Adventuring around Southern California's desert region was my 2018 resolution. As a desert/beach child I spent my life split between Long Beach and Moreno Valley -- with a short period in Big Bear -- as a result I always found the diverse geography a commonality growing up. The way the shadows fell on the canyons with every sunset, the way the sun sparkled off the Pacific ocean, the way a white-out snow fall felt like an engulfed world of white softness; all these things have come to shape my experience of growing up a Southern Californian.
In the midst of returning from my year abroad and preparing for my PhD abroad I have this GAP period where I find myself in my childhood home. Over the past couple months I've been here I am revisiting what I know of SoCal. Often when people think of SoCal they think Hollywood, the beach, and Coachella. Probably in that order too. I think growing up I took advantage of my surroundings and the phenomenon of only having to drive 5 minutes east to loose civilization. Frolicking through the dirt on a hillside canyon miles away from the sounds of humans, dancing to the music spilling forth from a Chevy truck while the sunsets was more often than not my Friday nights. I think it took me a while to realize that I could be more than one thing, I could be a surfer, beaching my way through my school vacations and a desert flower blooming in arid climates. Both things were fine, both things are a Southern Californian.
In an attempt to connect -- I suppose -- to my roots I find I am now less cautious to explore the area around me. Tiny Americana towns litter the Inland Empire, like Perris and Lake Elsinore, as much as the rolling canyons/mountains do.
A dusty town with just over 60,000 people in it has a single strip of a main street built around the railroad station. Settled, like much of the Inland Empire in the California Boom of the 1880s; what was once pasture land became the connector station between Barstow and San Diego. Known primarily for its Orange Empire Railroad Museum -- which has an incredible amount of trains, including a particularly cool Mourners Trolley or Funerary Train which brought residents from San Dimas to funerals. Additionally, it boasts a total of three smaller museums just on D Street as well as the Rock Castle which was built using rocks from the Whitewater River.
Lake Elsinore, CA
For some reason I grew up thinking Lake Elsinore was the hopping destination for summer travel. Spurred, I believe now, by the hype of BMX/Bro culture which ravaged through Inland in the 2000s as well as Lake Havasu's infamy; this town was not what I was expecting.
With about 50,000 occupants the once populous rancho community has maintained its cultural center around the 3,000 acres of the natural freshwater lake but grew as a resort destination for those interested in dirt biking and boating. A fun aside, I learned on my trip from an elderly woman who happened to be at the Lake the day I was, because of its length, the lake was used during WWII to test seaplanes. If you're an adventurous hiker, I recommend heading out this way in the Spring when the California Poppies and wildflowers will be in full bloom. Hitting Walker Canyon and Alberhill District which relishes in its epicenter of Terra Cotta, a local ghost town which had been a mining center.