Hiking Badlands for Good Health


By Tom Osborne

By Tom Osborne

For those of us who like hiking, south Laguna offers a labyrinth of scruffy, scenic trails.  Thanks to the County of Orange, the South Laguna Civic Association (full disclosure: I’m a board member), and other environmentally minded groups and citizens, public access to these paths was and remains secured.  Of late, I’ve come to appreciate more fully the health benefits of an activity that for years I’ve been doing purely for enjoyment and challenge.

On Thursday mornings I regularly go for a hike in the hills near our south Laguna home.  It usually takes me 20 minutes to make it from my kitchen door to Aliso Peak. I go from a sliver of an ocean view at our south Laguna home to a panoramic 180 degree scan of the coast, whitewater included, at Aliso Summit.  Out of breath, I take a swig of water from my pocket-sized bottle, and envision Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s flagship, San Salvador, sailing northward from Mexico in 1542, past Laguna, in search of the mythical Strait of Anián (Northwest Passage).  Sometimes, too, I wonder whether our historic Acjachemen tribes people, the earliest known settlers in the area, stood where I’m standing, perhaps scouting game and marveling at the seascape.  If so, I’ve figured that they, or animals before them, blazed the steep, well-worn Valido Trail that I and many others have since traversed countless times.  When my brief reverie ends, I descend from the peak and make my way up a fire road cutting through chaparral-covered open space to the gated Laguna Sur residential development in Laguna Niguel.

Passing through the guarded gate on Talavera Drive, I walk a few hundred yards seaward to a paved fire road that takes me southward to the Laguna Ridge Trail en route to Badlands Park.  That area was so-named because some thought the sandstone outcroppings and caves were reminiscent of South Dakota’s fabled outlaw hideouts. The trail of decomposed granite runs along an 800-foot-high shelf cut into the sandstone hill, which was a beach some 10 millennia ago, overlooking south Laguna.  As from Aliso Summit, the view of the south Laguna coast from the ridge trail is stunning.  With the Dana Point headlands in sight, I make a hairpin turn at the trail’s end and retrace my path homeward.

On arrival, I gauge my health benefits. In addition to the feeling of well-being I check my Runkeeper app, which usually says I expended about 850 calories during the course of this 6.2-mile hike. That helps with weight control, and maintaining aerobic fitness and leg strength.  Equally important, each hike means a victorious round in the ongoing modern age fight against what I’ll call “sedentary-itis,” an affliction targeting couch potatoes, and writers like me.

Battling a sedentary lifestyle, I’ve recently learned, is imperative if one wants to remain healthy and physically active. In the Jan. 8 issue of the UC Berkeley Wellness Newsletter, to which our family subscribes, the following question and answer appeared:

“Q: Will going to the gym counteract all the adverse effects of sitting all day?

A: No. Sitting too much has adverse effects, notably on blood vessel function, independent of exercise levels. . . and actually increases the risk of premature death. Recent research has found that this is true even in people who exercise and are thin. Try to break up prolonged sitting time by getting up every hour or two and walking for a few minutes.”


This was unwelcome news to me because it meant my one-hour per day of vigorous gym exercise or hiking did not counteract my regimen of sitting for hours at my computer. Yikes! Maddening! For health of body and mind, it must be time to leave my chair, bid my computer adios for the time being, and head out for the Badlands.

Tom Osborne, a recipient of Laguna Beach’s Environmental Award, wrote Pacific Eldorado: A History of Greater California, and currently is working on a book on Peter Douglas and the California Coastal Commission (University of California Press).


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