Gated communities are a bewildering concept for me. I understand the desire for security, but I feel locked inside when visiting such places. I find myself wandering the maze of a spacious home and wishing there was a 7-Eleven nearby that I could just walk to, and sit on a curb while sipping a Big Gulp and watching the world go by. You don't really see people outside their homes in gated communities, and everything feels far away.
My parents were in town as well, and I was able to go for a couple of hikes with my dad. I don't think either of us expected to find anything terribly interesting in Southern California, at least within a half-hour drive from Laguna Niguel. Dad found a trail idea on Yelp, Black Star Canyon. I looked up a route on Strava and got the impression that this was going to be a painfully easy road walk, winding up a gentle hillside to the top of a ridge. This was a good thing, as I was in taper mode before the Ohlone 50K, and anyway this was a good way to spend time with my dad (in the spacious house, we all tended to retreat to personal spaces, which is something else I don't like about big homes even though I'm an equal offender.)
The first mile after the gate was a flat paved road. I felt bad, like it was my fault that coastal California was a boring place for my Wasatch-Mountain-trekking father. We wound our way along a fireroad to a weathered post where someone had scratched "waterfall" with some arrows in the wood. So we followed them, dropping into a stream bed that was teeming with poison oak. I pointed out the identifying characteristics of the plant to Dad, and within ten minutes he was more attune to its presence than me. As the canyon narrowed we picked our way over and around increasingly larger boulders, until we were fully scrambling up stone walls. I came to one maneuver where I couldn't quite lift my foot into the only available foothold ($%!* tight hamstrings), and Dad grabbed me underneath my arms and pulled me onto the ledge. It instantly brought back a memory of being 17 years old and hiking with Dad along the knife ridge of the Pfeifferhorn, where he similarly boosted me onto a narrow ledge beside dizzying exposure. I was never afraid of the mountains back then; I always felt safe when I was with Dad. I still feel that way, at 35 years old, with two more decades of fearfulness and scary experiences in my memories.
At the end of the boulder-choked box canyon we reached the waterfall, which was dry (this is California.) The following day, we did a much more mellow five miles to a robber cave, where we ate peanut butter and honey sandwiches as rain poured down outside the sandstone cove.