As a new resident of California, I've started my quest to visit every state park. I don't know how many there are, but I'll find out, and then we can know if this is crazy or not. (We already know it's crazy because California is fucking huge.)
I tried to visit every state park in Minnesota and hit up a pretty good number of them before we moved. I meant, always, to write up a review of each park and then...well, here we are with my first state park review.
Anyway, Paul & I went to Lake Perris State Recreation Area (does it even count as a State Park? Do I even want to consider the number of things called State ____?) over in mid-July this year.
Lake Perris, for those who don't know, because they don't tell you this anywhere in the park except for a giant slab of concrete tucked behind the museum, is the terminus of the enormous California State Water Project. I had no idea what that was, so let's talk about it briefly: Water comes from 701 miles away to Southern California, where it enables a lot of probably unsustainable decision making. The sign claims it is one of the great engineering wonders of the world, and I'm not one to doubt them. I mean, 701 miles is a lot of miles. Other things I learned about the lake: The dam isn't seismically sound (aka it could blow when an earthquake comes) because when it was built, nobody lived on the downhill side. (I really want to be in those meetings: "Should we make it earthquake-proof?" "Naw, who cares?" Really? I don't know how much this cost, but really?!) Now that area is filled with identical 90s houses and people are getting nervous. So, the lake is low as they repair the dam. Sometime in the next couple years, it'll be fixed and those people living in those terrible homes can rest easier knowing that their terrible home will be intact when California finally dries up and blows away.
Pre-nature stop: Our friend, Abi, went to school here and insisted that we try Donut Man, which was kinda on the way. So we swung by and picked up an absurd number of delicious donuts. I've never had anything like their strawberry donut (this is a regular glazed donut sliced open and filled with a pint of whole strawberries), but my favorite was the blackberry cream cheese.
The campsite: We camped in spot 428, on the downhill side of the highest camping loop. The spot was large, but the neighbors were noisy. Car camping. You can look from our site out at Mount San Jacinto, which turns a lovely soft pink in the evenings. There are a few shade trees, but let's be honest: In the middle of a summer day, you're going to bake. That's when you head down to the lake and the attendant shade structures.
Here is the whole damn site.
Wildlife: A few quail on our drive in, a lot of ground squirrels (one of whom stole our neighbor's marshmallows), a raccoon. Some birds that I didn't identify, and one giant eagle or vulture. A tiny lizard who lived under the rock next to the campsite. Sadly, no roadrunners.
Park biz: Unimpressed so far by the California State Park system. The reservations are difficult to make, the signage at the park is inadequate, and the rangers did not seem to care how loud or how late into the night music was playing. The campsite was pretty trashed when we arrived. Wah-wah.
Landscape: The area about Lake Perris is pretty; what I'd call high desert or chaparral. I tried to figure out what the names of the more common plants were but there were like, no signs anywhere. Maybe there was a secret valley of informational signs, but as there were no signs pointing to it, I couldn't tell you where it was.
And here is the whole damn park.
Things to do: Well, there's a lake and the attendant motor sports. You can rent jet skis, kayaks, bikes, etc. We didn't do that. We went to the Ya'i Heki' Regional Indian Museum. I'm glad there's a way to learn about the native tribes of the area, though the museum dearly needs an overhaul to get rid of the us-vs.-them, all-native-peoples-are-extinct-it's-okay-to-live-here-now tone. We also went on a short hike (again, with the bad signage). Nobody was out on the hiking trails (it was warm by 11 am and only going to get hotter). We stumbled on a little amphitheater overlooking the lake, and took this panoramic shot of the whole damn park:
Post-nature stop: My ignorance about Southern California is vast, so when we discovered a rather large Chinese community in Rowland Heights, I was surprised. We yelped a place called Q Noodle House, which serves Taiwanese noodles. They rustled up some English language menus from a dusty back corner and we got some great noodles for $5 a bowl.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5. It's close to Los Angeles, I love the desert, but I want a little more of a nature experience, less of a recreation experience.