Last Looks…

Of San Jacinto and Simpson Park

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees…

Jeff and I like to walk and hike. So, before discovering the amazing trails in Simpson Park and the Coachella Valley Preserve, we pounded the pavement throughout San Jacinto.

Now, San Jacinto, CA is not the most scenic city. But if you focus, one step at  time, on your immediate surroundings you will discover some amazing trees and shrubs adorning the sidewalks and not-sidewalks.

So, as we walk I snap a photo or two of our favorite specimens which Jeff and I name in our own crazy way. I hope you enjoy this crash course in the study of trees. I call it Dendrology 101.

Baby Bottle Brush Tree…

Green Olive Palm Tree…

Coral Star Fish Bush…

Christmas Berry Tree…

Garbanzo Bean Tree…

Wasp Nest Tree…

Oh wait, it’s a Garbanzo Bean Tree with all the branches removed…

Bee Tree…

These trees are a buzz with noisy bees… not my favorite to walk under. And these trees are in front yards, how strange.

And speaking of strange, for all of us Netflix binge-watchers, check out the…“Stranger Things” Demogorgon Bush…

Corn Kernel Pod Tree…

Purple Olive Tree…

Oh wait, it is an olive tree!… a black olive tree. The fruit on the sidewalk below leaves a squishy purple residue.

Yellow Star Jade Bush…

Sienna Bark Tree…

These beauties line Victoria Avenue.

And finally, How Californians Trim Trees…

Rock graFfitti…

Some rocks don’t need names. They have already been christened.

The rock above is on the Canyon Trail near Fireman’s Loop and we have passed it, I don’t know how many times now. What’s funny though is that we always called it Bonnie’s Junction. It wasn’t until I took this picture that I realize the B is an R and it’s really Ronnie’s Junction. (But I know Jeff and I will always call this rock Bonnie’s Junction.)

Here is, for us at least, the most famous rock in all of Simpson Park:

It’s Balloon Rock, the one that will always remain dear to our hearts as it is the landmark of that fateful day when Jeff and I got lost and wandered off to Gibbel Road, 9 miles by car away from the parking lot.

We still can’t figure out how we strayed so far away. I mean, it’s obvious that teens hang out around here as there are lots of tagged rocks in this area. So that must mean that it’s not far off the beaten path to the parking area. After hiking throughout these mazes several times now, it’s impossible to get lost. It beats me, get it, how we managed to take all the wrong turns that day. I guess we were just so hot, dehydrated, and confused…

Finally, here is Jeff’s favorite rock, well actually it’s a spot that we also discovered on the day we got lost. It leads nowhere, hence its name:

Simpson Park Updates

We’re Back!

Feb 1st…

Two days after getting lost on the second half of Simpson Park’s   5.3 mile classic loop trail, Jeff and I return to figure out where we missed the mark. Talk about getting back up on the proverbial horse…

So we start backwards this time and take the first “rabbit trail” off the Lichen onto Lake View then Buck Brush before connecting to the Ocotillo Trail.

Sure enough, we see what happened. We missed the portion of the Ocotillo Trail heading north and continued hiking west. The map above does not show the trail we took and the Ocotillo is not marked with a “Stop Going Forward And Turn Here” sign.

We continue, successfully completing the whole loop this time. I celebrate with a picture of Mt. San Gorgonio and the city of Hemet taken at the summit from the Hoodoo Lounge.

Feb 8th…

Today we try the classic loop again, clockwise, taking the Lichen to the Manzanita then across the road to Black Sage, Ribbonwood, and Live Oak before crossing over to the Canyon Trail and up to the summit.

Once again I take some pics at Hoodoo Lounge. Notice how tall the cairns are today!


Feb. 11th…

Simpson Park is open today so cars can drive up to the two picnic areas. We decide to park at the lower area and take the Ocotillo Trail down to the Quail Trail.

We find ourselves scrambling down rocks. Looking back up, I take a picture.

I turn around to take another picture of our descent and what do I see?

There is a trail to the right that avoids the rock scrambling we did on the left. Once again we have managed to take the “road less traveled”.

The Qual Trail leads us past the gate to the dirt road and the Crest Trail. But instead of continuing up to the summit we cross onto the Red Tail Trail until it intersects with a portion of the Middle Earth Trail (which is unnamed except for on the map).

