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Pack a Snack, Pick a Pack and Take Walk on the Idyllwild Side

<i> Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to the Times Orange County</i>

For hikers, Idyllwild is the gateway to the San Jacinto Mountains. For climbers, the attraction is Suicide--the rock, not the act--and Lily Rock, also known as Tahquitz, huge granite outcroppings overlooking the town. Scaling those walls is one thing, but for visitors who prefer walking, the town’s popularity is climbing even faster.

11 to 11:25: It’s too beautiful in this part of Riverside County not to take at least a little hike, and in that case you’ll want to pack a snack. The most popular items for the trail at Country Farms are trail mix (14 ounces for $3.35) and mixed dried fruit.

But walk softly and you can also take along some chips and salsa, perhaps Angelo’s garlic salsa or Old Hawaii pineapple salsa. Mustard’s a must with summer sausage: Try raspberry mustard or Hawaiian pineapple mustard.

Olives are a fine picnic item. You can choose from almond-, onion-, jalapeno-, garlic- and fancy anchovy-stuffed olives; Cajun-spiced, Italian-spiced and hot-spiced olives; country-style and kosher-style olives, and paprika, Sicilian, “pizza,” “queen” and “perfect martini” olives.

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Feeling genteel? English scones come in “chocolate thunder,” cranberry, traditional currants and nutmeg, wild blueberry, and lemon poppy seed varieties. If you stick around to camp, be sure to try one of these flavors of fettuccine--apricot, blueberry, apple spice, pumpkin spice or even chocolate.

11:25 to 11:50: Nomad Ventures carries “mountain equipage,” and that means everything you’ll need for a hike, including backpacks, day packs and pretty fancy fanny packs, some with fabrics and fringes suitable for a gala--"those are more for shopping,” admitted manager Lariann Baretta. Models with built-in water bottles, many in the $20 range, are very popular.

Pak-gammon is backgammon that fits in your pack. When you’re really long on the trail, Shoe Goo II repairs worn shoes. If you stay in one place for any length of time, the Solo Sun Shower II produces hot water from solar energy, and portable hammocks cost less than $10. There’s a solid brass whistle for $2 in case you get lost.

Climbing equipment always bears colorful names. Shoes called Ballet suggest how better climbers climb, while another model called UFO suggests something a climber never wants to be. Protective devices include Hexes, Aliens, Friends--appropriately named because your life can depend on them--and Nuts, which is what most people think climbers are.

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Don’t try climbing without proper instruction.

11:50 to 1:20: Do try the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail, however, no matter what your ability level. It’s a shady 2.6-mile hike, easy enough for kids, and you can turn around whenever you like. Because of the many species of trees, it’s considered a good walk for beginning botanists. It begins at 6,100 feet, descends 600 feet and crosses streams along the way.

Take in dramatic views of Tahquitz from the parking area; on the trail itself, you won’t be able to see the rock for the trees. “It’s not really a scenic trail,” admitted one ranger. You can look out over Idyllwild, however, and across to Suicide, and there are a number of obvious clearings, fallen trees and rocks that are perfect for picnicking.

1:20 to 1:45: The Joy of Toys is a wooden-toy shop and motel registration office all in one, and Rudy Zachar serves as toymaker/innkeeper. You can watch him make toys in his workshop out back. “All hand-done, hand-painted, right here, I do it all,” Zachar said. “I also instruct people, all free.”

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According to Zachar, his most commented-on toy is Noah’s ark; it’s $139.95 and includes 40 pairs of animals, loading ramp and Mr. and Mrs. Noah, and of course he’ll ship. “It’s our best seller,” he said. Animals include ostriches, llamas and pandas. “Look at the panda real close, and he’s actually a polar bear. Add a little black, he’s a panda.”

Biplane scooters--the child steers with the wings--are designed for ages 2 to 4 ($94.95), while the age range for “name” trucks ($39.95 to $64.95, depending on the number of letters) is from 3 to . . . . “I’ve had women buy them for sons who are 35 or 40,” Zachar said.

Dollhouses can be pricey (a two-story floor model, $224) but Zachar offers items for as low as 99 cents, such as wooden tops that go forever.

Zachar actually does carries a little merchandise that he doesn’t make, such as Arnie Armadillo and Larry Lobster. Local rock jocks would go ape for a climbing monkey that shimmies up a pair of ropes ($19.95). “It’s my No. 2 seller,” Zachar said.

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1:45 to 2: The Candy Cupboard offers “old-fashion ice cream bars, and shaved ice in 28 flavors,” says a sign outside. Ice cream bars ($1.50) are hand-dipped and rolled in the topping of your choice; shaved ice (80 cents to $1.50) is like a snow cone, only better.

“Where your snow cones are hard, we shave the ice fresh, so it’s softer,” explained clerk Mickey Burch. “They’re sweet but, with the ice, not as sweet as you think they’d be.” Flavors include banana colada, blue raspberry and bubble gum, and you can get two flavors at once. Mango watermelon will slake that post-hike thirst.

* Times Link: 808-8463

To hear brief capsules of other “3-Hour Tours,” call TimesLink and press *7150

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1) Country Farms

25980 Highway 243

(909) 659-3434

Open daily, 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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2) Nomad Ventures

54415 N. Circle Drive

(909) 659-4853

Open Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Monday, Thursday and Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

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3) Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail

Humber Park, at end of Fern Valley Road

(909) 659-2117

4) The Joy of Toys

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54635 N. Circle Drive

(909) 659-4926

Open daily, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

5) The Candy Cupboard

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54250 N. Circle Drive

(909) 659-5502

Open Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

PARKING / BUSES

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There is parking on streets or in lots at each location.


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