Get Out of the House


When Life Gives You Pumpkins, Make Pumpkin Pie

Rebecca Meekma

It wasn’t a good sign when the bearded man in plaid and a neon orange vest made the hand motion for “keep going.” The next volunteer relayed the bad news, “Sorry, folks, parking is full. You’ll have to go down the road to the old elementary school and park there. We’ll send a shuttle out soon.”


My inner voice screamed, “No, I want rock star parking. I don’t do shuttles. Arggh.” But, my public (and real) voice calmly thanked the man for his helpfulness and turned to husband and the girls and said, “To the old elementary school we go!”


The occasion was Bat Night at the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in Modjeska Canyon. Tucker, which is run by Cal State Fullerton, is fairly remote and usually quiet. It hosts school groups during the week and random hikers and explorers on the weekends. It came perilously close to being destroyed by wildfires a few years ago but was spared and remains one of my favorite places to get away from it all.


It all starts with the drive. Out to the end of El Toro, past Cook’s Corner and suddenly you’re in the West. People still have horses and the landscape reminds me of TV westerns made before I was born. Housewives of Orange County territory, this isn’t. Most of the houses have rustic charm Aside from a spate of contemporary stucco things put up in the past few years, mostly Modjeska Canyon is what everyone claims Laguna was 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.


A seasonal stream runs through the sanctuary and on one visit about five years ago, the girls, then 3 and 5 and I spent several hours throwing pebbles into the running water and giggling at the thrill of a real-life stream in Orange County. There are paths that meander through the gardens and many, many birds to spot. A small field “museum” hosts taxidermied local specimens as well as several live canyon-dwellers, including the requisite rosy boa (available for petting if the ranger is in the right mood), iguanas, frogs and the like.


Tucker is a great place to drive out to on a weekend afternoon with a picnic lunch and no plan other than having a relaxing good time, no matter the age of the children in your life.


But, Bat Night is not your typical evening at Tucker. This once a year event is an autumn festival, complete with crafts, face painting, pumpkin carving, hay rides, BBQ and, of course, a lecture on bats and the opportunity to search for live ones.


And Bat Night drew a large crowd.


We found the old elementary school. And the family we were meeting found it, too. As the sun set spectacularly behind the rugged hills, we chatted and waited. And waited. But making lemons into lemonade, or more seasonally, pumpkins into pie, the kids discovered that the school was abandoned. Ooh. Creepy. Leaving all pretext of rusticity behind, I quickly googled the school’s name and found it had been decommissioned in 2009. It still looked pretty good on the outside, but if you walked around and peered in the windows, there were spooky spider webs and overturned chairs in the otherwise empty classrooms. A good setting for a horror tale about a family waiting for a shuttle when darkness fell…


So our parking calamity turned into an exciting adventure. And the nice man in plaid came out to the school and helped us all pass the time. And sure enough, a shuttle came for us. We arrived at Bat Night over an hour later than we had planned, but this was one occasion when getting there was more than half the fun.


Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary, 29322 Modjeska Canyon Road, Modjeska Canyon. 714-649-2760.


Happy Halloween! See you at the Boo Blast at El Morro later today. Everyone is invited.


PS: Know a business or person collecting Halloween candy for a good cause? Email me or write to the paper.


Rebecca Meekma is that friend who always knows something fun to do and the Calendar Editor for Parenting OC. Follow her blog at or contact her at [email protected].

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