Visiting the Wilderness in Laguna’s Backyard


By Ron Chilcote

Sprawling and old, a dead oak still manifests nature's beauty
Sprawling and old, a dead oak still manifests nature’s beauty

Perhaps the most pristine and precious of all the canyons in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Laurel Canyon nestles in a hollow shielding it from the adjacent San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor, a barrier to the free flow of wildlife that introduces sounds of traffic to the wilderness.









Rock formations at the entrance of Laurel Canyon.
Rock formations at the entrance of Laurel Canyon.

The canyon’s entrance off Laguna Canyon Road serves as a staging area for hikers and bikers. Just beyond the entrance, with its abandoned walnut orchard, unusual rock formations and outcroppings jut out on both sides. Toward the east, an oak springs from the canyon wall, its roots hanging down the rock and clinging to a long life. The beautiful rock formations to the west are dotted with caves and cracks. Certainly the plein-air Impressionist artists of the past created their landscape paintings here as other artists do today.

Along the Laurel Canyon trail.
Along the Laurel Canyon trail.

Farther up Laurel Canyon, the groves are beautiful at all times, especially in the autumn as the sycamore leaves turn golden and red and in the early spring when the dry brown grasses yield to the renewal of verdant growth and flowers. A waterfall is conspicuous during the rainy season. Tranquil dormant nature is suddenly transformed into a gushing renewal of plant life, bird song, and signs of deer, coyote, and bobcat remind us that mankind’s presence has not entirely destroyed this precious refuge.





Landscape and nature photographer Ron Chilcote has devoted most of his career to teaching and research on the third world. He resides in Laguna Beach, spends his summers in Wyoming, and has published two books on photography, “Nature’s Laguna Wilderness” and “Wind River Wilderness.” He is a founder and director of Laguna Wilderness Press, whose mission is to raise public awareness of the need to conserve pristine wilderness areas.

Oak along the trail to Laurel Canyon.
Oak along the trail to Laurel Canyon.


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