After living in the Long Beach area for over two years, I finally made it to El Dorado Nature Center last week. Because I take frequent hikes in the San Gabriel and Santa Monica Mountains, and am used to wilderness areas, I wasn't expecting much in the way of wilderness at El Dorado. After all, it's located here in a city of half a million people, next to the freeway, surrounded on all sides by urban development.
So I was surprised to find several miles of nature trails through a natural area that is almost wild. It's not perfect; one can never completely avoid the sounds of the 605 freeway; and what were all those colored pipes I saw sticking up throughout the preserve: sprinklers?
However, the traffic noise is muted, and never loud enough to interfere with hearing the songs of the many birds in the park.
There are several options for hikers: a one-mile trail, a two-mile trail, and a 1/4 mile trail. The 1/4 mile trail is paved with a handrail, making it accessible to people with various disabilities. On the day I was there, the morning sky was overcast, which kept the temperature nice and cool. The turtles were not out yet as I crossed the bridge that led from the visitor center to the trails.
Despite my initial reservations and the distant sounds of the freeway, a walk through the nature center succeeded in taking me out of the city. Unlike the constant roar that I would experience at Disneyland the following day, a stroll here truly is calm and peaceful. As I continue to read through the biography of John Muir, I understand his belief that all people have a instinctive draw to nature, which is good for one's soul. And after spending 3 hours driving round trip to Altadena yesterday for a meeting, stuck in terrible traffic both ways, I realize just how dehumanizing modern life can be. In nature, I find that humanity is restored. After a couple of hours walking (and sitting) in nature, I feel rejuvenated -- which, I must say, was not how I felt after a fun but exhausting day at Disneyland.
Before I left, I found a bench near one of the ponds, where I sat and watched what was going on. Hidden in a shrub in front of me, a heron moved in slow motion next to the water, then stood perfectly still. A couple of dragonflies hovered around, including one that was the color of fire. Small groups of people walked back and forth on the trail. A few of them noticed the dragonflies, but none of them noticed the heron. Apparently, at least one of the dragonflies (not the fire-red one) didn't notice the heron either. In an instant, that dragonfly became the heron's lunch.
When it was time to leave, I crossed the bridge back to civilization, and noticed that the turtles were now visible, sunbathing in the emerging sunlight. As soon as I left the nature center and passed into the parking lot (where I could see the traffic lights at Spring Avenue), I felt a longing to turn around and retreat back into nature.