Silverado Canyon tree bridge
Silverado Canyon tree bridge
Photo taken by tour participant

Introducing Weird Beard Joel, Our New Nature Columnist!

Gustavo note: I've known Joel Robinson for years now, the guy who fought the city of Orange over his all-native plants lawn and leads urban foraging expeditions through Orange County. Guy is funny, knows his terrain, and would be arrested in a second in Irvine if he ever step foot--our kind of columnist! Every Saturday, he'll be documenting his adventures in the wilds of Orange County--now, without further ado...

My name is Joel (AKA Weird Beard or Mountain Man).  I run the non-profit Naturalist For You. I am a bearded, long-haired, barefooted forager, creek drinker, fiddler, humanure composter, shack dweller, chicken wrangler, acorn processor, backpacker, mountain man, and naturalist guide. I live in Silverado Canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains, a wild and scenic, soul-replenishing sanctuary, and the #1 source for the ultimate outdoor adrenaline rush in Orange County.  Follow me to the real Wild West, complete with waterfalls, caves, cowboys, ranches, Native American villages, cabins, barns, mountain lions, deer, and wildflowers.
I am on an endless mission to explore the most intriguing canyons in the Santa Ana Mountains. Many of the official trails follow sun-exposed ridgelines or allow for unsupervised vehicular travel.  But, if you look on a topographical map, you can see that there are all these tributaries (smaller canyons that connect to larger canyons) away from the busy trails.  Some of these tributaries are unnamed with access confined to rugged stream channels. 

I drool at the chance to venture into unknown territory.  When I find the mouth of a mysterious tributary, I carefully wander up its steambed, which may be gushing with water and/or choked with poison oak.  To evade Mother Nature's wrath, I confidently announce, "I love you poison oak!!!!"

Much of my time is spent crawling or climbing over fallen trees, pushing through dense shrubbery, scrambling over a variety of boulders, untangling myself from vines, getting whacked in the face by branches, and walking into spider webs.  When I stop to relax, I soak up the vivid colors and contrasts, bird songs, swirling fragrances, and tempting textures.  If I am lucky, I find wild edibles, such as gooseberry, coffeeberry, or blackberry.  Sometimes I surprise a snake.  Depending its attitude, I either leave it alone or spend some time appreciating its beauty. I admit that I am addicted to the physical and psychological challenge of navigating through a natural obstacle course.  The fresh air and solitude can't be beat.  The unexpected wildlife and plants continue to astonish. 

It is even better when I get to share these special places with others.  If this sounds too dangerous, consider the severe risk you face every day by driving a car on a freeway in the road rage capital of the universe. If you are tempted to explore, join me in upper Silverado Canyon, Lost Woman Canyon, an unnamed tributary of Black Star, or Falls Canyon.  Recent highlights: 1) Found a plant in the ginseng family.  2) Ate big-cone Douglas fir nuts.  3) Climbed a giant tree bridge.  4) Snuck into a cave.  5) Got feet and head wet in a waterfall.  6) Drank from the creek. 7) Saw a California newt egg mass 8) Found a marine fossil of a predatory snail from roughly 80 million years ago.

These stories--and many, many more, including tips, recipes, photos--in the weeks to come!

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