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The mile-long El Modena Open Space in the city of Orange preserves a steep-sided, miniature mountain range, clothed in a tough mixture of drought-resistant cactus and sage-scrub vegetation. Underfoot, you'll find colorful andesite and pyroclastic rock -- volcanic deposits dating back some 15 million years. This variety of rock, in colors of brick red, pink, white, gray, green and beige, is found in Orange County only here and in a couple of spots just south.

Start at the corner of Cannon Street and Patria Court, 0.4 mile south of Santiago Canyon Road and 1.3 miles north of Chapman Avenue, where curbside parking is available. Follow the path parallel to Cannon Street's right (southbound) side, and quicky veer right on a steeply ascending trail through a natural garden of California sagebrush, encelia, wild hycinth, and wild onion. As you wind upward toward the top of the ridge, dense thickets of prickly pear cactus, plus some coast cholla cactus, appear.

At the ridgeline turn left and follow it to the highest summit, elevation 806 feet. Enjoy a pseudo-aerial view of the flat, expansive Los Angeles Basin, wrapping around more than 180 degrees, and the rim of the mountains to the east and north -- the Santa Anas and the San Gabriels. This vista can be mind-blowing on days of crystalline atmospheric conditions.

From the 806-foot high point, descend south and pass over two more summits in the next mile. A very steep path goes down the west side of the southernmost hill, and meets a service road leading back to the intersection of Cannon Street and Stillwater Avenue. Use the bicycle path or sidewalk along Cannon to complete the one-mile-long return to Patria Court. When done this way, the entire loop measures 2.4 miles.

Two shortcut trails link the ridgeline to Cannon Street, and either one of those can be used to shorten the hike.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any detrimental experience.

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