Middle Earth takes us to Mule Deer Steep, a dirt road that appropriately lives up to its nomenclature.

Then we head down to the Morning Wood Trail which heads right back up into the Mojo Trail that loops us around to a series of switchbacks that make us climb even more. Ha, ha… you really have to get your mojo on for this hike!

Luckily some interesting rocks call my name and give me an excuse to stop and rest and take some pictures.

The rock below reminds us of a howling rhino or pig.

And there’s another X in the sky…

…Reminiscent of our first visit to Simpson Park:

These rocks really crack us up…

Our legs and lungs thank us when we reach the end of the Mojo and take Live Oak, Ribbonwood, and Black Sage back to the park road. Easy Peasey.

But we’re not back to the car just yet. We still have to cross the road to the Manzanita Trail and head up, yes up again, to the second picnic area. Whew, we have done some serious hiking and climbing today!

Finally we stumble out of all the trails and walk back down the paved park road to our car…

Feb 13th…

Our goal today is to retrace some of our steps from January 29th when we ended up getting lost and descending onto Gibbel Road.

So we start the classic loop trail counterclockwise again until we reach the Ocotillo Trail. Then we follow the trail to the west instead of continuing east.

There are many trails headed every which way but we are trying to find a rock painted with red, blue, and pink balloons. We remember passing by and beside this landmark before heading south toward Gibbel.

This proves no easy task but we finally find the painted rock. However, we still can’t figure out how we continued going the wrong way and wound up hitchhiking back to Simpson Park on that fateful day. We were so close, just a right turn on a right trail!

We head back to the Ocotillo and somehow end up on the parallel jeep trail below so we miss the intersection of the Ocotillo and Quail Trails.

The good news is I get to take this beautiful picture below:

Backtracking again, we’re getting good at this, we find where the Ocotillo heads north up to the first parking and picnic area. But before we exit onto the paved road we take the Bluejay and Cactus Trails instead which lead us to the upper parking and picnic area, the end of the park’s paved road.

Now all we have to do is find the Lake View Trail and descend back down to the Lichen Trail where we began. The trail is steep but short.

Unfortunately we miss the trailhead and start rock scrambling again. The picture below shows the rocks we scaled:

Choosing not to climb back up the way we came, we keep taking every path that looks like a potential trail until we see Diamond Valley Lake ahead.

At last, we confidently step forward and follow the Lake View Trail to the now familiar “rabbit trail” leading back to the Lichen Trailhead where we started.

Feb 18th…

Today we plan a new hike incorporating the Bobcat and Red Tail Trails via the paved road parking area. After all, Simpson Park  through-traffic was open 5 days ago.

When we arrive, however, the traffic gates are closed and the parking area is crowded since today is Sunday. Having a small car, we find a place to park.

As we watch several people from the parking lot scramble up a steep path leading to higher ground, we decide to climb up as well.  A great way to get the heart pumping right away!

The top of the trail flattens out and we head to the paved road, cross it, and catch the Lichen “rabbit” Trail that intersects with the Lake View Trail and continues up, up, up to the top of the paved road.

Then we descend the Blue Jay Trail to the dirt road and take the Crest to the Red Tail where we climb the steep Bobcat.

My favorite manzanita tree greets us on Red Tail.

Bobcat is a challenge. The trail just keeps going up until it reaches the Canyon Trail.

It’s a great workout.

Finally, we take Canyon to the other end of Red Tail and cut across to the intersection of Bobcat and Mule Deer Steep. We opt for the dirt road to take us to the picnic shelter where we walk down the winding hill of the paved road to our car.

Canyon Trail offers views of Mt. Gorgonio on the left and Mt. San Jacinto to the right. In the foreground an unusual rock formation inspires me.

Red Tail has some wicked switchbacks and ascents.

What a great hike!

Feb 21st…

No pictures today… just the classic loop again… But this time no map!

The bummer today is the weather. It’s overcast, windy, and cool. Southern California is under a spell of mid-50 degree days.

Final thoughts…

Hiking in the Santa Rosa Hills does not disappoint. Every trail offers ups and downs, moderate challenges, and beautiful scenery.

Or skip the trails and scramble the rocks. When you get tired, take a seat and enjoy the views below and beyond.

