When picturing Orange County, one might think of beautiful beaches or luxury shopping, but few would picture limestone cliffs that are 30 million to 40 million years old.
On Friday, OC Parks and the Irvine Ranch Conservancy unveiled a viewing deck in Limestone Canyon — not to be confused with Limestone Canyon & Whiting Ranch — so that visitors from a safe space can experience the natural wonders that some call a "mini Grand Canyon."
On June 29, the county accepted a donation of 20,000 acres from the Irvine Co., including this part of Limestone Canyon. In the fall, the Irvine Ranch Conservancy and OC Parks opened the canyon to the public.
Nestled in the mountains behind Irvine, the secluded Limestone Canyon is a 20-minute drive from the city.
"We're in the middle of a spectacular natural area," said Irvine Ranch Conservancy Executive Director Michael O'Connell. "This spot has some of the best views in Orange County."
Before the platform was built, hikers and bikers would stroll up to the very edge of the cliff, which has a 200-foot drop. Besides that danger, the Irvine Ranch also noticed erosion and trampled vegetation.
The viewing deck offers a safer alternative for everything involved — both humans and nature.
Orange County 3rd District Supervisor Bill Campbell did the honor of cutting the ribbon that led to the viewing deck.
"We wanted to use this as a symbolic way to say we have some great things to see in Orange County," Campbell said. "We don't have to spend a lot of money or drive a long time to get the experience of a natural park."
Limestone Canyon's wonders include "The Sinks" — eroded cliffs that date back 100 million years, according to O'Connell.
He explained to viewers that the different colors in the cliffs reveal the prehistoric sediment, such as clay from a former riverbed or white sands from a beach.
The Irvine Ranch Conservancy and OC Parks were to open the area to the public Saturday for a Wilderness Access Day, which they'll hold monthly. To tour the canyon after Saturday, visitors must register to tour with a docent from the Natural Landmarks section of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy's website at http://www.irlandmarks.org.