I pulled over at Walnut Canyon Reservoir...

...finding not only a 1.7-mile loop I could walk, but also some quality wildflowers. 

At the trailhead, there were purplish-blue bursts of (Arroyo?) lupine—which maybe one of the neighbors or the city of Anaheim planted, who knows? But these same types of flowers are found in the wild on hillsides throughout SoCal—so whatever, I don't care.
Before I had the chance to bemoan the disappearance of flowers on my walk, there marked the appearance of something even better: a neighborhood cat!

He was friendly and at-home on the reservoir's paved service road (a.k.a. Periphery Road). One of the runners told me, "He's always here." And a gentleman farther down on my walk said there are actually two local cats with the same coloring who frequent the path.

What a sweet baby. 

Walnut Canyon Reservoir and Dam are part of Anaheim's water supply...

...where water gets diverted from nearby Lake Matthews, which gets its water from the Colorado River via an aqueduct.
But it began its life as part of the 6000-acre private ranch property of cattleman Louis Nohl, who purchased former Jotham Bixby Ranch land in Santa Ana Canyon in 1943. The cattle-grazing ranch once stretched across northeast Orange County on the former Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, from the City of Santa Ana and the City of Orange to Anaheim. 

Eventually, the City of Anaheim annexed much of Nohl Ranch, which was subdivided into housing developments in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s—using its "rural nature" and "spectacular views" as a selling point for potential homeowners. 

One thing those developers promised still exists in Anaheim Hills: waterfowl. (Case in point: this family of Egyptian geese, above.)

For a managed, municipal facility, it offers a nice bit of nature.

Originally planned in the late 1950s and completed in 1968, Walnut Canyon Reservoir is the largest city-owned water holding tank in Orange County, storing up to 920 million gallons of the wet stuff.
The water here is used as a backup supply to the Metropolitan Water District—but it also helps fight wildfires, as water-dropping aircraft can draw water from it and drop it down on a nearby blaze in the normally dry hillside communities of inland OC.

The reservoir site, which takes up about 80 acres, is teeming with life...
...and lovely vistas.

It's a site that's apparently enjoyed by creatures of all kinds.

Reportedly, Canadian geese, cormorants, and cattle egrets are also commonly found here, as are lesser goldfinches, Anna's hummingbirds, gnatcatchers, towhees, and rails.

It's an interesting walk around its perimeter, as it's actually crescent-shaped...

...and portions of its "walls" are actually quite wild.

This time of year, there's no shortage of blooms...

...including trees full of pink buds...

...and of course all that pesky (but pretty) mustard.

Water arrives to this reservoir "raw" (a.k.a. untreated)—but when it's ready to be used as part of the local community's water supply, it moves on to the nearby August F. Lenain Treatment Plant for filtration and purification.
It's no wonder this is a popular place for bicyclists, joggers, and walkers like myself. 

Although it's not a difficult trek around the reservoir (and it's completely stroller-friendly and wheelchair-accessible), it's nice to see plenty of benches around to actually encourage quiet enjoyment of the scenery. 

And I walked away having learned a lesson—although it's one I've had to relearn over and over again over the course of my life.

It's not always necessary to have a plan. Some of the best discoveries can be made when you've got nowhere to go.
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