Simpson Park Part 2


Today we look forward to hiking a 5.3 mile loop in the Santa Rosa Hills.

Jeff Slepski sends us 2 pdf files of hiking trails in Simpson Park. The first one sketches his 5.3 mile “Classic Loop” trail.

The second one shows all the trails which I then highlight with the classic loop that begins and ends at the Lichen Trailhead.

And off we go! Our bodies are slathered with sun screen and we carry water, trail mix, and the map. Easy peasey…

We head up the Lichen Trail, pass through the Oak Grove, and wind our way parallel to the park road until we descend to the left and cross the road.

The Black Sage Trailhead greets us.

We cross a slab of rocks and admire the view of Mt. San Gorgonio and the valley below.

Within minutes we cross a dirt road and take the curly Ribbonwood Trail.

Feeling confident and in our element, my husband Jeff and I decide we’d like to hike this trail once a week.

Following the map, we cross the dirt road again and connect to the Live Oak Trail. Life is good.

Yet again we cross the dirt road where the Live Oak Trail ends and the Canyon Trail begins. Mt. San Jacinto towers above.

Then Mt. San Gorgonio’s snowy peak appears.

And yes, that’s Mt. San Jacinto again.

We wind our way up the canyon following the mountain bike tracks.

The outcropping of rocks are a collector’s dream. Unfortunately the ones we like are too big to carry back with us.

We give names to some of the more predominant rocks. Jeff nicknames this one “the Blind Troll”, but the profile looks like a chick to me or some kind of bird. Jeff ignores the profile and focuses on the horizontal crack that reminds him of a mouth and the perpendicular line above is the nose. His Facebook friends see a manatee. What do you see?

Here’s the other side of the monster rock… not so cool…

After crossing the Fireman’s Loop, which we almost descend, we  head up to the summit and the Hoodoo Lounge. Diamond Valley Lake and the East Dam lie below.

Look closely and you will see the American flag flying above. It looks like we are far away but perspectives are deceiving.

Quickly we ascend through the brush…

and arrive at Hoodoo Lounge which looks more like Cairn City.

There’s even a Christmas tree!

I take a picture of Diamond Valley Lake again from this viewpoint.

Then we ascend a short loop to reach the flag which turns out to be a veteran’s memorial to a local hero.

We are more than halfway through the 5.3 mile hiking loop. We still have lots of water. We are not tired. We are confident that we are  only about 2 miles away from completing the loop. A piece of cake. And we have a map! The Crest Trail leads us back down to yet one more dirt road.

We’ve got this! I continue to capture my favorite scenes.

Below is the “Pink Pyramid Rock”, name courtesy of Laurel and Jeff Jernigan.

And who could resist taking a picture of this Manzanita Tree silhouetted against a deep blue sky?

Yet another scenic view of Diamond Valley Lake…

Ya gotta love the rocks!

The Crest Trail dumps us onto a dirt road again. Still good, according to the map…

We side step a gate on the dirt road and follow the Quail Trail which intersects the Ocotillo Trail.

Almost done…

We need to turn right onto the Buck Brush Trail, then right again onto the Lake View Trail, and finally a sharp left will lead us back to the Lichen Trailhead where we started.

But we keep hiking for what seems way too long. We never hook up with a sign for the Buck Brush Trail. We follow hikers’ footprints until we start blazing our own trail. We backtrack and find a trail that we hope will lead us to where we need to be. The longer we hike on this un-named path, the more confused we get.

We should have re-traced our steps back to the Ocotillo Trail but we are getting tired and thirsty and our water supply is down to warm dribbles. Going back feels like a dead end. Meanwhile, I am getting dizzy and hot and dehydrated and scared. So, somehow we keep plodding forward. Eventually we see a road below us and the trail starts descending down to it.

At this point I just want to get off the hilly trail. I am hopeful we can find help. Jeff and I decide hitchhiking is the best option.

We find ourselves on Gibbel Road in the middle of nowhere. Our cell phones are off the grid so we can’t call Uber or find the phone number to Diamond Valley RV Resort’s office. (My plan, at this point in my exhaustive state, is to call Mooshi, the manager, and ask her to contact any of our neighbors who just might come out and drive us to our car.) Calling 911 is our last resort. But I’m afraid they will evaluate me for dehydration and sun exhaustion. We just want a ride to our car… so close yet so far away!

