Growing up, well, I never really grew up, but when I was younger, my family lived in Chino Hills California. Even though it is only 40 miles east of Los Angeles, it was known for corn and cows, or the smell of cows to be more precise. Chino Hills was a small family town on the edge of one of the largest dairy preserves in the country.
A little over a mile from home was the entrance to Chino Hills State Park.
The land has a rich and long history. The spanish settlers ran cattle through the area, and most recently, before the park was formed in 1981, much of the area was used for grazing cattle, there are still some remnants left within its boundaries. Currently the park is protecting over 14 thousand acres and is part of the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor.
The CHSP was close enough that it was an easy target for bike rides or the occasional Saturday trip with my Dad. The park itself was very simple. 1 1/2 lane well groomed dirt road with the spots to pass another vehicle now and then. A “guard ” shack the size of a phone booth at the entrance that was hardly ever staffed. Once in the park the dirt road continued in along a seasonal creek, past turnoffs for roads leading to scenic overlooks. The road eventually led you to 2 simple campsites, just a small gazebo at each with a picnic table and trash can.
This Memorial Day, Paige and I decided to take a break from baby prep, to get a little fresh air and go take some photos. We headed off to the park where she had never been with the promise from me that the dirt road was well maintained enough that you could drive a prius down it. To my surprise, when we got to the park entrance, it was not a well maintained dirt road, the road was paved, and sided by a white piped irrigation system that didn’t even try to blend in with the surroundings. As we crested the hill that was supposed to bring the little old guard shack into view, I was even more surprised by a building with windows wrapped in aluminum looking like a small armored fort protecting larger buildings, featuring several paved parking spots and bathrooms. The simple dirt road that used to blend in with the scenery and follow along the creek through the trees has now been replaced with more pavement and structured bridges.
We pushed on into the park (hoping that the city had not) But what we found were locked steel gates, blocking the turnoffs to the amazing ridgeline views. The gazebos in the 2 older campsites that used to be lovingly maintained, looked like they had seen no maintenance since I had been there years earlier, the paint faded and flaking and filled with the rough engravings of those who have “visited”.
I still had a couple of spots up my sleeve though. I still have fond memories of the corrals on the hill and the 2 historic windmills at the eastern end of the park. We climbed the hill to the horse camp, my hopes were high as this small section of road was still dirt. Apparently this was just a tease from the park service though as it has been turned into a dumping ground for construction debris and anything else they did not feel like hauling out of the park. Luckily I was able to find an angle where you can see what the park used to look like.
We decided to continue on to the area where the Rangers used to stay. Leaving the corrals brought us to the first of the windmills, sadly the blades and the top of the structure are gone, I am assuming on the same maintenance schedule as the gazebos. Then the unexpected, a clean well-kept sign for a campground on a piece of pavement that used to just be a hill.
I had to check it out, maybe this is the part of the park that saves the trip. Instead we were greeted with another guard building, big brick bathroom buildings, brick shower buildings, and 20 paved “campsites” that support a 35 foot motor home, but barely have enough ground space for a tent. A great deal at $30 a night… It was time to move on in hopes of finding the second windmill still intact.
But first another surprise, a barn and small amphitheater at the ranger’s quarters. Surprisingly, the barn fit the surroundings. Well it fit in if you went around back to get away from the parking lot, and only look at the barn and not the pile of construction debris next to it.
There was a high point to this trip though, the windmill has survived the protection of the park service, and in some small way made the trip worth it for me. I just wish Paige had gotten to see the park the way that I remember it, not in all its “updated, paved, easy access, reatining wall” glory, but in the natural state that the park was meant to be preserved in.