Written by C. A. Fliedner on 15 Mar, 2002
Not far from downtown San Juan Capistrano, up the Ortega Highway (Hwy 74)and into the surrounding hills is an 8,000 acre wilderness nature preserve. The landscape changes from scrub brush to enormous, ancient oaks and sycamore trees by the time you reach Caspers Wilderness…Read More
Not far from downtown San Juan Capistrano, up the Ortega Highway (Hwy 74)and into the surrounding hills is an 8,000 acre wilderness nature preserve. The landscape changes from scrub brush to enormous, ancient oaks and sycamore trees by the time you reach Caspers Wilderness Park. Not only are there numerous hiking trails, there are picnic areas, barbeques, and even horse corrals for those wishing to trailer in their horses for trail riding. Following the dirt road to its end, we found a steep trail with mountain bike riders zipping along at a quick pace. Because I have no inclination to ride a bike at 45 degree angles, I simply asked the more brave at heart how they like the mountain biking at Caspers Park. I got a consistent thumbs-up!
For me, the less elevated trails were very appealing.
Depending on the season, wildflowers are ofen abundant. During the rainy months, the trail that parallels the creek at the bottom of Bell Canyon tumbles over granite boulders on its way to the ocean a short distance away. There are also guided nature hikes, which in my opinion, are a good idea, given the fact that this is a place where wild animals are often seen. Not only did we see hawks, vultures, egrets, and scores of rabbits and sqirrels, when you get into the higher elevations, mountain lions are known to have been encontered! In fact, upon entering the massive park, we were given a notice this was indeed mountain lion country. The rangers' advice: Don't run! Hold your ground and wave your hands. Convince the lion that you are not pray and that you may be dangerous to it (gulp).... (About this time, I'm thinking that a guided hike with a ranger is sounding good.)
No. We didn't see a mountain lion, thank heavens. And there were dozens of horse trailers parked, families enjoying the facilities, bicyclists and hikers along the trails. Would I recommend a visit? Yes, by all means.
One interesting note: The area is actually active geologically. Marine fossils can be seen in the park's riverbeds, and there was once even a natural hot springs spa, complete with guest cottages and a general store at one end of the park. The hot springs spa was closed many years ago when a fire burned the facilities, but some of the buildings' foundations are still visible.
Written by C. A. Fliedner on 05 May, 2001
Although the purpose of this article is to provide you with other options besides spending all your time at the beautiful old mission, no article about San Juan Capistrano would be complete without at least a few words about its history and how the legend…Read More
Although the purpose of this article is to provide you with other options besides spending all your time at the beautiful old mission, no article about San Juan Capistrano would be complete without at least a few words about its history and how the legend of the swallows began.
According to Mr. Gerald Miller, the administrator of the mission, the return of the swallows to Capistrano's mission began centuries ago. The legend of the swallows has been written about in song and stories and has become a well-known event around the world.
It all began in 1769 when a group of Spanish explorers from Mexico traveled through the area now known as San Juan Capistrano. There were already large numbers of Native Americans living in the area. They called themselves, "Acjachemen," although they would later be renamed the "Juaneno Indians" by the padres. Later, the well-known Spanish padre and presidente of the newly established California mission system, Junipero Serra, arrived, founding the seventh mission. San Juan Capistrano was named for an Italian Franciscan hero who had lived more than 300 years earlier.
The chapel was the first building to be completed in 1776. Although it has been renovated, the chapel is the oldest building in California which is still in use.
The five-story tall "Great Stone Church," was built of local sandstone. With its 100-foot bell tower and roof of seven domes, in its time, the structure was considered an architectural wonder. Because of the new mission's beauty, it was known as the "Jewel of the Missions."
Sadly, the Great Stone Church was nearly destroyed in the 1812 earthquake, crushing 40 worshippers inside its collapsing walls. Visitors can still see the crumbling ruins, although there's a preservation project underway to protect to stablize what's left of the once-grand church.
After the mission system ended, the San Juan Capistrano mission began to fall into terrible disrepair. In 1910 Mission pastor, St. John O'Sullivan, took over the project to restore the mission. O'Sullivan is credited with the origin of the swallows legend. One day when the padre was in town, he noticed a local shopkeeper batting at several mud nests in the eves outside his store. Dozens of squeeling swallows frantically darted and swooped about, as their homes were destroyed. The padre spoke to the birds, inviting them to build their homes inside the mission grounds. The next day, the padre discovered that the swallows had begun to build their nests in the ruins of the Great Stone Church. Although their numbers have dwindled (likely due to environmental problems), the swallows return to the mission each spring, where they are protected and honored by an entire community.
Written by C. A. Fliedner on 29 Apr, 2001
While you're visiting San Juan Capistrano, don't miss the small historic district on Los Rios Street. Los Rios is a narrow, shady road, which is lined with 31 historic structures, including several original adobe houses, private homes, quaint restaurants, an art gallery, and even…Read More
While you're visiting San Juan Capistrano, don't miss the small historic district on Los Rios Street. Los Rios is a narrow, shady road, which is lined with 31 historic structures, including several original adobe houses, private homes, quaint restaurants, an art gallery, and even a vine-covered tea house with a broad porch for outside dining. The gift shops--all in old houses--have names like "Forgotten By Thyme," "Treasures From the Heart," and "Master's Marketplace." Besides the shops, local artisians sell their wares to the tourists.
Be sure to stop by Susan Logan's studio and take a look at her fabulous watercolor art. The talented, famous artist is best known for her beautiful, colorful portraits. My husband and I were fascinated by her skill--painting with so much detail and such precision with watercolor paints is extremely difficult. Many of her paintings are Native American and western themes, though Susan actually enjoys painting pictures of various ethnic groups. She works on-site and is as friendly as she is talented.
Strolling down Los Rios Street truly takes you to another time and place. Amazingly, the Rios Adobe the oldest residence in the State which has been continously occupied by the same family (the Rios family) since it was built in 1794. Because this is a private home, there aren't any tours allowed inside the structure. There's also the Montanez Adobe and the Silvas Adobe. Because many of the adobes were built in 1794, the Los Rios district is the oldest neighborhood in California.
There are still sweeping emerald green fields behind the stately Victorian mansion beside the tea house -- a rare sight in So. California. Around the corner on River Street, visitors are welcome at the Jones' Family Mini-Farm: there's a petting zoo, pony rides, rabbits, chickens, a potbellied pig, and hay rides.
Although I've made a separate entry for the Ramos Cafe (built in 1881), it was worth a second visit on our recent return trip to San Juan Capistrano.
Be sure to pick up a Walking Tour Map from one of the shops or from the O'Neill Museum so you don't miss anything. Close
Written by Peregrine on 26 Jan, 2001
There are lots of legends about the swallows, and even a song. In fact, I doubt anyone can think of San Juan Capistrano without thinking of these little birds. No one really knows why the swallows return every year precisely on the 19th…Read More
There are lots of legends about the swallows, and even a song. In fact, I doubt anyone can think of San Juan Capistrano without thinking of these little birds. No one really knows why the swallows return every year precisely on the 19th of March (St. Joseph’s Day), but whatever the reason, the town sees to it they are received with a proper fiesta every year.
During the summer, they build their nests of sticks and mud under the eaves of the crumbling adobe mission. They raise their babies, and then, precisely on October 23, the feast day of the Mission’s namesake, St. John of Capistrano, they circle the mission in farewell, then, head back to South America.
Why do they come to the mission every year? Perhaps they like the cool eaves and the crumbling adobe. Or, perhaps, as one legend has it, Fra Serra, the Franciscan founder of the mission, invited them.