By Elizabeth Bottiaux
It wasn’t a day that could be spent indoors. The air was clear and crisp and it felt as if adventure was waiting to unfold before us. The aquamarine sky and sparkling ocean beckoned us. While all the big kids were in school, my youngest and I took a field trip to one of our favorite local spots.
The Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center and Trail System are local gems. There’s something for all ages inside the Nature Center. Kids can pop their heads up through a clear dome and gain the perspective of a small animal in a mini re-creation of the headlands area. We learned about watersheds by listening to recorded information through headphones and examining an expansive wooden watershed model.
My son got to spin the species wheel. When the wheel stopped and pointed to an animal, he would eagerly locate the animal inside of the nature center. We dared to stick our hands into the mystery box and guess its contents. I braved the box first. I have to admit, I was a bit squeamish about reaching into a box involving unknown ingredients. I’ll give one hint: it doesn’t bite. As we marveled at the enormous hand-painted mural that captures the era of Richard Henry Dana, Jr. it transported us back in time.
Friendly and knowledgeable docent Tressa Lam provided a wealth of information. She explained how the prized Pacific pocket mouse is closely monitored by biologists within the confines of the conservation area. We got to speak with one of the biologists about the pocket mouse tracking system. Tracking tubes are used to measure the number of paw prints of these tiny fur balls. The mice, once thought to be entirely extinct, are hibernating in these winter months, and will re-emerge March through October.
Tucked away in 29.4 acres of conservation area, the Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area is home to many native plants and animal species. The coastal California gnatcatcher and the Pacific pocket mouse are on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Threatened and Endangered Species List. Both make their home in the conservation area. Coastal Sagebrush grows rampantly throughout the area. We were taught to rub the plant in our hands and then breathe in the fresh scent.
The mostly flat, 1-mile trail is ideal for young children. We borrowed a pair of binoculars and took them out on the trail to enhance the already majestic panoramic views. As we walked the easy sand trail, we were serenaded by birds and the distant crashing of waves. The ocean shimmered and shone under the warm golden sun. The views on this clear day were breathtaking. Both of us enjoyed pointing out animal tracks and mysterious holes that were presumably animals’ homes.
People we encountered on the trail seemed happy. Some even stopped for casual conversation. Quick greetings and friendly smiles were exchanged with passersby. It was as if we had an unspoken understanding that this lovely location was a small slice of heaven. Visiting this place was a beautiful way to reconnect with nature, oneself and rediscover the simple pleasures in life.
Elizabeth Bottiaux is mom to four small humans, ages 5, 7, 8 and 10. She’s a San Clemente resident and has lived in Orange County for the past 16 years. She publishes a blog, www.fourkidsandadog.com, about family life in our tri-city area.