Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Prime Desert Woodland Preserve offers perfect day hike for kids

Joshua trees at Prime Desert Woodland
Preserve in Lancaster, Calif.
If concerned about the safety of hiking with young children in remote country, don’t fret. There’s probably a quality park or preserve right in your city limits. For those lucky enough to live in Palmdale-Lancaster, Calif., there’s just such a site, the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve.

The pristine natural area sits smack dab in the middle of a metro area of nearly 350,000 residents. The park is located at K-8 Avenue and 35th Street West in Lancaster. To reach it, get on the Antelope Valley Freeway, or Hwy. 14, which splits the metro area. Turn west onto Avenue L then take a right on 35th Street.

The 100-acre preserve boasts an excellent nature center, the Elyze Clifford Interpretive Center (though it's too frequently closed). A series of trails to the nature center’s north are the most scenic to amble.

The preserve gives visitors a good sense of what the Antelope Valley looked like before urbanization and the plowing up of land for fields. It's largely a juniper-Joshua tree forest with a desert brush understory. The thickness of the juniper-Joshua tree forest can be startling to many who think of deserts as just so much blowing sand. Many of the Joshua trees at the preserve are quite old – and therefore quite tall.

Several arroyos amble through the preserve, and during spring you’re likely to find some with water still running. A large, shady cottonwood snuggles against the bank of one arroyo.

Swaths of Joshua trees and junipers line several of the pathways. While hikers can find themselves virtually "lost" in nature, the sounds of nearby streets and schoolchildren often rear up - which is great comfort to those many walkers who aren't too keen on bushwacking. A number of placards along the trails describe the wildlife, flora and history of the region.

Look carefully, and you’re certain to see rabbit, kangaroo rat, squirrel and lizard tracks crisscrossing sandy areas just off the trails. Rabbit holes also sit on embankments near the aromatic junipers alongside the trails. Quail, cactus wren and mockingbirds also can be spotted (or at the very least heard!) at the preserve. If you’re quiet enough, you’ll almost certainly sight rabbits, which typically are out of their dens in the early morning and at dusk.

The preserve's two miles trails are fairly flat and nicely maintained with several bridges crossing the arroyos. Hikers are asked not to step off the trails.

The southwest end of the preserve consists largely of desert brush and Joshua trees with an occasional juniper. Unless you want to go for a longer walk, this section can be skipped.

Read more about day hiking with children in my Hikes with Tykes guidebooks.