Very few cars pass by going in the direction we need to go. Actually, only 3 cars go by. The first car has a Mom and child in a car seat. We withdraw our thumbs. The second car is a city utility truck and our thumbs are ignored. Finally, as I am ready to just lay down and take a nap on the side of the street, we flag down a driver who passes us by and then reverses his truck to find out what we need.

We quickly tell him our dilemma and without hesitating, he gladly drives us 9 miles out of his way to our car!

Thank you, Vito! He refuses money but Jeff presses a twenty dollar bill into his palm as we exit the cab of his truck.

After over 5 hours hiking uphill and downhill in the hot sun, we reach the safety of our little car and take turns gulping down the remaining bottle of water we left behind.

Later we realize that today is our anniversary… 22 years! For some reason we always forget that January 29th is the day we got married, even when we remind each other a few days before. So, now we can associate our classic lost adventure with Jeff Slepski’s Classic Loop Trail to January 29th and just maybe loopy Laurel and Jeff will remember our anniversary from now on.

But if memories don’t suffice, I just happen to have a souvenir from today. I pocketed this rock during one of our happier moments of this hike. And yes, it has a name… Anniversary Rock!

Simpson Park Part 1

Searching online, Jeff discovers a 483-acre wilderness park named for a former mayor, James Simpson, in the Santa Rosa Hills south of Hemet, CA with hiking and mountain biking trails.(

Unfortunately the website informs us that Simpson Park is closed until further notice due to hazardous fire conditions. (

Since the park is only 10 miles away from us at Diamond Valley RV Resort in San Jacinto, we decide to check it out anyway.

From the intersection of Stanford Street and Crest Drive, We take Vista del Valle to Rawlings Road and wind uphill for over 2.5 miles to the park’s gate. A small parking area awaits. And there are cars parked here even though the gate to the park is closed and a sign explains why… due to the potential of fires.

But we see people walking, joggers jogging, and babies being strolled in strollers beyond the closed gate. So we park and get out of the car to investigate. We watch a man and a woman climb over the rocks next to the closed gate. The man carries a shovel and wears an adhesive wrap around his knee and calf. The woman looks like she is taking pictures of him walking up the hill beyond the gate with her call phone. As we approach them I ask if we can still access the trails even though the park is officially closed.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time… The man, Jeff Slepski tells us to follow the Lichen Trail avoiding the smaller “rabbit trails” shooting off every which way. There’s a 5 mile loop trail that crosses the uphill road into the picnic areas and continues around the crest before descending again across the road and eventually back to where we began, at the Lichen Trailhead. He shares his email address with me so that he can send me a trail map.

Did I forget to mention that yesterday, January 23, 2018, Jeff Slepski  underwent knee replacement surgery? And here he is walking? His wife is filming a “mockumentary” of  him walking a few steps up the park road headed to the trails with shovel in hand.

But wait, it gets even better. According to the Press-Enterprise, a local Hemet article from 2014 written by Bob Pratte shares info on Jeff Slepski. The 19 trails in this 483-acre landscape of ridges, canyons, boulders, brush, and scattered oaks were built by Jeff and his friends.

Here are some pics from the trails as we discover Simpson Park without a map.

The park road ascends and we look back before entering the Lichen Trailhead which starts out as slabs of rock.

Mt. San Jacinto rises in the distance.

The path is well marked with footprints and bike tracks.

It’s a gorgeous day for a hike.

Mt. San Gorgonio shows off its snow cap as we climb higher. Look closely just beyond the trees in the foreground. The sliver of gray running from the center to the right is the road to the picnic area.

By now we have lost the Lichen Trail. It was supposed to lead us across the park road. There are trails jutting every which way, so we literally walk around in circles enjoying the scenery.

That’s Diamond Valley Lake and the East Dam below.

Mother Nature sure knows how to create stunning arrangements of rocks and trees and shrubs.

Ah, X marks the spot where the horn rock basks in sunshine.

Where does this path lead?

We wander for an hour and head to the top of the road and picnic area before walking back down the hill leading to the parking area.

We plan to return here often. I will wait a few days and email Jeff Slepski for the trail maps.