It takes me a good thirty minutes to run to Peter’s Canyon. Forty when the Santa Ana’s howl. Yet even in times of trashcan-tossing, dust-spitting winds, the canyon holds a special kind of peace. Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains, this is a still, sun-scoured place. Even in the blue spots where cottonwood leaves make rain song, the sandy soil scalds my fingers.
My run takes me past a sluggish creek, where crayfish kick up mud in coffee-colored clouds. The surface is shiny with a skin of algae, and water striders skate atop it in fluid pulses. Dragonflies lay their eggs here, and tiger swallowtails pump their butter-yellow wings among the willows.
Right up the canyon towers the hill where, years ago, my family sat to celebrate the burning passage of a chunk of rock, dust, and ice named Hale-Bopp. The hill butts right against Big Red, a steep slope made legendary for its bigness and redness. I take the trail southward up the Ridge, a rollercoaster of lactic acid-inducing inclines where turkey vulture shadows slide down the slopes and the dust skates low over the trail like steam off a geyser.
Eucalyptus trees dot the fields. In the spring, mustard blooms paint the hills highlighter-yellow. But there are natives here as well: buckwheat, sage, monkey flower, and a generous helping of poison oak. The prickly pears are crowned with tuna in early autumn. The fruit of the lemonade berry puckers our faces in late spring. Even in the blazing heat, this place bears us gifts.
Peter’s canyon is not a secret. Houses press against it from all sides. Car horns bleat from Jamboree Road, and at night a milky-orange glow seeps up from the rim of the world. But in this oasis we honor the wild. Come sundown, coyotes cry like banshees and barn owls hiss from the heavens. Frog throats balloon with rich, woody song. Unseen beasts reclaim the trails. All of our tracks—snake bellies, bird toes, runners’ shoes—speak to a shared sense of place.